Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Candidate Statement: Jon Sherman

I am running for President, Vice President, and Events Chair, and I ask for your vote. Above all, I care about acting on the ideas developed below, and with a board of equals committed to collaboration and innovation, none of these projects lies beyond our reach. This year has been a phenomenal welcome to Columbia Law’s progressive community. With Mary Kelly at the helm, the chapter has taken great strides, with an exceptional moot court competition, numerous speaking events with some inspiring figures, and a steep rise in our membership. For the coming year, I think we should take a step back and begin with a question that dogs each of us privately and the lawyers and policymakers we admire publicly: what do progressives stand for today? ACS is a non-partisan organization, to be sure, but at day’s end, there is content to our creed. I watched hundreds of FedSoc members from all over the country cheer, applaud, boo, criticize, and fight all weekend at the symposium on international law to define themselves. What is our definition? What values will we fight for at law school and as legal and policy professionals? What issues and policies strike closest to our convictions?

These questions suggest the contours of the conversation we need to continue having and developing in this law school. My own personal definition of a progressive (and it’s rough) is someone who wakes up in the morning, reads the news, and concludes this is not the best of all possible worlds, that there is still much farther to travel in fulfilling constitutional promises of equality of opportunity and personal liberty. To that end, the programming of ACS needs to seek even higher ground next year. For starters, I propose that we match FedSoc with our own symposium. There has been talk of a co-sponsored symposium with CSIL, and Suehiko’s human rights symposium is still hanging in the balance. I think we owe it to this community and ACS chapters nationwide that do not have the numbers or the hunger we do to present a coherent vision of progressivism as illuminated by a focused topic with the potential to galvanize the greater ACS community and to come out in force as students and professionals. One initial proposal is to engage the law and policy governing state accountability, freedom of information, and government secrecy. This would exercise the breadth of constitutional law (and democratic theory) and the depth of complicated legislative analysis. It would also hopefully serve as a communal rededication to ACS-specific values. In addition, I propose we fulfill the unfulfilled promise of the first ACS Law Student Organizing Conference at HLS by co-organizing our own with NYU Law. I have been in touch with an ACS board member there, and we spoke tentatively about trying to bring more students together for a more substantive conversation in the future.

You also might have noticed that the lack of communication and collaboration between the law school and SIPA. This is symptomatic of a larger divide that persists in academia, in New York City, in D.C.: policy professionals and institutions do not know lawyers and the law and vice versa. As President or otherwise, I would hope to put desk lawyers, litigators, and law students in dialogue with policy professionals and students. In the NSA panel I planned this semester, I felt the conversation benefited tremendously from Professor Edgar’s knowledge of the intelligence community. Why can we not bring such interdisciplinary discipline to abortion, voting dilution, political asylum, counterterrorism, etc.? Along similar lines, I think we might better invest our members in the life of ACS, give them stakes in our community, by allowing them speaking time at our general meetings. I have in mind a “Faces of ACS” presentation with two people or so presenting on personal experience with complicated issues that implicate constitutional law, issues, and policies we wrestle with as an organization. Also, if we utilize committees, there may be some potential to better engage our new recruits and some of our old non-participating recruits.

A few more points, a story, and then I’ll quit. I’ve worked for a number of organizations over the last two years: the Dean campaign, Human Rights Watch, the Center for American Progress, the Control Arms Campaign, and will this summer, most likely be working at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan unless another Danish cartoonist decides to doodle with his racist hand. I’m in this thing for the long haul. Two items in full disclosure: (1) I am pretty competitive, like Churchill, “I fight for my corner, and I stay till the pub closes.” If elected, ACS will not be pushed around by FedSoc on my watch and will in all likelihood rapidly come to be recognized as a coequal (or a superior forum). I suspect that my friendship with at least three members of the FedSoc board, including their new President Amanda Steele, will prove an asset in collaborating on events. (2) Healthy, productive differences of opinion aside, I have limited tolerance for petty infighting and will work to minimize and eliminate it. I still feel the same as I did two and a half years ago on the campaign: too many people depend on our ideas and our actions to burn energy and time. We have none to spare. Enough gravity though. On style, we need even more informality and even more humor in our campus presence (the blog helps this along tremendously). I feel a number of organizations alienate 1Ls with typical law school rigidity and hyper-formality in those first months. We should be a formal forum when we need to be, but our default should be an informal home for new (and old) law students where all members and event attendees feel comfortable to express their beliefs, challenge us, and yes, joke around (law school is dark enough as it is). To that end, more member parties, potlucks, gatherings, something regularized so that we see each other more often outside JG106.

Sorry for the brevity. I am a more economical speaker. One story from my spring break, then I’ll quit. I worked in Atlanta on voting rights for New Orleans residents displaced by the hurricane. In one distant office complex in Decatur, at the Refugee Resettlement and Immigration Services of Atlanta (RRISA) office, a friend and I met a Sudanese refugee while sitting in the waiting room. At the time, there were no Katrina evacuees in house, though RRISA has assisted hundreds with housing and employment. As this man told us about fleeing Sudan to Ethiopia, I re-realized what I already knew, that American citizens share an office and a process with this man. That our government’s inaction has rendered New Orleans evacuees no better off than Sudanese refugees. That is not to suggest any inequality in tragedy or need, but at certain moments, it hits you with more force than usual, this deep, deep third world in our first world country that survives on our society’s will or lack thereof. We, as students today and as lawyers and policymakers tomorrow, will have a chance to right this.

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