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Student Spotlight

Just Icing on the Case

Students hone their skills working on high-profile litigation.

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This past school year saw NYU Law students taking part in several prominent court cases, including one of the first legal challenges to health-care reform and a public campaign finance case that was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius, now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the state is suing the U.S. secretary of health and human services, alleging that the health-care law’s mandate that everyone have insurance coverage is unconstitutional under the interstate commerce clause.

After learning that no amicus brief dealt squarely with the relevant history of the commerce clause, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Professor of Law Barry Friedman reached out to students in late January for research assistance. With less than three weeks before the filing deadline, the 2Ls divided the work by era: Graham Lake ’12 and Colin Roth ’12 researched the years of the country’s founding, while Lynn Eisenberg ’12 covered the Gilded Age. Ian Herbert ’12 focused on the necessary and proper clause. Two Yale law students also contributed to the work. Friedman worked with appellate attorneys including Jeffrey Lamken, the counsel of record, to produce a brief based on the research. The appellate team plans to file the brief in every upcoming healthcare-reform case.

“This is what people come to law school to do, to be involved in the hot-button issues of the day and to have a chance to work on something that affects so many people,” says Roth. For Eisenberg, who worked on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign before coming to NYU Law, the research was an opportunity to contribute to an issue she had supported on the campaign trail.

Also this year, as part of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Campaign Finance Reform project, students in the Brennan Center Public Policy Advocacy Clinic assisted on a high-profile Supreme Court case. Last March the Brennan Center defended Mc- Comish v. Bennett, a case challenging one provision of Arizona’s public financing system—trigger matching funds. The Brennan Center and its pro bono partner Munger, Tolles & Olson represented the respondent, the Clean Elections Institute. “The Arizona Clean Elections system, in effect for over a decade, helped move the state beyond egregious corruption and recurrent scandal,” says Brennan Center Executive Director Michael Waldman ’87. “This law has boosted speech while combating corruption.” Despite the Brennan Center’s efforts, however, the Court threw out the provision.

In addition to providing research and editing for the case, Laura Moy ’11 and Marcus Williams ’12 drafted a report on the impact, efficacy, and benefits of public financing. Noting that the 2010 election cycle was the most expensive in history, Moy adds, “A lot of people don’t realize that, as consumers, we are paying for a lot of it. We pay companies for their goods and services, and they turn around and spend money on political goals that we may or may not agree with.”

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