Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic


The Purpose of the Brennan Center 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. Lawyers from the Brennan Center will teach the clinic. 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 multi-faceted 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 2024 and Spring 2025 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, federal reform, election security, money in politics, fair courts, and redistricting), Justice (mass incarceration), and Liberty and National Security (civil liberties issues related to counterterrorism, police surveillance, and national security; content moderation issues related to free expression and disparate impact). The work in each of these areas is described more fully in the Program Descriptions section below. However, it may not be possible to place students in each program area given the size of the clinic and programmatic needs.

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; running a nonprofit organization; and litigating.

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.  Students will be assigned to particular project teams based on student interest and availability. Students are strongly encouraged to examine the Brennan Center website for additional information about the Center’s current 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 Project works to promote free, fair, and accessible elections, increase electoral participation (especially among minority communities), and to eliminate unnecessary burdens on the right to vote. The Project promotes policies at the state and federal level that make voting more accessible and universal, including modernizing the way we register voters. The Project includes work to end the disenfranchisement of people living and working in the community with felony convictions in their past. The Project has published the most comprehensive studies to date on new voting systems and registration lists, drawn 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 overly restrictive identification rules. The Project continues its multi-pronged approach to ensure that all eligible Americans are able to cast a ballot that counts, including several long-range campaigns.
  • Redistricting — The Center fights for a fair and accurate census and independent and transparent redistricting that protects communities and ensures that communities of color have a meaningful seat at the table. The Center’s work includes quantitative and qualitative research, active participation in major court cases, including at the Supreme Court, long-term projects to shape the legal jurisprudential landscape, and policy work on the state and federal levels. The Center also acts as a trusted public voice on redistricting issues in both national and regional publications.
  • 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 and increase transparency in political spending. The Center routinely advises lawmakers and agencies at the local, state, and federal levels, resulting in numerous implemented money-in-politics reforms throughout the country. It also initiates or as amicus supports litigation to shape the law that governs campaign finance reform.
  • Election Security — The Center works to ensure that U.S. election infrastructure is secure and accessible to every voter, and to protect elections from foreign interference. The Center has outlined steps to improve election administration across the board, in order to protect the right to vote and have that vote counted accurately. Recommendations include replacing old voting machines, upgrading voter registration databases, taking measures to increase resiliency, conducting thorough audits of paper ballots, performing regular risk assessments, and fixing ballot design defects. The Center advocates for voting methods that produce a paper backup of each vote and promotes risk-limiting audits. To that end, the Center has been involved in conducting risk-limiting audit pilots in a number of states, including Rhode Island, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The Center routinely advises lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels and has played an instrumental role in efforts to secure federal election security funding to states. The Center also acts as a trusted public explainer on election security issues, most recently having developed a new framework for election vendor oversight, and is widely cited in both national and regional publications.
  • 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.

Justice Program

The Brennan Center’s Justice Program seeks to secure our nation’s promise of “equal justice for all” by creating a rational, effective, and fair justice system. Its priority focus is to reform the criminal justice system so that it better reduces crime and reduces mass incarceration. The program uses economics to produce new empirical analysis and innovative policy solutions to advance this critical goal. It also works to ensure a fair civil legal system.

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 social costs 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.

Liberty and National Security Program

The Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program seeks to ensure that the country’s national security laws and policies remain equal to the task of protecting individual rights, constitutional values, and the rule of law. The program focuses on reining in the abuse of emergency powers by the executive branch and preventing excessive government secrecy. We work to protect fundamental freedoms while keeping Americans safe. That means protecting citizens’ privacy, updating privacy laws to account for new technologies, working to ensure that counterterrorism authorities are narrowly targeted to the terrorist threat, and securing adequate oversight and accountability mechanisms.

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 they are interested in this Clinic in the application. Interviews are not required, although the professors are happy to talk with interested students about the clinic’s requirements. Please contact Grady Yuthok Short 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.

Spring 2024 Fall 2023
Samantha Jaloza
Jake Liker
Jodi Lessner
William Goncher
Catherine Wang
Aimee Campbell
Frank McShane
Darnell Battle
Alexi Comella
Megan Kallstrom
Alex Norman
Helen Griffiths
Annie Mills

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