Monday, March 28, 2005


The ACS Board Elections are Tomorrow (Tuesday!) at lunch. Please come out
to vote and support our wonderful group of candidates. Of course, I have
yet to hear back from student services about our room reservation, but I put
in for JG 101, so lets plan on meeting there at 12:20.

Candidate Statements are below.

Here are the candidates in the order the Elections will be held:

President- Mary Kelly Persyn
Vice President, Membership Development: Whitney Russell, Jenny Bell
Vice President, Practitioner Relations: Keith Bradley, April Day, Aaron
Liederman, Nick Napolitan, Thomas Harding
Vice President, Special Initiatives: Suehiko Ono
Treasurer: Jenny Bell
Secretary: April Day
Debate Chair: Thomas Harding
Blog/Webmaster: Open, nominations will be taken from the floor.
3L Rep: Mike Newman, Liz Aloi

Candidates in contested elections will make brief statements and nominations
will be taken from the floor if need be. Candidates will also be able to
"drop down" to other positions. There was some shifting of positions folks
are running for over the weekend in order to maximize representation on the
board. Above are the positions that individuals have expressed interest in
and not necessarily the position the candidate statement reflects.

Anyone who has self-identified as being as ACS member by paying dues and/or
attending events this year will be eligible to vote and ballots for
contested elections will be secret.

Candidate Statement: Suehiko Ono

Suehiko Ono
ACS Board Application
Running for Vice President, Special Initiative position

Statement of Interest (1-2 pages):
Please address the following two questions in your statement:
1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?
2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

In Zen practice we take the Bodhisattva vow to “save all beings.” I lived at a Zen monastery for two years after college, and every morning we would recite this vow aloud. It is an impossible vow, an ideal, but the shear repetition forces one to try. But it is not the repetition of this vow that creates this commitment. The vow is more like a lens that allows one to see the connection one has always had to all other beings. It is a reaffirmation of a truth everyone knows in their hearts. I have been committed to social justice since I can remember. That is one of the main reasons that I went to the Zen monastery to begin with. And it was because of this vow that I decided to leave the monastery.
While living at the monastery I had been farming organically, and I came to learn the central role that agriculture and food play in social justice and ecology. I saw it as a practical avenue by which I could fulfill this vow. Indeed, I am still convinced of the important role agriculture plays, but while I was farming over the past five years, I realized that the problems run deeper than the topsoil. This is where my interest in the U.S. Constitution began, which has brought me here to law school. I see in our country in a struggle with roots that extend back to Europe. It is a struggle for inclusion in the public sphere. This struggle is fought, in part, over the Constitution.
I think the ACS Board Election FAQ’s expresses well my reasons for wanting to join the board. “Founded in 2001, ACS is comprised of law students, lawyers, scholars, judges, policymakers, activists and other concerned individuals who are working to ensure that the fundamental principles of human dignity, individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, and access to justice are in their rightful, central place in American law.”
I would like to play a substantial role in this worth while endeavor. I see it as an opportunity for education as well as a possibility to make a real contribution to the progressive legal community.
I have been inspired by recent discussions about the Constitution in the 21st Century Project, and I am excited by the prospect of playing a core role in this. Another interest I have is to explore the challenge to corporate personhood. This would trace the history of corporate personhood from its judicial creation in the late 19th Century and the role that it has played with respect to the individual’s access to the political sphere and protections under the Constitution. I see this issue as fundamental to addressing the disproportionate role that corporate executives play in making political and economic decisions thereby excluding the average citizen. Perhaps this is a bit quixotic, but I see this forum, the ACS, as ideal to explore some of the more risky and far-fetched ideas that we, as legal professionals, may not be able to address later in our careers.
Also, stemming from my commitment to democracy, I would like create more procedures, like our discussions about the Constitution in the 21st Century Project, that draw from the experiences and ideas of Columbia students. The reason that I value democracy is because of my faith in the human spirit and potential. I believe that broad inclusion in the public sphere will help to progress civilization because each person has a unique perspective and human potentiality. We do ourselves a disservice when we don’t utilize these resources. In the same way, I believe that by tapping into law students’ experiences and ideas, ACS benefits. While law students don’t have the experience or expertise of the legal professionals and scholars, they bring the beginner’s mind to the table. They are not limited by spheres of acceptable discussion so the spectrum of debate would be expanded to include ideas that other, more experienced, more prudent individuals may not dare to address for any number of reasons. This, I believe, will enrich the progressive legal culture as a whole.

Candidate Statement: Whitney Russell

Name: ___Whitney Russell______________________________

Class: ____2007_____________________________

Phone: ___347 881 6503______________________________

Email: ___war2102______________________________

Position(s) Desired: ___VP Membership__________________

Statement of Interest (1-2 pages):
Please address the following two questions in your statement:
1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?
2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

I would like to be a part of the ACS board because I think the work and objectives matter a great deal, and it’s wonderful to be involved with a group that energizes students to create the changes they want to see in the world. The people are consistently dynamic and interesting, and I want to give back and help organize it so that it is accessible to even more people than it has been this year.
I think that the ideas for next year are fascinating: the Constitution in the 21st Century, the ACS moot court, the reading group, all provide good opportunities to come together and discuss. The largest challenge that I see facing ACS membership is that people either don’t know that ACS exists or don’t know what it is, and as VP membership, I would address that by making ACS more visible in the first semester of the 1L year. As 1Ls enter the law school and are searching for groups with which to identify, ACS should be a clear option. Many of the entering students are ideologically aligned with ACS values and they are searching for ways to become invested in the school. The goal is to bring awareness to ACS so that people who are interested can seek it out.
To that end, as VP membership, I would push to have mixers in the first semester, perhaps in conjunction with or following the PILF and CPIL events. The journal article discussion (which only happened once this fall, I think) is also a great way to draw in individuals who are interested by providing an easy-access, issues-focused discussion. I suggest organizing several meetings a semester of the article discussion group, so that people who enjoyed it could bring friends to later sessions. Tabling early on (for some contrived reason – a bake sale, perhaps) could also help bring added visibility to the group.
Of course, the real strength of ACS lies in its membership, which is what ultimately drew me in. I would like to help provide other students with such an opportunity. I would love to be VP membership. Thank you for your perseverance in reading this far; now please go vote.

Candidate Statement: April Day

Name: _______April Day__________________________

Class: _________1L/Class of 2007________________________

Phone: ________703-863-1575_________________________

Email: ____________add2111@columbia.edu_____________________

Position(s) Desired: ____Vice President, Practitioner Relationships_________________

Statement of Interest (1-2 pages):
Please address the following two questions in your statement:
1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?
2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

1.Why are you interested in serving on the Board?

I would like to contribute to the development of a progressive response to certain changes in the development of constitutional jurisprudence. It is imperative to provide opportunities to connect persons in the legal community to promote the central place of equality, justice, and compassion within the U.S. Constitution.

Although persons drawn to ACS are very different in nature and personality from many persons drawn to the Federalist Society, I believe that growth of some parts of our response to that organizations actions are essential to protecting the principles of equality, justice, and compassion. Particularly, more frequent networking horizontally and vertically would be helpful to developing lawyers at CLS to promote ACS ideals when we graduate and enter the practicing legal community. For this reason, I have chosen to run for Vice President, Practitioner Relationships.

2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

I would like to develop a data base of judges at all levels and in both the state and federal judiciary that are committed to promoting ACS ideals. I would also like to create a database of persons working in different state and federal agencies that work daily to promote progressive policies at the state and federal levels, both in legal departments as well as policy departments. I believe this would develop practical, professional and well-guided experience for ACS student members in addition to fostering development of long-term professional and personal mentor relationships among ACS members at the national level.
I am not certain where else to raise some of my thoughts about the development of the ACS Chapter here at CLS, so I am including these ideas, although I do not believe that they fit the position to which I am applying. Furthermore, ACS is more organic in structure than position descriptions and I would work to promote these developments. First, at the interest meeting, I suggested a special liaison for 1L members in addition to the current general membership responsibilities of the Vice President. Second, also at the interest meeting, I raised the idea of a liaison to communities of color within CLS. (According to my general discussions with members of communities of color, we do not like the idea of greater state power because states have historically discriminated against us). This would most likely increase ACS membership and may also better coordination between groups of schedules in particular (like the unfortunate timing of inviting Eric Holder when BLSA was also holding speeches for elections…) Third, there was a discussion of developing an ACS moot court. Professor Metzger suggested talking to NALSA about how the moot court was developed and approved for credit here at CLS. I am a member of NALSA and know some of the CLS alumni that helped get the NALSA moot court approved for credit. These are some of the resources and ideas that I could bring to ACS.

Candidate Statement: Jennifer Bell

Name: Jenny Bell

Class: 2007

Phone: (914) 980-7580


Position(s) Desired: Vice President Membership Development, Treasurer

Statement of Interest (1-2 pages):
Please address the following two questions in your statement:
1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?
2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

I am interested in serving on the ACS Board because I feel very strongly that the organization is important in advocating democratic ideas and rights. My past involvement in Common Cause/NY, C-PLAN at the Office of the Public Advocate and other like-minded organizations has affirmed my commitment to these ideals. In order to achieve the ACS goals, I believe the visibility of the organization needs to be improved and membership increased. I am very interested in spearheading this effort at Columbia.

I enjoy working as part of a team to make things happen. My experience with membership and planning social activities include membership chair of the Duke University Sailing Team and outreach chair and president of the Duke University Freeman Center for Jewish Life. As outreach chair of the Sailing Team, I created and implemented a development plan, which included a number of fundraising events. These efforts increased Team coffers, visibility and membership. As part of my responsibilities in connection with the Freeman Center, I coordinated student outreach, planned social events, and organized intellectual and social programs with students and university administrators and faculty. In addition, I oversaw the day-to-day finances of the organization, identified and solicited funding sources and wrote grant applications. I am looking forward to becoming an active participant in ACS and planning to devote the requisite time to fulfill my responsibilities.

My suggestions for upcoming programming include:
• Expand the 1L-2L pairing program
• Organize a field trip for orientation, such as a tour of the New York Times, to increase interest in the organization and interaction between members and new students
• Plan a panel or roundtable discussion, for example on the question “Is art speech?”
• Organize a breakfast series with distinguished ACS practitioners so law students can network
• Develop interactive, discussion oriented programming with other student groups so other groups can learn more about ACS
• Schedule monthly social activities (for example: BBQ, ice skating or other activity in Central Park) to increase camaraderie and engage students

Candidate Statement: Keith Bradley

Name: ___Keith Bradley___________________

Class: ___2007__________________________

Phone: ___917-566-5641___________________

Email: ___kb2188@columbia.edu___________

Position(s) Desired: _VP, Practitioner Relationships

Statement of Interest (1-2 pages):
Please address the following two questions in your statement:
1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?
2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

Keith Bradley, for Vice President-Practitioner Relationships

A strong network of progressive lawyers is one of the most important goals of the ACS. Above all, we need a healthy community in which to develop ideas of progressive law. Students need role models, and practicing lawyers need invigorating contact with progressive students. Further, progressive law will be much better for including insights from practicing lawyers. In addition, of course, a strong network supports itself by nurturing lawyers throughout their careers, as students, as clerks, and later as mentors.
I propose to dedicate myself to building the ACS network through four main activities. First, I want to expand the mentoring program. I value my ACS mentor, and I believe all members could benefit similarly. Second, I plan to work on initiating an ACS moot court. Progressive students from multiple law schools will build relationships through working on a legal problem. Third, I will develop the clerkship database. The chapter itself should have a relationship with progressive judges. Also, I believe it is important for current students to meet and know recent graduates, and clerkship advice can be a useful medium. Fourth, I hope to improve our contact with the practitioner community directly. We need to attend events sponsored by the NY lawyer chapter, and we need to attract practitioners to our events.
In all of this, I mean to include practitioners of all kinds. There are progressives at top law firms and in corporations just as in public interest jobs. As a law school chapter, keeping them involved in progressive law is part of our job.
Who I am: I am a physicist, I am a Californian, I am a New Democrat. I am ambivalent about many core progressive convictions. But I share what I think are the basic premises: that everybody should be happy, and that when people aren't it's often not their fault. Legal structures have a deep influence on the way people live, and I am in law school to try to understand how.

Candidate Statement: Mike Newman

Name: __Mike Newman_______________________________

Class: ____’06_____________________________

Phone: ___212.853.3432______________________________

Email: __mjn2102@columbia.edu_______________________________

Position(s) Desired: __3L Rep___________________

Statement of Interest (1-2 pages):
Please address the following two questions in your statement:
1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?
2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

My experiences with ACS have been very rewarding thus far. I have been involved in most aspects of the chapter over the last two years, and I look forwards to sharing these experiences with the incoming leaders that will take charge of the group next year. We do many things well – I think our programming this year (although not always student-initiated) has been strong. However, I think there are several challenges that we continue to face as a chapter. These challenges offer opportunities for us to grow as well. I believe the following three issues should be addressed in the coming year:

We need to do a better job of getting rank-and-file members to become involved in the chapter. Developing a dynamic “reading group” is a great first step in making ACS a forum for progressive/liberal students to come together and engage each other intellectually. ACS’s Constitution 2020 project also offers the opportunity for us to work toward a unifying progressive vision of where we think American law should move over the next 20 years. Above all, I hope to help create an entrepreneurial spirit among members; particularly 1Ls. We can make this chapter anything we want, and the best way to get member participation is to encourage member ownership of events, even if (especially if) they are not on the board.

We should try to improve and expand the mentor program. As I stated above, I think that ASC, particularly the student chapters, should be focused on scholarship and debate. However, that does not mean we should ignore networking and career counseling. If the mentor program works well, it will provide great advice and contacts for our members in the workplace.

We should improve our communication with other student groups, particularly identity organizations that share our progressive vision of law. More perspectives leads to more interesting programming and more vibrant debate.

Candidate Statement: Nick Napolitan

Nicholas Napolitan
ACS Board Candidate—Vice President, Practitioner Relations
Statement of Interest

I am asked why I am interested in serving on the ACS board. I feel like I have to answer this question in two parts: why I want to be a board member for the ACS (instead of just a member), and why I want to be a board member for the ACS (instead of somewhere else). First, I want to be a board member for the ACS because I like to organize and I do it well. I want to see the group thrive, and I think that I can lend a skilled hand. I work best if I have responsibilities, and I enjoy working with others to make things happen. I enjoyed being a 1L board rep, I have done a lot in terms of event planning and brainstorming, and I want to keep it up.
Why the ACS? The ACS is still a young organization, and this is evident in a lot of what this chapter does—namely in the character of the group and the scale of the events. This is a progressive organization in a left leaning school in a liberal city. Growth, or at least development, will come easily. The question is, growth into what? The mission and guiding vision behind the organization go a long way in differentiating us, on paper, from the various complimentary groups at the law school, but in terms of events, speakers, and general character, we are still struggling to find some kind of niche. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that we currently exist as a bunch of anonymous member, with the occasional board meeting or speaker, and a flurry of e-mails and blog posts to keep us entertained. This stuff is great, but it doesn’t make for a unique presence at the Law School. Without something more, a behind-the-scenes connection with a savvy national organization doesn’t cut it.
There are a number of ways that the ACS could give the law school something that it doesn’t already have. First, I would very much like to see the ACS could create a sort of discussion group think-tank lunch thing. I am thinking specifically of the election recap from last November, which involved a quick, 10 minute presentation by Olati Johnson, and was followed by the best discussion that the ACS has produced all year. This kind of event, if held on a regular basis, would be a great way to give meaning to general membership in the Columbia chapter of the ACS beyond a nice sticker and a water bottle. I’ve headed discussion organizations in the past, and I think that such an activity would be a great compliment to the Columbia chapter of the ACS.
Second, I think that the ACS is in a unique position to identify and develop progressive constitutional issues in a depoliticized context. Our existence does not need to be as a foil to the Federalist Society. Debate is a great way of identifying those crucial points of impasse that make us disagree, but discussion is a better way of building consensus and actually finding a plausible basis for progressive policy. To my knowledge, we have only addressed conservative groups in the context of debate. A constitution should facilitate social agreement, and a Constitutional Society (call me crazy) should make building agreement at least a secondary goal. I am interested in hosting not just debates (which are still fun), but also roundtables in the future. A shift in context might go a long way.
I look forward to seeing where the organization goes in the coming years, and I am excited by the wealth of possibilities. I hope to see the organization develop a unique character and new role in the law school—something that will add a unique voice to the academic discourse, as well as a unique experience to law school.

Candidate Statement: Mary Kelly Persyn

Name: __Mary Kelly Persyn

Class: __1L

Phone: __617 285 0842

Email: __mp2331

Position(s) Desired: ___President

Statement of Interest (1-2 pages):
Please address the following two questions in your statement:
1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?
2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?

I want to serve the ACS as President because the organization represents my strongest political and intellectual interests and centrally reflects my commitment to establishing equal justice for all. Participation on the Board during my first year cemented my commitment to the ACS and its members here at Columbia, and I know that the organization will continue to provide a central focus for my time and energy for the next two years and far beyond.

A. ACS is a dynamic organization focused on long-term strategy to advance progressive goals.

We face a conservative ascendancy stronger than anything our nation has seen in decades. The values held by progressives, including the establishment and support of fundamental rights to education, health care, and (minimally) subsistence levels of food and shelter, are under continual and vigorous attack. The Schiavo bill, passed by Congress to interfere in state-court determinations of medical decision surrogacy, threatens the constitutional separation of powers and looms large in the progress toward theocracy that our nation currently risks.

The American Constitution Society was formed in 2001 to counteract this conservative ascendancy, particularly in the judiciary and in constitutional law. It is a dynamic organization committed to building coalitions among progressives and planning a strategic path that extends far into the future. We must begin now to plan for the difficult decades ahead in order to successfully build a path toward the democratic and rationally bipartisan future necessary to our country’s survival. ACS gives us a way to contribute to this goal in meaningful ways while we are still law students, and as President of ACS, I can and will promote that participation to the extent of our resources and ability.

B. The Columbia Board offers a great opportunity to support the ACS nationally.

The ACS is a new organization striving to grow and organize at a national level. It has a special focus on law students and law schools, recognizing that tomorrow’s lawyers are the lifeblood of its future. ACS’ concentration on younger students and lawyers means that we have many opportunities to contribute beyond Columbia. I am especially interested in attending ACS conferences and events, including the Yale conference in April and the ACS National Convention in July. My interest in participating in ACS at a national level is another reason why I am running for President, but just as strong is my goal of encouraging as many Columbia students as possible to attend ACS National events as a group. This would strengthen the nationwide progressive network as well as raising the profile of Columbia ACS.

C. I want to lead the Board as President because I have many ideas about how to expand ACS activities, I have good organization and leadership skills, and I served actively on the Board during my 1L year.

I explain my ideas for expanding ACS in #2 below. My participation on the Board this year gave me insight into the priorities and interests of our membership. Other than basic responsibilities, my contributions this year included a weekly law-and-policy column and occasional other blog entries (beginning in January), organization of a panel discussion between Professors Waldron and Yoo in April, and current participation in the Columbia ACS working group on the Constitution in the 21st Century. In addition, I am working on developing an ACS Moot Court program (see #2A below).

My organization and leadership skills are also demonstrated by my organization of a Gender and Public Speaking event in January (in conjunction with the Columbia Law Women’s Association); my other extracurricular activities this year included Frederick Douglass Moot Court and the staff of the Journal of Gender and Law.

Of all my law school commitments, ACS is the single most important. I believe that ACS gives all progressives a way to imagine a future beyond an unimaginable and otherwise unthinkable present. I would be honored to serve that vision and this organization as President.

2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

A. Moot court

I am currently working with ACS President Liz Aloi and Board Member Keith Bradley to develop an ACS Moot Court program. The program will invite all law schools with an ACS chapter to participate in a nationwide constitutional-law moot court competition. The first one will be held at Columbia in the spring of 2006, with the final round at the ACS National Convention in July. The problem will be written by a team of students from the host law school, which will rotate yearly.

Here at Columbia, the program will offer 1Ls interested in constitutional law another way to fulfill their moot court requirement. In addition, upper-class students could also participate if they so choose. The program will also heighten ACS’s profile at Columbia, thereby increasing our membership.

On a national level, the moot court program provides us a way to heighten our profile with ACS National (Columbia will be known as the founder of the moot). In addition, the program will support key ACS National initiatives by providing a laboratory of ideas about the Constitution in the 21st Century project (we will select the fact pattern topic from among those identified by that program). The moot court program can play an important role in increasing ACS involvement nationwide and encouraging more law students and young lawyers to give their time and energy to the American Constitution Society during law school and into their careers.

This program will mean a major expenditure of time and effort on the part of CLS ACS students and the larger institution. Therefore, once the new year has started, we will need to have a conversation about our priorities as a chapter and how this program might fit them. I look forward to leading that inquiry and working with my fellow ACSers to put this vision into action.

B. More outreach and co-sponsoring with identity groups at Columbia

ACS has a good relationship with identity groups at Columbia. I know that we can strengthen that relationship even more, thereby increasing our membership, accessing new ideas and perspectives, and building our all-important progressive network for law school and beyond.

Since our interests and commitments are in significant alignment with those of the identity groups, we should co-sponsor more events. I would also like to look into the possibility of co-sponsoring a major year-long initiative around a constitutional law issue—and, if it matches the interests and commitments of our members, spinning that initiative into a symposium (see below).

C. Spring symposium focused on a Constitution in the 21st Century initiative that we choose

In line with ACS National’s priority program, The Constitution in the 21st Century, and with the moot court program and the co-sponsored initiative explained above, it makes sense to think about tying all of these elements into a capstone symposium in the spring. It will give us an opportunity to cement our relationships with other campus groups and to pull together the results of a year of idea generation among the moot court participants.

It will also give us the opportunity to bring some prominent speakers onto campus, including present ACS Board members. We could consider arranging panels such that students who are expert in the topic also have an opportunity to participate alongside our invited speakers. We could use the symposium to pull together research and ideas, present new information and strategies, work toward publication of position papers, and engage in the all-important strengthening of the progressive network.

Most importantly, we can use our ACS programming to build our own agency and to insist on the possibility of hope. Rev. King knew that “the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” We are at a low point of the arc, but we have to believe that we travel in the direction of justice. I would be honored to serve the Columbia American Constitution Society as President for a year in the life of that journey.

Candidate Statement: Thomas Harding

Name: Thomas Harding

Class: 2007

Phone: (212) 853-0378


Position(s) Desired: Vice President, Practitioner Relationships

Statement of Interest (1-2 pages):
Please address the following two questions in your statement:
1. Why are you interested in serving on the ACS Board?
2. As a board member, what ideas for programming would you like to implement next year?

I am a liberal, and while I can vent fire from my heart and clamor my lungs, I will say so proudly. Ours is not a creed we hold alone, but it is something which all people could say with equal conviction and fervor. It is the fact I am certain the goals we pursue are goals fundamentally common to all that makes this the good fight and makes our eventual victory self-evident: “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”
To me, being a liberal means imagining a world in which discrimination never existed and uprooting the devices that impede us from living out that noble dream. It is not a Utopia that we pursue but an acknowledgment that the mythical past to which some in our society seek to revert never existed. Our destiny lies before us rather than behind. I think liberalism combines a blindness to the happenstance that divide us while actively trying to raise up society’s lowest members first. Part of our agenda is to maintain the ground we have won, but the aims of social justice must not be content until a broad equality of sexual identity is legally recognized, and the retributive impulse that makes our nation shamefully the global center of capital punishment and mass imprisonment is finally quelled.
The ideals underlying liberalism will not prevent us from harnessing every means available to win back the reigns of power. I don’t believe that this good fight of ours should prevent us from realizing that it is an increasingly ugly fight. They are scheming how to beat us, and we must counter-scheme. We will not manipulate people’s fear, but we must make them believe. The struggle is tireless, and it is dirty: fight them on the mountains, and fight them on the beaches; take them to the trenches, and never let go.
I will continue to help in whatever capacity I can, whether or not elected to the ACS board, but the position in which I am most interested is Vice President of Practitioner Relationships. It is the weakness of organization, both internal and external, that has continually hampered the thriving spirit of liberalism. Building the scaffolding between Columbia, other law schools and like-minded members of the legal community will provide the foundation on which our other goals depend. Inviting more progressive judges and lawyers to speak on behalf of the organization, participating more publicly in events around New York and developing a stronger relationship with the NYU chapter of ACS will all help increase our visibility in the legal community. I truly believe that these ties must be sought out, and there are judges and lawyers in the greater community who desire stronger bonds to progressive law students. There is no reason why we should not be able to provide our upcoming members with some assurance that we will help them get clerkships, and judges will be interested in seeing American Constitution Society on their resumes. There is nothing contrary to liberalism about pursuing a high level of organization, and if we build it, they will come.
If unelected, I will help honestly and ardently in whatever way I can, but I hope to participate as actively as possible in ACS next year and will do my very best to benefit this organization if allowed.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

This week in law and policy

DOD considers changes in Gitmo trial structure

The Department of Defense is considering making major changes to the military tribunals that are supposed to be used for the trials of detainees. According to military and administration sources, reports the New York Times, a 200-page manual circulated by DOD presents new standards and procedures.

If adopted, the new rules would create stronger protections for defendants, exclude confessions obtained by torture, and bring in more independent judges to conduct the trials. Generally, the tribunals would become more like military courts-martial. Such changes seemingly meet some of the challenges brought by lawyers like Lt. Commander Charles Swift, who visited Columbia LS earlier this year.

However, Vice President Dick Cheney's opposition to the modifications may create obstacles to getting them passed.

Despite Army recommendation, 17 involved in detainee deaths will not be tried

The Associated Press reports that 17 military personnel involved in detainee deaths (detailed below) will not be prosecuted for their involvement; in most cases, commanders ruled that service members had used appropriate force.

In the first comprehensive accounting of detainee deaths, the Army Criminal Investigation Command reports that twenty-seven detainees were killed in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan between August 2002 and November 2004. The deaths were suspected or confirmed homicides. Eighteen cases have led to recommendations of prosecution or other action by supervising agencies.

For example, in one case, the cause of death was "blunt force trauma" to an Iraqi detainee who died at Abu Ghraib on November 4, 2003. Several Navy SEAL commandos and one sailor have been charged in the death and will be court-martialed.

The legal ramifications of the deaths are complicated by disputes over the prisoners' status; while Afghan prisoners are POWs, many detainees captured in Iraq have been denied Geneva-law POW status.

No senior official or officer has been fired as a result of the investigation or any of the deaths (or other torture cases).

Schindlers exhaust legal appeals in Schiavo case

The tragic saga of Terri Schiavo appears to be drawing to a close, as her parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, have exhausted all available state and federal appeals. Schiavo's feeding tube was removed on March 18. While Schiavo's husband has maintained that his wife would not want to live in a persistent vegetative state, her parents have argued that Terri is minimally conscious and does not want to die. Courts have consistently sided with Michael Schiavo.

Spurred on by the Schiavo case, Congress has indicated that it plans a debate on the question of who should make end-of-life decisions when the patient's wishes are unknown.

Medellin v Dretke arguments on Monday

Scotusblog reports that Medellin v Dretke arguments will continue Monday. The case engages critical questions of international treaty law's treatment in American courts, habeas corpus law, and executive authority.

Medellin, a Mexican national, was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a Texas court without being informed that Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (the US is a party) gives him the right to request legal assistance from the Mexican consulate. Lower courts ruled that Medellin could not raise a defense or objection on appeal that was not raised at trial and, independently, that the Convention does not create a private right of action.

Excellent analysis and more links available on the Scotusblog.

California domestic partners law under attack

Jurist reports that trouble is brewing in California over the state's new domestic partnership law. Opponents claim that the law, which assigns many of the legal duties and rights of marriage to gay couples that register as domestic partners (including automatic parenthood), violates Proposition 22, California's version of DOMA.

Opponents claim that the proposition not only defined marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, but also implicitly barred gay couples from the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Therefore, they argue, the law overturns the will of California voters.

California's Third District Court of Appeal has not indicated when it will rule.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Right to die, or right to live?

UPDATE: The House has passed the bill (just after midnight, following three hours of debate).

UPDATE: Jurist reports that the Senate has passed a bill allowing Schiavo's case to be heard de novo by a federal court.

The biggest constitutional news of the week is unquestionably the battle over Terry Schiavo's fate (index to documents and coverage available at; Professor Dorf's Oct. 2003 commentary on the constitutional implications here). Schiavo suffered a brief heart attack fifteen years ago when she was only twenty-five. The attack left her severely brain damaged in what doctors have described as a persistent vegetative state. While she breathes on her own, she depends on a small tube inserted in her stomach for nutrition and hydration (she cannot swallow on her own). Medical opinions accepted by the Florida courts indicate that she will never recover. In other words, Terry Schiavo's intellect, memory, higher brain function, and ability to communicate are gone; only her body remains.

Florida law unquestionably leaves the decision whether to refuse treatment to the patient, but Schiavo left no living will or health care proxy. In cases like this one, the courts must evaluate testimony from next of kin in order to discern the patient's wishes--hence the seven-year, nineteen-judge-long war between her husband, Michael Shiavo, and her parents, the Schindlers. While Michael insists that Terry told him she would never want to be kept alive by artificial means, the Schindlers swear that Terry responds to them and that she must continue to be fed. Nevertheless, throughout the long history of the case, the judges have consistently found that Michael Schiavo is the appropriate person to make medical decisions on his wife's behalf.

Family law matters belong to the state courts unless a federal constitutional violation has occurred. House Republicans have submitted a compromise bill that would force the Schiavo case into the federal courts on the grounds that withdrawing Ms. Schiavo's feeding tube violates her right to due process. The bill does not mandate reinsertion of the tube; rather, it requires a de novo examination of the medical evidence relating to her condition.

It seems to me, though, that the more appropriate question is whether the correct decisional surrogate is Mr. Schiavo or the Schindlers. Once that determination is made, the courts should no longer play a role in this most intimate of family matters.

And who among us could say what the right decision is? Ms. Schiavo's situation, and that of both branches of her feuding family, is undeniably tragic. There is no good answer to the questions posed by Terry Schiavo's condition. Her body survives. Does her soul? No woman or man can presume to say. Her parents believe that God can still bring her back. Who are we to deny their hope? But who are we to force her to continue such a marginal and precarious existence?

What right have we--what right have our elected officials--to get involved in this decision at all?

The judicial and legislative branches have interfered with this private family matter long enough. These decisions should lie between family members, their consciences, and their God. The fifteen-year-long court battle, the repeated withdrawal and reinsertion of the feeding tube, the highly-publicized demonstrations outside Schiavo's hospice, the politicization and grandstanding surrounding her condition: all this theater demeans her dignity and violates her privacy. It needs to stop.

And rather than forcing a vote on legislation that would mandate federal review of this decision, our elected representatives ought to educate their constituencies about the critical importance of living wills and honest communication with family members about personal wishes in the case of incapacitation.

Monday, March 07, 2005

ACS Board Elections!

Its time to run for the best board at Columbia!

What is ACS?
The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) is one of
the nation's leading progressive legal organizations. Founded in
2001, ACS is comprised of law students, lawyers, scholars, judges,
policymakers, activists and other concerned individuals who are
working to ensure that the fundamental principles of human dignity,
individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, and access to
justice are in their rightful, central place in American law.  The
Columbia Chapter’s faculty advisors are Professor Mike Dorf and
Professor Gillian Metzger

What do they do at Columbia?
We are a group of law students who believe in a progressive vision
of law and society. Each term, we organize a wide range of
activities such as speeches and debates by noted legal scholars and
political figures, student symposia, and social events.

What Board Positions are Available?

 The President is in charge of all the day-to-day operations of the
Chapter.  S/he will serve as a liaison to ACS national and other
lawyer and student chapters.  S/he is also responsible for holding
regular board and membership meetings.

Vice President, Membership Development
 This board member is responsible for maintaining our membership
database, as well as organizing membership development events,
including social programming.   They will oversee administration of
our mentorship program and be the point person for planning our
orientation event.

The Treasurer is responsible for submitting budget information to
the Student Senate each semester and for managing our Columbia

The Secretary will keep and distribute minutes from board and
regular meetings, and will work with the other board members to
publicize events.

Debate Chair
The debate chair will oversee a minimum of one debate, usually with
the Federalist Society, per semester.

 The Blog/Webmaster will be responsible for updating our CLS
webpage, and for maintaining and promoting content on our web-log.
No special computer skills necessary.

Vice President, Practitioner Relationships
This board member will serve as a liaison to the ACS practitioner
community, as well as the CLS faculty clerkship committee.  S/he
will help to organize the development of a database to serve as a
resource for ACS members applying for clerkships and other legal

Vice President, Special Initiatives
 This Board member will be the chapter point person for special ACS
National Initiatives, like the Constitution in the 21st Century
Project and other projects as they develop.

3L Representative-at-large (up to 3
 The 3L Representatives at large will be responsible for providing
support to the other board members as needed.

1L Representative (2)
1L Representatives will be selected by the board next fall.  One of
the 1L representatives will represent the chapter at the Public
Interest Umbrella Group Meetings.

When will Elections be Held?
ACS Elections will be held on Tuesday, March 29th at lunchtime.

How do I Run?
First, fill out a board application  available in Liz Aloi’s mail-file.   They
are due Friday, March 25th at 5pm.   Then, come to the elections on
March 29th prepared to give a brief statement. That’s it!

Who is Eligible to Vote?
Any one who has self-identified as being an ACS member by (1) paying
their national dues or (2) attending ACS events in the last school

Where can I find out more information?
Check out our website (, or email Liz at eaa2101 or Mike
at mjn2102.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Detainees, human rights, and international standards

Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, Salim Hamdan's lawyer, addresses the "war on terror"

Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a driver for Osama bin Laden, was apprehended in 2001 by a local group of bounty hunters in Saudi Arabia and delivered to the American authorities in exchange for $5,000. Brought to the United States and detained in Guantanamo Bay, Hamdan has challenged both his detention and the trial by military commission that was preliminarily approved by the Supreme Court in June.

On Monday, his lawyer, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, spoke at Columbia about the conditions of Hamdan's arrest and detention. Even after he was assigned to defend Hamdan before a commission, the government told him that he could access his client only to discuss a guilty plea--and, moreover, the government wouldn't say what Hamdan should or would be charged with: the accused and his lawyer were supposed to come up with a series of charges, and then plead guilty to them.

But neither Hamdan nor Lt. Cmdr. Swift were willing to do so--particularly since Hamdan had never been in the military and hadn't even shot at anyone (notwithstanding President Bush's determination that Hamdan was in the military and was therefore an "enemy combatant"). Having won Hamdan's right to be present at all hearings related to his case, Lt. Cmdr. Swift is currently engaged in defending Hamdan in both a trial by military commission and a trial in US Federal Court.

In November, DC District Judge Robertson ruled that unless and until the Government determines via competent tribunal that Hamdan is not entitled to POW status, he may only be tried by court martial; that until the procedures of military commissions were brought into line with the UCMJ by allowing Hamdan access to hearings and to the evidence against him, they are unlawful; and that Hamdan had to be released from solitary confinement at Camp Echo and returned to regular detainment with other prisoners.

The issue of the constitutionality of the military tribunals set up to try war crimes suspects is on appeal to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals; ScotusBlog reports that oral argument has been postponed to April 7 (previously scheduled for March 8).

Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch on torture and international law

HRW Special Counsel Reed Brody spoke on Abu Ghraib and its aftermath at Columbia on Tuesday, focusing on the lack of accountability evidenced by a failure to charge any higher-ups with establishing policies overly tolerant of torture.

Brody noted that although Secty. Powell told the world to watch America and see how it would do the right thing in bringing the Abu Ghraib abusers to justice, ten months afterward there has been little change. Though justice and accountability distinguish Rule of Law nations from dictatorships and banana republics, he noted, we're still waiting to see significant change in war policy.

Beyond the detention centers that the world knows about--most prominently Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay--Brody noted that the United States is also holding "high-value" detainees in secret locations. Not even their governments know where they are; though Indonesia requested access to one of its citizens in order to collect legal testimony, the United States refused to furnish information--even though Indonesia had originally given up the suspect.

In response to cases like that of Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian citizen taken to Syria, held there for a year, and tortured--allegedly by the agency of the United States--Rep. Edward Markey (D, MA) introduced anti-rendition legislation this week.