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Richmond Man Wins Despite Court Losses

Months later, when it was discovered that Shelton had a felony conviction, he was fired, he says, because Richmond Public Schools has a policy prohibiting the employment of felons. Shelton decided to see if he could get his job back. He learned that a white employee had faced similar circumstances but with different results. The white man with the felony had kept his job.

The seeming disparity angered Shelton and he felt he had been "denied an equal opportunity to keep his job." He thought he had a civil-rights case on his hands. He hired a lawyer.

Shelton and his lawyer combed the city code and entered the case in Richmond General District Court. The court threw out his case.

Shelton decided to appeal it on his own. He spent countless amounts of time learning about the legal system. He tested his knowledge of the law before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Once again, his case was thrown out.

Next, he petitioned the United States Supreme Court. It was a long shot and his last chance. Of the 10,000 cases the United States Supreme Court receives each year, only about 80 are actually reviewed. The last time a civil-rights case was argued before the high court was years ago, Shelton points out. Yet in September he received a letter from the United States Supreme Court saying it would consider his case.

Shelton went to the media to tell his story. He contacted national magazines like "Ebony" and the "Village Voice." He called local TV stations and newspapers. Most places he went, he says, the response was the same: People seemed interested in his story only if his case actually landed on the United States Supreme Court docket.

A few days ago, Shelton got another letter from the United States Supreme Court. The high court turned down his case. Shelton was deflated by the news. But in the years it took for him to get his answer, he says he learned a thing or two about himself. A kind of peace had come over him. And his optimism was elevated, he says, in the hold of the very system that shuttered him. "You know what," he says, "that's something." — Brandon Walters

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