How to become a civil rights attorney

The term “civil rights” comes from the Latin words ius civis meaning “rights of citizens.” In the United States of America, civil rights are constitutional, outlined in the Bill of Rights. However, throughout the history of civil rights in this nation, Congress has responded to civil rights movements by enacting civil rights acts. For example, Congress authorized several civil rights acts for newly freed blacks in 1860 and in the years that followed.

The purpose of civil rights is to protect people against discrimination and harassment on grounds of physical or mental disability, gender, religion, race, national origin, age, status as a member of the uniformed services, sexual orientation, or gender identity. They also preserve individual rights such as privacy, the freedoms of thought and conscience, speech and expression, religion, the press, and movement.

Educational Requirements

In order to practice law as a civil rights attorney, one must have a bachelor’s degree and a Juris Doctor Law degree. A serious student wanting a competitive edge will build a resume and transcript that reflects a commitment to civil rights issues. During law school, he should take courses specializing in constitutional law. In addition, it is advisable to follow courses in civil rights litigation, employment discrimination, race and the law, human rights law, disability, education and family law to name a few.

Civil rights nonprofits prefer candidates who have in-depth experience and knowledge on one issue rather than those who have been involved in a large variety of public interest related activities. In addition, finding role models in the field who can advise about career paths and job opportunities is extremely advantageous. A law student seeking a career as a civil rights attorney should consider working as a research assistant or volunteering for a project to gain supplementary experience.

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Job Description & Skills Required

Often, civil rights attorneys enter the field because they are passionate about justice for a particular people group or issue. Consequently, it is common for them to specialize their practice according to special interest groups or a specific civil rights issue. They may concentrate their case load on gay and lesbian rights, disability rights, human rights, and women’s rights. Or issues like privacy, freedom of expression, the eleventh amendment, sexual harassment and voting rights may consume their How to become a civil rights attorneycase load. The majority of civil rights attorneys hold positions in government or public service.

When a person’s rights have been violated, the individual has the right to file a civil suit against the person or institution that committed the offense. A civil rights attorney may be consulted to explain his client’s rights and the procedures for filing a civil suit. He then may be hired to represent the client. His job is to prove the infringement on the individual’s rights did indeed occur in hopes of receiving monetary compensation for his client in return.

A civil rights attorney’s job involves:

  • presenting cases to judges and juries
  • deciphering laws and rulings for individuals, businesses and organizations
  • investigating legal data
  • negotiating settlements of legal disputes
  • formulating legal briefs
  • filing legal appeals in the federal and state court of appeals

Certain civil rights cases attract a lot of publicity. Civil rights attorneys must be capable of handling high-profile cases while using the publicity to educate the public on civil rights issues.

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Why We Love It

Civil Rights Lawyers investigate and advise individuals who’s rights of religion, race, gender, sexuality, age or appearance have been violated in the workplace and medical facilities or any other public forum. They defend individuals that are discriminated against for their personal characteristics and ensure that their clients receive fair and equal treatment.

What is a Civil Rights Lawyer?

The following responsibilities are common for Civil Rights Lawyers:

  • Presents civil cases to judges and juries
  • Investigates legal data
  • Negotiates settlements of legal disputes
  • Drafts legal documents, briefings and contracts
  • Files legal documents and appeals in Federal Court on behalf of their clients

A Day In The Life

When an individuals civil rights have been violated, that person is entitled to file a civil suit against the institution that committed the offense. In a case such as this a civil rights attorney would be contacted. The lawyer may then be hire to represent the client. Their job is to then file a judgment in court to prove their clients civil rights have indeed been violated and pursue monetary compensation.

It is common for individuals to specialize their practices to a particular field of expertise or interest, like, human rights, human trafficking, disability rights or women’s rights.

Typical Work Schedule

This position is often spent in an office for at least 40 hours or more a week. The rest of their time is spent in courthouses and in mediation or conciliation offices.

Projected Job Growth

Although there has been a decline in the use of attorney’s as a result of greater reliance on paralegals and legal assistants. Although, due to the fact that the majority of civil rights cases are argued in Federal Court the demand for attorney’s in this particular field is still in high demand, particularly within the government.

Typical Employers

The majority of civil rights lawyers have positions in government or public service. For example, the FBI has its own civil rights division dedicated to focusing its efforts on hate crimes and human and sex trafficking victims. Most have their own private firms and consult on cases and testify in court proceedings as well.

How To Become a Civil Rights Lawyer

To become a civil rights attorney, one must first complete an undergraduate degree program. Bachelor’s degrees in areas of study like English, Statistics, Political Science or Philosophy would all be relevant ciriculums.

After completing their undergraduate studies they must then attend and complete law school which is typically a 3 year program. During this time in school one can discover and be directed to their specialized field of law.

After law school, individuals must then pass a state bar exam to the applicable state the individual wants to practice law in. Every state has its own requirements to pass the exam.

Civil Rights Lawyer Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

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How to become a civil rights attorney

A civil rights attorney defends those who have been discriminated against for a wide range of possible reasons, including such factors as race, sex, and socioeconomic status. If you would like to become a civil rights attorney, you must successfully complete law school, ideally at an institution which emphasizes knowledge of civil rights. Then, you must pass any licensing exams required by your state or country in order to practice law. Before you begin practicing as an attorney, you may also wish to complete one or more internships at organizations which provide legal counsel to victims of discrimination.

To become a civil rights attorney, you must first complete law school. Depending upon which country you live in, you may be eligible to begin a law program immediately after finishing high school, or you may have to first complete an undergraduate degree. If you are required to complete an undergraduate degree first, as is the case in the US, consider majoring in a subject which will broaden your knowledge of civil rights policy and history in your country. History, sociology, or political science may be useful majors. Toward the end of your undergraduate education, you will likely need to take an entrance exam and complete an extensive application process to gain admission to law school.

Whether your law studies begin after high school or after you have earned an undergraduate degree, in order to become a civil rights attorney you should aim to attend an institution which emphasizes the study of civil rights issues. If you are uncertain which institutions emphasize civil rights, try speaking to a pre-law counselor at your current school or to representatives from the schools to which you are thinking of applying. Once you have begun your studies, try to take classes which will help you understand how the laws of your country can be used to protect civil rights.

Before you become a civil rights attorney, you may wish to complete one or more internships at organizations which provide legal services to victims of discrimination. You might, for instance, spend a summer working at a nonprofit organization which provides legal advocacy to the poor or to immigrants. This type of experience can give you a firsthand glimpse into the world of civil rights law, and can also help you establish a network of professional contacts.

Once you have completed your education and gained some work experience, you will be nearly ready to become a civil rights attorney. Before you can begin practicing law, however, you usually must pass a licensing exam. Licensing requirements vary depending on which state or country you live in. If you are uncertain about licensing requirements in your region, try consulting the website of your state or country’s bar association.

Lawyers are people with specialized knowledge, who help people with a variety of legal issues. A civil rights lawyer is specifically experienced in issues regarding human rights, social freedoms, and equality. Read on to learn more about becoming a civil rights lawyer.

What Does a Civil Rights Lawyer Do?

A civil rights attorney specializes in protection and expansion of people’s civil rights and civil liberties. These rights are granted by the U.S. Constitution, as well as by legislation. Even when these rights are not specifically spelled out in such documents, civil rights attorneys advocate for the protection of basic human rights.

Civil rights cases involve such issues as the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers, false arrests, unlawful searches and seizures, and other cases of improper conduct. Other cases involve violations of basic human rights and social freedoms.

Because the area of civil rights law is so broad, it is common for attorneys specializing in this field, further specialize in a particular are of civil rights law. In accomplishing these goals involves drafting legal documents, conducting research, negotiating settlements, and arguing cases in a courtroom.

Professional Requirements to Become a Civil Rights Lawyer

The issue of civil rights is painted with a broad brush by law schools around the country, as all laws against discrimination. This includes labor rights laws and collective bargaining, employment equality and discrimination, discrimination by law enforcement or other agencies, and other impingements on basic human rights.

In general, law schools encourage prospective civil rights attorneys to broaden their focus, and not to become myopic toward civil liberties and civil rights law. Other courses of study that will prove valuable in your career as a lawyer include trial advocacy, statutory interpretation, negotiation, and mediation.

Additional Education and Experience

Regardless of a law student’s intended field of practice, gaining a broad education can make him or her a better lawyer. In addition to core courses, law schools offer a variety of elective courses, which can be quite helpful, increasing the law student’s scope of knowledge.

Examples of elective law school classes include:

  • Constitutional law
  • Disability law
  • Race and the law
  • Housing discrimination
  • Mediation
  • Negotiation
  • Trial advocacy
  • Advanced legal writing

Quality experience may also be gained by volunteering at legal clinics, helping people with civil rights issues. Such clinical experience gives prospective lawyers valuable hands-on experience, and may be counted as course credit in some law school institutions.

Where Can You Work as a Civil Rights Lawyer

Like other types of attorney, civil rights attorneys work in a variety of settings. Many work in private law firms – whether as part of a large firm that handles multiple areas of law, as solo practitioners, or at a government agency. There are also quite a few attorneys who do pro bono (free) work in the civil rights field, usually through non-profit organizations.

At the federal level, there are quite a few government agencies that focus on protecting the civil rights of U.S. citizens. These include:

  1. U.S. Department of Justice, Americans with Disabilities Act division – deals with disability discrimination.
  2. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights – Aids in the development of civil rights policies, and aids in enforcement of civil rights laws.
  3. Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), Civil Rights Office – Advises and represents the FAA in matters of civil rights and equal opportunity.
  4. U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”), Office for Civil Rights – Helps to resolves complaints of discrimination in education.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), Office for Civil Rights – Protects people from discrimination in certain social service program and healthcare programs.
  6. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”), Fair Housing Civil Rights – Enforces federal laws that ensure equal access to housing. This agency protects against discrimination based on color, race, national origin, religion, gender, family status, and disability.
  7. U.S. Department of Labor, Civil Rights Enforcement – Enforces federal labor laws, and fights discrimination in the workplace.
  8. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission(“EEOC”) – Enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against job applicants – or employees – based on color, race, national origin, religion, gender (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), age, or disability.

Non-Government Employers of Civil Rights Lawyers

  1. American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) – Non-profit organization committed to protecting constitutional rights and liberties.
  2. Disability Rights and Education Defense Fund – Fights discrimination and prejudice against adults and children with disabilities, using policy reform, impact litigation, advocacy training, and education to create lasting change.
  3. Indian Law Resource Center – Provides legal assistance to help Indian/Alaska Native nations protect their lands and cultural heritage, and to combat discrimination. Advocates for justice for indigenous peoples.
  4. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund – Works to achieve equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals. This is the largest, and oldest, national legal organization to do so.

Civil Rights Lawyer Salary

Salaries among civil rights lawyers varies, depending on the type of employer, the geographical location, and his or her experience. As of 2017, the average of civil rights attorneys’ salaries ranges from $65,000 to $200,000 annually. Those working for nonprofit groups make significantly less than those working in the private sector.

As an example, civil rights lawyer salary for those working for government agencies, such as the FBI’s civil rights division, earns an entry-level salary of a little over $50,000, and the more experienced lawyers earn around $87,000. This division investigates and prosecutes cases such as hate crimes, human trafficking, right of access to government buildings or clinics, and abuses of “color of law.”

How to become a civil rights attorney

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Unlike criminal lawyers, civil lawyers represent clients seeking to settle non-violent disputes, such as divorce settlements, custody battles and disagreements regarding property ownership, to name a few. Civil lawyers prepare cases for a variety of topics, including consumer law, employment law, entertainment law, family law, tax law and international law. Considerable education is required to become a civil lawyer, including four years of college, three years of law school and rigorous examinations. As of 2010, civil lawyers typically earned $112, 760 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Bachelor’s Degree

Future lawyers are required to obtain a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. A specific major isn’t required — in fact, law schools appreciate applicants with diverse backgrounds — but coursework in public speaking, English, history, economics, government and mathematics is recommended by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Undergraduate students applying to law school are required to submit Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) score. Other law school requirements include letters of recommendation, a high GPA and participation in extra-curricular activities.

Law School

Aspiring civil lawyers are required to graduate from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). Typically, programs take three years of full-time study to complete. Students study contracts, constitutional law, civil procedure, property law, criminal law, torts, contracts and legal writing. Students also practice the oral, research and written skills required to become a successful lawyer. Most law schools also offers interactive experiences, such as legal clinics, moot court competitions, practice trials and writing and researching for the school’s law review. These experiences give students valuable experiences that will help them succeed after graduation. Many law students also gain experience through part-time or summer jobs, and law, business and government internships. Graduates from law school are awarded the JD, or Juris Doctorate degree.

With the exception of Maryland, Puerto Rico and Wisconsin, JD’s are required to pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) before being allowed to take the bar exam. The MPRE tests graduates on the professional conduct required of lawyers by the American Bar Association. State bar associations determine individually what should be considered a passing score for the MPRE. Check your state’s bar association for details.

Bar Exam

Civil lawyers are required to pass their state’s bar exam in order to obtain a license to practice law. The two-day, 12-hour exam is typically broken down into two sections — the state section and the multi-state section. The multi-state section consists of questions regarding laws applicable to all states, while the state section asks questions specific to the laws of the state where you’re testing.

2016 Salary Information for Lawyers

Lawyers earned a median annual salary of $118,160 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, lawyers earned a 25th percentile salary of $77,580, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $176,580, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 792,500 people were employed in the U.S. as lawyers.

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  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: Lawyers
  • College Crunch: How to Become a Lawyer
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Lawyers
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Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.

This page will provide you with all the information you need to become a human rights lawyer, tell you what you’re likely to earn as a human rights lawyer and give examples of firms in the UK which specialise or have departments dedicated to human rights law.

Guide to Becoming a Human Rights Lawyer

  • Find out what human rights law entails
  • See how to become a human rights lawyer
  • Read about salaries as a human rights lawyer

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What Is Human Rights Law?

Human Rights Law exists to help protect our rights as human beings. These human rights are the basic freedoms that every person should be entitled to from birth until death. They apply to everyone regardless of how individuals choose to live their lives. This means that they apply equally to criminals and to those who have never broken the law. However, in some cases, some human rights can be restricted.

Human rights law ensures that the law treats all citizens equally. Through this practice, parliament passes legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1998 which protects against discrimination and ensures freedom of speech. Legislation from this legal area gives people a voice, and it can act against powerful companies and even governments and regimes which are violating the rights of individuals within a society.

Human Rights Law is often taught as an optional module within the LLB or as part of the compulsory European Union law module required for the qualifying law degree. So it’s very likely that, as a law student, you’ll get a taste of this area of legal practice at some point during your studies.

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How to Become a Human Rights Lawyer

If you are interested in becoming involved in human rights law, you should try to get some relevant legal work experience before applying for jobs. For example, you can get involved in the pro bono opportunities that many law schools at university provide. In addition to this, you can volunteer for organisations that specialise in human rights issues and seek out experience in law firms with human rights specialisms.

It’s also worth noting that you can be involved in human rights cases in a vast array of practice areas from housing and welfare, to the court of protection and immigration. You can also tackle human rights issues from a legal point of view within local government, government agencies and non-governmental organisations.

However, as with all other areas of law, to specialise in human rights law, you must first qualify as a solicitor or a barrister.

To become a human rights solicitor you must:

  1. Obtain a qualifying law degree OR another degree and convert via the GDL
  2. Complete the Legal Practice Course
  3. Complete a training contract

To become a human rights barrister you must:

  1. Obtain a qualifying law degree OR another degree and convert via the GDL
  2. Complete the Bar Professional Training Course
  3. Complete a pupillage.

Human Rights Lawyer Salary

A typical salary for human rights cases can vary depending on whether you work in a firm or another organisation, where you are based in the UK and of course what level you are at. As with any other field, you should expect salary increases during your career progression. Annual wages can reach as high as £100,000 per annum for human rights lawyers at the top of their game.

If you want to be a barrister specialising in human rights issues, you may find yourself on a less stable financial ground because barristers tend to work on a self-employed basis. However, when work does arise for barristers, human rights cases can be fairly high profile and offer higher salaries.

Human Rights Law Firms

Some UK firms which have departments specialising in human rights include:

  • Allen & Overy
  • Slater & Gordon
  • Irwin Mitchell
  • Bindmans LLP
  • Leigh Day
  • Gherson
  • Kingsley Napley

Relevant Books

There are plenty of human rights law books that will help you with your study of the topic. The ones provided are the most up to date publication. Older versions will be just as valuable but may lack some of the most up to date legislation/cases.

Name Author Price (Approximate)
International Human Rights Law Daniel Moeckli, Sangeeta Shah, Sandesh Sivakumaran, David Harris £31
Human Rights Law Merris Amos £40
Law of the European Convention on Human Rights David Harris, Michael O’Boyle, Ed Bate, Carla Buckley – Harris, O’Boyle and Warbrick £36
Human Rights (Key Concepts) Michael Freeman £15

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How to become a civil rights attorney

A civil rights attorney defends those who have been discriminated against for a wide range of possible reasons, including such factors as race, sex, and socioeconomic status. If you would like to become a civil rights attorney, you must successfully complete law school, ideally at an institution which emphasizes knowledge of civil rights. Then, you must pass any licensing exams required by your state or country in order to practice law. Before you begin practicing as an attorney, you may also wish to complete one or more internships at organizations which provide legal counsel to victims of discrimination.

To become a civil rights attorney, you must first complete law school. Depending upon which country you live in, you may be eligible to begin a law program immediately after finishing high school, or you may have to first complete an undergraduate degree. If you are required to complete an undergraduate degree first, as is the case in the US, consider majoring in a subject which will broaden your knowledge of civil rights policy and history in your country. History, sociology, or political science may be useful majors. Toward the end of your undergraduate education, you will likely need to take an entrance exam and complete an extensive application process to gain admission to law school.

Whether your law studies begin after high school or after you have earned an undergraduate degree, in order to become a civil rights attorney you should aim to attend an institution which emphasizes the study of civil rights issues. If you are uncertain which institutions emphasize civil rights, try speaking to a pre-law counselor at your current school or to representatives from the schools to which you are thinking of applying. Once you have begun your studies, try to take classes which will help you understand how the laws of your country can be used to protect civil rights.

Before you become a civil rights attorney, you may wish to complete one or more internships at organizations which provide legal services to victims of discrimination. You might, for instance, spend a summer working at a nonprofit organization which provides legal advocacy to the poor or to immigrants. This type of experience can give you a firsthand glimpse into the world of civil rights law, and can also help you establish a network of professional contacts.

Once you have completed your education and gained some work experience, you will be nearly ready to become a civil rights attorney. Before you can begin practicing law, however, you usually must pass a licensing exam. Licensing requirements vary depending on which state or country you live in. If you are uncertain about licensing requirements in your region, try consulting the website of your state or country’s bar association.

Civil Rights attorney Leo Terrell, a prominent Democrat turned Trump supporter, has come under fire from his colleagues for refusing to support Joe Biden and Black Lives Matter. Despite that, Terrell said he isn’t in favor of the modern-day Democratic Party and what they stand for.

“The Democratic Party in 2020 is as follows: it’s been hijacked by Black Lives Matter and that’s why I’ve shifted away from the Democratic Party. Two major reasons: One, Joe Biden made the assumption that if you’re not black, that if you’re black you have to vote Democrat. I find that insulting and offensive to every African American because we don’t vote as one group,” he told the Daily Caller. “Secondly, defunding the police is absolutely ridiculous. Democrats believe in law and order. Those are two major reasons I left the Democratic Party.”

According to the civil rights attorney, the Black Lives Matter movement lacks any substantive policies and their only goal is to defeat President Trump. It was Biden’s comments about blacks needing to vote for the Democratic Party that made Terrell question his values.

“When Joe Biden made that comment, I had to question my value and find out whether or not the Democratic Party and I still were compatible and we’re not, because everything that’s going on in 2020 with Black Lives Matter, with defunding the police, with making the assumption that if you’re black you have to vote for the Democrat, that is not what I stand for as a civil rights attorney,” he explained.

Even though Terrell believes the officers involved in George Floyd’s murder were in the wrong, he still believes in law and order and the need for law enforcement.

“Ninety-eight percent of all police officers are good. Get rid of two percent but not the entire police force and I think that Black Lives Matter has hijacked this entire issue and now we’re talking about taking down monuments, taking down statues, we’re talking about painting streets,” he said. “None of that goes to police reform and changing the system within the system.”

The other issue Terrell has with the BLM movement is the use of the term “systemic discrimination,” which he says no one knows the meaning of.

“They don’t even know what it means. I know what it means. This is not 1960. You got Democratic cities – Chicago, Atlanta, LA – run by Democrats, run by people of color. There’s chaos in those cities and they’re calling ‘systemic discrimination.’ They need to look in the mirror,” Terrell told the Daily Caller. “This is not 1960. This is not Bull Connor. This is not German Shepherds chasing black folks down the street and yet they play this game of using a word, a term, a phrase that does not apply in 2020.”

Terrell also made it clear that it’s not racist to question Black Lives Matter or their agenda.

“Let me be as clear as possible: I, as a black man, as an American, do not support Black Lives Matter. Why? Very simple. Black Lives Matter doesn’t care about all black lives,” he said.

The attorney named off a few examples, including St. Louis Police Department Captain David Dorn, who served his community as a member of the SLPD for 38 years. He was murdered in cold blood in early June when he protected a friend’s pawn shop from looters and rioters.

Terrell also mentioned the BLM is conveniently silent when black-on-black crime takes place in America’s inner cities or a black police officer is killed in the line of duty.

“They are profiteers. You will see Al Sharpton – you’ll see him at a police case involving a black man and a white officer, but other than that, those are the only black lives that matter,” he said.

CNN and MSNBC have pushed the notion that defunding the police will somehow help skyrocketing crime. Terrell reminded viewers that Seattle’s CHOP zone was complete chaos that eventually had to be disbanded.

“Black people died in that CHOP zone! There was no Black Lives Matter. There was no Al Shaprton. It’s ludicrous,” he said. “You can not be a law and order Democrat and vote Democrat this year.”

“Joe Biden is an empty suit being hijacked by extremists on the left. That’s why I’m not part of the Democratic Party in 2020,” Terrell explained.

The attorney also pointed out one obvious fact: Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) has put together a police reform package and Democrats have shunned him.

“It didn’t see the light of day on the Senate floor. You know why? Because two black Democrats – I won’t mention their names – Cory Booker and Kamala Harris – they wouldn’t let it get to the floor. You know why? Because they want to take full credit and if you have an ‘R’ in front of you name, you cannot be in favor of police reform,” Terrell explained. “This is ludicrous.”

Colleagues who the attorney has known for more than 30 years have written him off because he’s thinking with his head and his heart. But Terrell said he doesn’t care.

“They’re so hell-bent on defeating Trump, they’ll vote for anyone. I can’t ignore or dismiss logic,” he said.