Kevin Kirby

Securing Votes

As businesses and government entities struggle to fend off cybercrime, concerns about the possibility of cyberattacks disrupting the democratic process are growing. In response, a team of students from NYU Law and NYU Tandon School of Engineering designed a secure and private system for digital voting. Called Votebook, the project took first place in a cybersecurity case study challenge hosted by the Economist.

Demonstrating the importance of grounding technical solutions in an understanding of legal and policy issues, Kevin Kirby ’17 and Tandon teammates Anthony Masi and Fernando Maymi used blockchain technology (the apparatus behind the alternative currency bitcoin) to design a system that would create a public ledger of votes and enable a voter to see if his or her vote was counted. 

Voters would still register and show up to the polls just as they do in our current system. But at the conclusion of the election, the ledger of data for each voting machine would be released to the public at large to allow for auditing. Each voter could then check to see if his or her vote was counted by entering a set of unique values that only the voter would know. The teammates, participants in A Scholarship for Service Partnership for Interdisciplinary Research and Education (ASPIRE), a National Science Foundation–funded program at the NYU Center for Cybersecurity that aims to produce cyber-security specialists, were awarded $10,000 for taking first place in the challenge.

A Clinic Victory

The Law School’s Reproductive Justice Clinic won a federal court ruling in April striking down Wisconsin’s “unborn child protection” law, which authorized involuntary treatment and incarceration of pregnant women who had used controlled substances or alcohol. The court found the law unconstitutionally vague. “Clinic students played a key role in developing and executing our legal strategy,” says Alyson Zureick ’14, a clinic teaching fellow and supervising attorney.

Reflections on Government Service

These are, most would agree, unusual times in American politics and gov-ernment. Voters are polarized on a range of issues, and the current political and media environment appears to do more to foster divisions than bridge divides.

A sizable number of NYU Law graduates serve or have served in government—at all levels and in every branch. Many who are no longer public officials continue to participate in our nation’s democratic governance through such means as litigation, lobbying, or work in public-interest organizations.

Given the tenor of the times, the Law School reached out to alumni with current or recent government experience and asked them to reflect on their roles. 

What concerns do they have about the current environment, and how is it possible to operate successfully within it? Are there ways to be more effective operating outside government than within it? And what advice would they give to current students considering government service? See their responses on the Law School website: www.law.nyu.edu/news/reflections-on-government-service.

Brian Stevenson

Justice in the Spotlight 

Few law professors can say they’ve appeared in an Academy Award–nominated film, but Bryan Stevenson did just that last year when he was featured in the documentary 13th. The film, directed by Ava DuVernay, sparked conversation and critical acclaim for its analysis of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States.

The professor of clinical law has been frequently recognized in the media for his work with prisoners on death row, and for calling attention to the history of slavery, lynching, and other forms of racial terrorism in America. This year, Stevenson also made an appearance in a 60 Minutes segment called “Life After Death Row” to talk about Ray Hinton, his client who was exonerated 27 years after he was sentenced to death. Stevenson has represented Hinton for the past 16 years through the Equal Justice Initiative. 

Deans' Cup

Pleasing the Court

At this year’s Deans’ Cup, NYU Law students won a decisive 81–64 victory over Columbia Law. During the halftime faculty game, Dean Trevor Morrison led NYU professors and administrators to their own 7–2 victory. The annual event helps raise funds for public interest law programs.

Clerkship stats

In the Spotlight

Tom Kirdahy ’88 has produced two new Broadway musicals, Anastasia and Bandstand. They snagged two Tony Award nominations each, and Bandstand won for choreography. Kirdahy pursued a longstanding interest in theater after working as an attorney for a not-for-profit AIDS organization for 20 years. Anastasia, which debuted in April, is based on the animated movie starring Meg Ryan and John Cusack.


Cool Gunnings

NYU Law Revue, a musical parody of the law school experience written, produced, and performed by law students, is a decades-old Law School tradition. This year’s edition—Cool Gunnings—was Law Revue’s 43rd. It told the story of two 3Ls from NYU who travel to London to compete in the (fictional) League of Law Students (LOLS) Championships.

 Camilo Romero

A Better Colombia 

Before Camilo Romero ’12 was born, his family escaped a violent civil war in their home country of Colombia. Now he has founded ReGeneración Colombia, a project that seeks to empower youth living in war-torn regions of the country by training them in civic engagement and artistic expression. Through leadership programs, voter guides aimed at youth, and children’s books that tell Colombia’s story of conflict, the organization aspires to arm future generations with tools to achieve peace.

Sally Merry

Brenda Berkman

Oh Captain, My Captain!

Forty years ago, the New York City Fire Department allowed women, for the first time, to take the test to become firefighters. About 450 women passed the written test and were eligible to take the physical exam, but only 90 did so. One official described the physical test as the toughest one the department had given.The women all failed the physical test. 

One of them, Brenda Berkman ’78, then a 3L, believed the test was discriminatory and asked Professor Laura Sager, who headed the NYU Law Women’s Rights Clinic, to represent her in what would become a contentious class action lawsuit, Brenda Berkman et al. v. The City of New York. Debevoise & Plimpton served as co-counsel, and numerous NYU Law students, including Vicki Been ’83, now Boxer Family Professor of Law, worked on the suit.

In 1982, a federal judge ruled in Berkman’s favor, ordering the city to redesign the physical test and requiring the FDNY to appoint 45 of the original applicants to the department. That fall, Berkman graduated from the Fire Academy, becoming an official firefighter. She would serve the FDNY for 24 years, retiring in 2006 as a captain.

“We saw that women ahead of us had struggled to get women the right to vote, the right to practice law and practice medicine, the right to go to college and follow their dreams,” says Berkman. “We’d seen how other women ahead of us had really fought for gains that we were the beneficiaries of, so it didn’t make sense for me to give up just because some people were resisting change.”

Right On Voting Rights

In 2015, Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law Richard Pildes won a major voting rights case in the US Supreme Court. In January, he won again in the same case, which had been remanded to federal district court in Alabama. A three-judge panel accepted claims that one-third of the state’s black-majority election districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.


Survival Stories

“If you’re sitting in this room, it means you come from a line of people who were able to survive whatever they had to. Somebody somewhere in your line had to overcome poverty or war or famine or devastation or terrible health or injustice. I think our disconnection from those stories—our disconnection from understanding that history—is so deep that we sometimes think we can’t survive what we can survive. Those struggles tell you about power.” —Sherrilyn Ifill ’87, addressing the audience at the launch of the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law



Last December, the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy launched CoreData.nyc, an online hub for New York City housing and neighborhood data incorporating city, state, and federal data sets. CoreData.nyc, the most comprehensive source for property-level subsidized housing information, has a database of properties receiving government subsidies searchable by address that can also be explored through filters or on a map. In addition, the site’s features provide public access to data on housing markets, affordability, land use, demographics, and neighborhood conditions.

CoreData includes more than 100 indicators on housing and neighborhoods in New York City.

Giving Back on Break

Among NYU Law students devoting spring recess to public service were three 1Ls volunteering at Mental Health Advocacy Services, a California-based nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance to people with mental disabilities. The students were able to assist with the organization’s monthly legal clinic, write letters for low-income clients facing traffic tickets and parking fines, and conduct outreach to military veterans.

“I was able to interact face to face with new and existing veteran clients, doing intakes and discussing the legal and health issues that they face,” said Lauren Richardson ’19. “Coming from a military family, this aspect of the trip was very meaningful to me.” 

For Chantalle Hanna ’19, this was her first experience working with clients in a legal capacity. “I encountered clients who were facing eviction, who sought assistance in applying for public benefits and appealing decisions denying them the benefits they needed,” she says. 

Ana Namaki ’19 reflected on the power—and the limits—of the law when it comes to addressing behavioral mental health crises: “Listening to the diverse difficulties each [client] faced taught me about the services available to those with disabilities, but also about the barriers to receiving those services and how such services are insufficient in many respects.” 

Philip Alston

Advocating for the World’s Poorest

Philip Alston has a second job that has taken him to more than two dozen countries on nearly every continent. As United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Alston, John Norton Pomeroy Professor of Law, conducts research and analysis in numerous nations and reports his findings to the UN Human Rights Council. 

Alston’s mandate recognizes that extreme poverty is more than just a lack of income—it extends to social exclusion and the lack of access to basic services. Poverty can be both a human rights issue and a consequence of human rights violations. In addition to visiting countries including Romania, Chile, and the Sudan, Alston also conducted research stateside, analyzing extreme poverty in New York City, Florida, Louisiana, and elsewhere in the US.

After visiting Saudi Arabia in January 2017, Alston urged the Saudi Arabian government to view social protection as a human right and to improve its social services for the poor. The human rights scholar also called on the government to enhance gender equality. “The driving ban should be lifted, and women should no longer need authorization from male guardians to work or travel,” Alston said in a statement from the UN. In China, Alston acknowledged the nation’s achievements in alleviating extreme poverty in recent years but also noted that human rights protections were lacking. He noted that many rights are not recognized in legislation, no institutions promote these rights as human rights, and there is no accountability mechanism. In addition, the crackdown on human rights lawyers that began in 2015—along with new laws designed to limit the roles of NGOs—has made it more difficult for citizens to influence policymaking or to contest alleged violations, said Alston.

Good Fellows

Oscar Londoño ’17 and Oluwadamilola (Dami) Obaro ’17 were selected as 2017 Skadden Fellows. The two-year fellowship supports 30 awardees nationwide while they pursue projects at public interest organizations of their choice.

Londoño is working at the Community Justice Project and the Miami Workers Center to create a community legal clinic for low-wage domestic workers, while Obaro is working at the Urban Justice Center Community Development Project to provide representation and advocacy for low-income New Yorkers facing debt collection lawsuits.


The Brennan Center’s Civics-Minded Reports

During and after a 2016 US presidential election cycle that raised numerous polarizing social and political issues—including the question of whether the election itself would be legitimate—NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice strove to keep citizens informed and to offer policy proposals through a succession of reports targeting areas of confusion and limited public knowledge.

In the run-up to the November election, “Crime in 2016: A Preliminary Analysis” proffered data countering campaign-trail claims of a nationwide crime wave, while another report found that spending by outside groups in 10 key Senate races was outpacing spending by the parties and candidates themselves.

During the early days of the Trump administration, “Noncitizen Voting: The Missing Millions,” based on interviews with local election administrators from 42 jurisdictions across 12 states, uncovered only about 30 incidents of suspected noncitizen voting. Other reports examined criminal justice actions undertaken by President Trump in his first 100 days and partisan bias resulting from gerrymandering in US House races. 


The Brennan Center also offered proactive solutions. “Election Integrity: A Pro-Voter Agenda” outlined a six-part plan to help minimize electoral fraud through measures such as modern-izing voter registration, ensuring the security and reliability of voting machines, and adopting common-sense voter ID proposals that do not present undue barriers to voting. In “A Federal Agenda to Reduce Mass Incarceration,” the center put forth an affirmative agenda for ending mass incarceration and reforming the criminal justice system through suggested legislative and executive actions. (Read more about the Brennan Center on page 52.)

Nancy Morawetz, Daniel Shaviro, and Sally Merry illustrations: Ryan McAmis

Posted September 1, 2017