Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic
No prerequisites or co-requisites
The Purpose of the Brennan Clinic
The Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic is a year-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. Recognizing 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 are combining 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.
The Clinic’s work will be closely organized around the activities of the Brennan Center, which are divided among two main program areas: Democracy (elections and voting rights, fair courts, campaign finance reform, redistricting and responsive government) and Justice (access to justice, criminal justice reform and liberty and national security). The work in each of these program areas is described more fully in the Fieldwork section below.
The Public Policy Advocacy Seminar meets for two hours weekly in the fall and spring. 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 may be asked regularly to submit short written assignments, including simulation documents, essays, reports, or other work relating to fieldwork or other policy issues.
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 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, change New York State legislative processes, restore the vote to persons with felony convictions, develop guidelines for voter-protective purges, facilitate Congressional oversight of intelligence activities, establish congressional oversight over domestic eavesdropping activities, reduce barriers to student voting, advocate for a civil right to counsel, and reform Ohio’s election administration. 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 (such as political process and voting, governmental or bureaucratic reform, governmental regulation of nonprofits, or the provision of civil legal aid or indigent defense services) 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 at www.brennancenter.org for additional information about the Center’s current activities. Below is a brief description of some of these activities.
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 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. 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 universal registration.
- 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. Most recently, the Center played an instrumental role in a case now up for review in the Supreme Court, that seeks to overturn, on constitutional due process grounds, a state justice's decision declining to recuse himself from a case involving a litigant who individually spent $3 million supporting the justice's campaign.
- 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, and will be launching a national campaign to promote fair, transparent and responsive districting practices in anticipation of the upcoming 2010 redistricting cycle.
- Campaign Finance Reform — 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 Brennan Center’s Justice Program is dedicated to justice system reform that secures the rule of law, reducing the gap between the promise of equal justice and the day to day reality. Current initiatives include:
- Access to Justice — The Center fights to ensure courts and other social institutions remain open and fair, in criminal and civil matters, despite disparities of wealth and power. The Center has led the national fight for effective civil legal representation for low income communities, including by fighting legal services funding restrictions, advancing the civil right to counsel movement, and attacking language barriers in the state courts. The Center also works to strengthen indigent defense services, including by building the national community oriented defender movement, and 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; in Maryland, the Center is examining racial disparities in arrests and prosecution. 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 who pass through these systems.
- Liberty and National Security Project — The Center aims to restore accountability, transparency, and the Constitution’s structural checks and balances in providing both freedom and national security in an era of enhanced executive power. The Center advocates for structural approaches to counterterrorism that yield more effective laws sensitive to civil liberties, and has provided representation of, and advice to counsel for, detainees in counter-terrorism operations inside and outside the U.S. It is also researching and conducting advocacy on the impact of domestic counter-terrorism on minority communities in the United States. The Center will continue to document and combat executive overreaching, and strive to articulate an alternative positive vision of what counter-terrorism law enforcement should look like in the United States.
Students who wish to apply to the Public Policy Advocacy Clinic should submit via CAMS the standard application, résumé and unofficial transcript. Each applicant 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 Mr. Ivey at 212-998-6474 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Interested students might wish to contact current or former Clinic students about their work with the Brennan Center.
|2008-09 Brennan Clinic||2007-08 Brennan Clinic|
Ellison ‘Nelly’ Ward
Alice Mei Ho
* 10 credits includes 3 clinical credits and 2 academic seminar credits per semester.