How an Arizona law professor was picked to ask a question at the Democratic debate

photo of CNN studio

Originally published here. | Author: Rachel Leingang, Arizona Republic

Sunday was pretty surreal for Amy Langenfeld.

The Arizona State University law professor from Chandler wound up on national television, asking the only question from an everyday voter in Sunday’s Democratic debate.

“Women are the canaries in the coal mine of the conservative agenda,” Langenfeld said via a video feed, setting up her question to former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Our access to health care is at risk from the Federalist Society's remaking of the courts. Our lives are threatened by abusive partners' access to guns. Women are disproportionately affected by bail requirements, Social Security cuts and cuts to public education. How will your cabinet ensure the best advice on issues that affect women's physical and financial health?”

The responses to her question made news: Biden committed to picking a woman as his running mate and to appoint the first black woman to the Supreme Court. Sanders wasn’t as definitive, but he said he also would likely choose a female as his vice president. The question spurred debate between the two men about their records on women's issues and how they would approach including women in their administrations.

Langenfeld said she found both answers thoughtful. And, despite no women remaining in the presidential race, women’s issues still made it onto the stage.

“I wanted to make the point that I think every issue is a woman's issue and women's issues are everybody's issues, and I wanted to hear what the candidates would say about that,” she said.

How was she picked to ask the question?

Langenfeld got an email awhile back from the Arizona Democratic Party and CNN asking for questions for the debate, previously scheduled to take place with a live audience in Phoenix before new coronavirus concerns made eliminated the audience and moved it to Washington, D.C.

She sent in her question, but she didn’t think anything of it.

Then, producers reached out to her and asked her to film a video of herself asking the question and send it in, which was no easy feat for Langenfeld, who isn’t very comfortable filming videos. She sent the video to CNN on Thursday.

She thought there would be several other voters whose questions made the broadcast. But as the debate started, and the first hour was driven by moderators and focused largely on coronavirus, she thought maybe they had scrapped all the voter questions.

“And then I heard the last two syllables of my name and kind of perked up and looked up from dinner,” she said.

Since Sunday night, all kinds of friends, some of which Langenfeld hadn’t heard from in years, reached out to her. Her students had a lot to say about her appearance in the debate.

Mostly, she’s gratified that so many people are paying attention to the presidential race, especially when so much else is going on.

“This is all very important,” she said. “Even though we've got much scarier things on our minds, that we're still being good citizens. I'm really excited about that.”

Reach reporter Rachel Leingang by email or by phone at 602-444-8157. 

More about Amy Langenfeld, Clinical Professor of Law, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Amy Langenfeld’s research pursuits include judicial writing, legislative drafting, and oral communications skills for professional settings. She teaches Legal Method and Writing, Legal Advocacy, Writing for Law Practice, Writing for Judicial Clerks, and Intensive Legal Writing.

Before joining ASU in 2005, Professor Langenfeld practiced water law in Phoenix, advising clients throughout Arizona regarding their water-rights claims and compliance with state and federal environmental laws. She participated in litigation conducted at the administrative hearing level, in Arizona’s state courts, and in the federal District Court for the District of Arizona. As a law student, she served as managing editor of the Arizona State Law Journal and earned membership in the Order of the Coif. As an undergraduate student, Professor Langenfeld received a graduation distinction for community service and Georgetown University’s nomination for the Rhodes, Marshall and other post-graduate fellowships.

Professor Langenfeld has lived in Japan, where for a year she taught English to high school students and conducted conversation clubs and cultural exchange programs in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program in Miyazaki Prefecture. She also has traveled in the People’s Republic of China, Thailand, and Western and Eastern Europe. More here.