Nicholas Melvoin ’14 did not originally plan to go into the law; he thought he would become a teacher. His interest in education began when he volunteered at a camp for homeless children in Los Angeles and noticed the disparity between his private school and the schools that the kids were going to. “In my mind, the greatest civil rights struggle of our generation is educational inequity,” says Melvoin. “So I thought teaching, and being on the front lines of that struggle, was really the best way to address it.”
When he graduated from Harvard College in 2008, Melvoin joined Teach for America, assigned to Markham Middle School in Los Angeles. But after his first year, Melvoin lost his job due to budget cuts. Under California’s seniority statutes (known as “Last-In, First-Out,” or LIFO), the newest teachers are the first to be laid off.
The following year, he returned to teach at the same school, only to be laid off again. Seeing the negative effects of this policy on his school, Melvoin worked with the ACLU to bring a lawsuit on behalf of his students. In Reed v. California, the ACLU successfully argued that the seniority-based layoffs at several LA schools violated the students’ rights to equal opportunity to access quality education.
Melvoin began to consider how to address education inequality through the law and was accepted at NYU Law as a Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar.
As a law student, Melvoin served as chair of the Education Law Society. His first summer, he interned at the ACLU in LA, where he worked on statewide education litigation and policy. The following summer, Melvoin worked on the White House domestic policy council team, focusing on civil rights and criminal justice reform. As editor-in-chief of the Review of Law and Social Change, Melvoin also helped organize a conference on diversity in education and the future of affirmative action.
This spring, Melvoin testified for the plaintiffs in yet another successful anti-LIFO case, Vergara v. California.
Melvoin says that his involvement in Vergara was a good capstone to his time in law school. “Nick’s poise on the witness stand would be the envy of any professor, much less student,” says Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law.
Drawing on his experiences in Reed and Vergara, Melvoin wrote his student note on education litigation, supervised by Professor Paulette Caldwell.
“His commitment to public service is infectious, and he will leave a memorable mark on the field of educational leadership and the other areas of public concern that command his attention,” she says.
Melvoin is now director of policy, communications, and legal counsel of Great Public Schools: Los Angeles, a start-up that aims to help elect reform-minded candidates to the LA school board—the governing body of the second-largest school district in the country. “I’m very excited about working on behalf of children in Los Angeles again,” Melvoin says. “That’s what catalyzed my interest in law school.”
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