Michelle Obama and Walmart: That Is Not Your Place, Madam First Lady

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The Washington Post wants to know if it's appropriate for First Lady Michelle Obama to appear with executives of Walmart as part of an effort to promote healthier food choices. While eating right is always a good idea, and public-private partnerships can do well and do good at the same time, the short answer to the Post's question is:

No.

Not now.

Not while Walmart, the enormously powerful company, is before the United States Supreme Court in a costly and protracted fight over class-action status for hundreds of thousands (and perhaps as many as 1.5 million) female employees who claim they have been discriminated against for years by the company because they were neither paid nor promoted on a par with men.

On the notion of standing beside corporate executives whose company has helped keep the case from trial now for nearly 10 years, and which is accused of a pattern and practice of discrimination against women, and whose lawyers are now preparing briefs that could undermine class-action lawsuits everywhere, I humbly paraphrase the words that Elie Wiesel once famously used, in a completely different context: That is not your place, Madam First Lady. Your place is with the plaintiffs.

At least until the case settles, or the Supreme Court renders its decision, or a jury renders its verdict. Oral argument in Wal-Mart v. Dukes is scheduled for the morning of March 29th and a decision from the Justices is expected by the end of June. As a matter of politics, if not as a matter of law, the First Lady should stay off Walmart's stage until then, at least.

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Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, and a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.

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