Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic

LW.10328 / LW.10353
Professor Myrna Pérez (Fall)
Professor Alicia Bannon (Spring)
Open to 3L, 2L and LLM students
Maximum of 12 fieldwork positions
Fall and Spring semesters
5 credits*
No prerequisites or co-requisites


The Purpose of the Brennan Clinic

The Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic is a semester-long fieldwork clinic designed to teach public policy reform strategies in the context of the real world campaigns that form the core of the Brennan Center’s work. The Clinic will be taught by lawyers from the Brennan Center. In recognition of the fact that multi-strategy lawyering is increasingly necessary for dealing with societal inequities, including unjust laws and policies, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Clinical Law Program of New York University School of Law combine efforts to promote the rigorous study of public policy advocacy. The aim is to understand and master the broad range of strategies and skills relied on by advocates seeking to change public policy.

In both the Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 semesters, the Clinic’s work will be closely organized around the activities of the Brennan Center, which are divided among three program areas: Democracy (elections and voting rights, money in politics, fair courts, redistricting and responsive government), Justice (mass incarceration and racial justice reform, and promoting community-oriented defense), and Liberty and National Security (transparency and privacy issues and domestic counterterrorism policies, including intelligence collection). The work in each of these program areas is described more fully in the Fieldwork section below.

Course Description

The Seminar

The Public Policy Advocacy Seminar meets for two hours weekly.

Through class discussion, exercises arising out of fieldwork, workshops, simulation, and critique, students are trained in strategies and skills to influence public policy decision-making, focusing on a range of substantive policy areas, and considering local, state, and national contexts. Strategies and skills may include: conducting policy analysis and research; engaging in coalition building and organizing; collecting and analyzing opinion data; drafting and negotiating laws and rules; conducting lobbying; developing public education plans and using media effectively; fundraising; and running a nonprofit organization. The seminar will emphasize the relationship among these strategies and skills, including how they interact with public interest litigation. As in all clinics at the law school, it is expected that the study of process, grounded in actual experience in the field, will enhance students’ abilities as advocates. Students learn how to run and support policy reform campaigns by studying theory and real life examples, and by testing solutions through simulation and actual application. The seminar offers students the opportunity to examine historical and current approaches to achieving policy reform and to propose and subject to critique their own strategies for reform. As part of the seminar, students will be integrated into real-time research and analysis of policy problems and advocacy for particular solutions. Students will be asked regularly to submit short written assignments, including simulation documents, essays, reports, or other work relating to fieldwork or other policy issues.

The seminar portion of this clinic will be substantially similar each semester; therefore, while students may apply to participate in the clinic either semester, they will not be permitted to enroll in both.

Fieldwork at the Brennan Center for Justice

All students in the clinic will work on projects at the Brennan Center. Students should expect to devote substantial time, at a minimum of 10-15 hours a week during the semester, to their fieldwork, and will also report on their fieldwork to the professors, and to the class, on a regular basis. The fieldwork projects reward investment of effort; students who dedicate more energy to their projects will learn more from the experience.

In the past, students working at the Brennan Center have helped promote campaign finance reform in New York State and nationally, change New York State legislative processes, restore the vote to persons with felony convictions, develop guidelines for voter-protective purges, advocate for modernizing voter registration in the states, facilitate Congressional oversight of intelligence activities, establish Congressional oversight over domestic eavesdropping activities, reduce barriers to student voting, campaign to reduce mass incarceration, promote adequate funding for courts and access to justice, and strengthen rules regulating judicial recusal.

In the coming year, students will similarly be offered the opportunity to work on one of several projects at the heart of the Brennan Center’s mission. A list of available projects will be circulated at the beginning of the semester, and based on student interest and availability, students will be assigned to particular project teams. Students interested in specific Brennan Center initiatives, or who possess experience in areas of policy relevant to the Brennan Center’s work may find unique ways to develop their interests and to gain additional experience through the clinic. Students are strongly encouraged to examine the Brennan Center website for additional information about the Center’s current activities.

Below is a brief description of some of these activities.

Democracy Program

The Brennan Center’s Democracy Program seeks to bring the ideal of representative self-government closer to reality. The Program collaborates with grassroots groups, advocacy organizations, and reform-minded government officials to eliminate barriers to full and equal political participation and to promote institutions that meaningfully reflect the diverse interests and views of the populace. Current initiatives include:

  • Voting Rights and Elections — The Center works to promote fair representation of disempowered constituencies and to eliminate unnecessary burdens on registration and on voting. The project promotes policies that make voting more accessible, including modernizing the voter registration system in the states and on the federal level. The project includes work on the Right to Vote Campaign, which seeks to end barriers to voting by people with felony convictions, including the successful effort to pass the first referendum in the country restoring the right to vote to persons with convictions. It also includes work to protect voters from illegal purges, challenges and other barriers to voting that can deprive eligible citizens of the right to vote on Election Day. The Center has published the most comprehensive studies to date on new voting systems and registration lists, drew widespread attention to illicit purges and mass challenges, fought restrictions on voter registration drives and provisional ballots, and has been at the forefront of the struggle against new and overly restrictive identification rules. The Center now continues its multi-pronged attempt to ensure that those who wish to vote can vote, and have their votes counted, including a long-range campaign to secure voter registration modernization.
  • Money in Politics — The Center works to combat the unfair influence of money on our electoral and legislative processes. The Center has promoted public argument and scholarship to show how reform can augment speech, pursued extensive academic study to supply data to the reform effort, and worked to draft, enact, and defend the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (“BCRA,” or McCain-Feingold), the principal federal campaign finance reform bill of the modern campaign era. The Center is now engaged in promoting and defending various finance reforms across the country, including creative efforts to secure public financing for campaigns. The Center has played a leading role in a broad-based initiative to bring publicly financed elections to New York State, and has been at the forefront of developing a viable proposal for publicly funding federal elections.
  • Fair Courts — The Center seeks to protect the independence, impartiality, and integrity of the courts so that they can defend the rights of unpopular and vulnerable populations and uphold other core public values. The Center has become pivotal in the assessment of modern judicial campaigns, including study and advocacy concerning fundraising, advertising, campaign speech, recusal standards, and associated canons of ethical conduct. The Center played an instrumental role in a groundbreaking case in which the Supreme Court ordered, on constitutional due process grounds, a state justice to recuse himself from a case involving a litigant who individually spent $3 million supporting the justice's campaign. The Center continues to advocate for meaningful reform of judicial disqualification practice in the states, including by advocating for reform of the American Bar Association’s model rules. On the federal side, the Center has been a vocal advocate for the need to fill judicial vacancies.
  • Redistricting & Government Accountability — The Center promotes accountability, transparency, and ethics of government at all levels. The Center produced the landmark and oft-cited study of New York’s legislative process that galvanized the current statewide reform movement, and has drafted reform legislation to help secure the integrity and transparency that the legislative process deserves. The Center has also engaged in extensive analysis of redistricting processes around the country.

Justice Program

The Brennan Center’s Justice Program is dedicated to justice system reform that reduces the gap between the promise of equal justice and the day to day reality experienced by many in our court system. The Center has led the national fight for effective civil legal representation for low income communities, including by fighting legal services funding restrictions and by advancing the civil right to counsel. Current initiatives include:

  • Working to End Mass Incarceration — The Center works to advocate an end to mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects communities of color, furthers inequality, and fails to accomplish public safety goals. The program examines the economic and society cost of the criminal justice system, and advocates ending the criminalization of minor behavior, holding actors in the criminal justice system accountable, and instituting effective, evidence-based programs.
  • Strengthening Indigent Defense and Promoting Racial Justice Reform — The Center works to strengthen indigent defense services, including by building the national community oriented defender movement, and by partnering with public defender programs in multiple communities to investigate racial bias and to advocate for needed reform (e.g., in Massachusetts the Center has authored and introduced racial profiling legislation) The Center is also conducting research and advocacy to counteract the recent trend of financing court systems by imposing onerous fees and fines on individuals convicted of crimes.

Liberty and National Security Program

The Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program aims to ensure that our response to terrorism is consistent with Constitutional norms and values. We are currently conducting two interlocking campaigns. The first campaign focuses on restoring the proper flow of information between the government and the governed. It seeks to ensure that government collection of information about Americans is limited (privacy) and that citizens have access to information that allows them to develop informed views about the government’s policies (transparency). The goal of the second campaign is to advocate for domestic counterterrorism policies are narrowly tailored to the terrorist threat. This includes developing information about intelligence collection by the government (particularly about Muslim Americans) and articulating reasonable limits on the collection of such information.

Application Procedure

Students who wish to apply to the Public Policy Advocacy Clinic should submit via CAMS the standard application, resume and unofficial transcript. Each applicant is urged to explain why s/he is interested in this Clinic in the application. Some applicants may be contacted during the Clinic application period for an interview with the professors, in order to evaluate fieldwork interests and explore more fully the appropriateness of the Clinic for the students' professional interests and educational goals; based on the past popularity of the Clinic, the professors may not be able to interview every applicant, and some applicants may be selected for admission to the Clinic without an interview. Please contact Nelson Castano via email if you have any questions.

Student Contacts

Interested students might wish to contact current or former Clinic students about their work with the Brennan Center.

Fall 2014 Brennan Clinic Spring 2015 Brennan Clinic
Manuel Antunes
Jessica Boulet
Elise Bromberg
Leigh Hartman
Megan Henry
Maureen Howley
Hannah Kirshner
Nathan Rouse
Rachel Shapiro
David Angelatos
Samuel Beckerman
Frank Bewkes
Carolyn Cole
Hamish Collings-Begg
Nirmalee De Mel
Zoe Fuhr
Alexandra Hiatt
David Jastrab
Emily Mullin
Catherine Owens
Rafael Taraszkiewicz Wowk

* 5 credits include 3 clinical credits and 2 academic seminar credits.