Federal Courts and Nominations

Building a Strong Foundation for Progressive Constitutionalists

Adaeze Eze

For most first-year law students, our introduction to law focuses on the current state of jurisprudence, what the law is rather than what it should be. Any attention to the latter question is typically an afterthought, a policy question saved for the last thirty minutes of an exam, a class discussion that functions mainly as a sidebar, or the digression that monopolizes a professor’s office hours.

However, this focus on the current state of law lends itself to the false impression that lawyering is a strictly analytical and formulaic practice. My time at CAC has shown me the creative elements to lawyering, imparting a lesson that goes beyond the teachings of my first year of law school: great lawyers look beyond simply restating binding precedent; they envisage how the law should evolve.

This summer, I had the opportunity to observe the brilliant lawyers and thinkers of CAC, including their work in reimagining legal principles that have been largely abandoned and persuading courts to shift our current understanding of those principles to more fully reflect and manifest their original meaning. From reviving legal understandings of congressional standing to working to revive the Fourteenth Amendment’s privileges or immunities clause, the Center’s work encapsulates what makes great lawyering. Even CAC’s originalist approach provides a unique perspective to progressive lawyering, distinct from the typical prudential and purposivist approaches that are used. Progressivism is typically framed as antithetical to originalism, yet CAC’s mission in fulfilling the progressive promise of our Constitution reevaluates that mindset.

As a soon-to-be lawyer, my experience at CAC has been invaluable in demonstrating how the legal system evolves through lawyers who can see beyond the current state of the law and argue for how it should change. Impactful lawyering involves not only a firm understanding of current law, but also a compelling vision for how the law should evolve. My time at CAC has shown me the importance of drawing from both conjunctively.

Jackson Skeen

I feel incredibly fortunate to have worked at CAC this summer, not only because its institutional priorities align with my own vision for a more just legal system, but because these values shine through in everyone who works at CAC. Working remotely presented unique challenges for all of us. But through informal Zoom happy hours and more formal brown bag mentorship meetings, I began to feel like I was part of the team. Even though I have yet to meet any of my supervising attorneys in person, they have gone above and beyond to ensure that I felt included in a larger project—one oriented toward protecting the rights of all Americans through the use of rigorous textual analysis and progressive constitutional strategies.

What has continually been impressed upon me this summer is the vital necessity of CAC’s work. Every day, we face yet another assault on our constitutional protections and norms. I have been continually inspired by CAC’s attorneys as we work to address structural inequalities that have been further exacerbated by the pandemic, such as socioeconomic and racial disparities, the abridgment of due process rights, inequitable access to health care, and the undermining of American democracy.

Accordingly, I have felt a sense of urgency underlying each project. During the course of the summer, I’ve been able to work on legal, textual, and historical research across many issue areas, including CAC’s work to protect voting rights, criminal legal rights, and access to affordable health care, as well as a number of other policy goals. I decided to attend law school in order to work on criminal justice reform, and I remain committed to that endeavor. But working with CAC’s attorneys has shown me that it is possible to be an effective advocate for structural reform in many different areas of the law—and this is a lesson I plan to take with me in my future work as a lawyer.

My internship at CAC has given me a unique opportunity to help advance a construction of the Constitution that empowers those who have historically been shut out from its protections. At the same time, I have gained friends and mentors and developed skills that will be invaluable as I chart a career in public interest litigation. I am immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to work closely with so many of CAC’s wonderful advocates, and I look forward to staying in touch with them and continuing to benefit from their shared wisdom in the coming years.

Simon Chin

Even over Zoom, the spirit of CAC is indomitable.  The focused intensity, uncanny intelligence, and sincere kindness of CAC’s attorneys were palpable in every phone call and in every virtual meeting.  They bring to their work a rare combination of steely resolve and genuine humanity that makes them so devastatingly effective at what they do: fight to fulfill the progressive promise of our Constitution. 

While a remote internship may be no one’s ideal, I could not have asked for a more richly rewarding and inspiring summer.  I learned so much—about how to construct sound legal arguments, think about novel legal questions, and see the bigger picture of litigation strategy.  I learned about the uses (and abuses) of constitutional text and legislative history.  But I learned not only by writing memos and contributing to briefs, but also from the sheer force of example.  And what I will be taking away from this summer is the immense sense of hope and possibility embodied in this organization.  For even when the world was on fire, CAC’s attorneys were at their computers, fighting to uphold the rule of law and filing briefs on behalf of the most vulnerable.  What a privilege it was to call these lawyers my colleagues.

Bardia Faghihvaseghi

Although I submitted my application to intern at the Constitutional Accountability Center in the spring of 2020, my journey to CAC began much earlier—in my first-year constitutional law class.

As my classmates and I discussed the history and development of the United States Constitution, I was taken aback by the notion—shared by constitutional theorists and my fellow classmates alike—that our founding document is grounded in conservative values. To me, an immigrant from an authoritarian country, the Constitution has always been nothing short of a revolutionary declaration. Its values and guarantees inspired my family to move to the United States in search of a better life. And so, the idea that it could be used to impede change stands in opposition to what I thought was so meaningful about the American project. From that moment, I knew that I would have to be a part of the counter narrative.

I was heartened to discover that an organization was already dedicated to advancing a progressive understanding of the Constitution. At CAC, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside and learn from lawyers who are just as invested in the idea that the Constitution represents a fundamental break from what came before. I’ve had the opportunity to work on the most salient legal issues of our time, ranging from the Trump Administration’s illegal asylum policies to the Sixth Amendment’s jury unanimity requirement. And I’ve built skills in litigation strategy and coalition building that will carry far beyond my internship. But most of all, I’ve internalized a deep respect and admiration for the revolutionary spirit of our Constitution, and an enduring commitment to continue fighting for its progressive meaning.  

More from Federal Courts and Nominations

Federal Courts and Nominations
January 17, 2024

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Sign-On Letter Prioritizing Diverse Judges

Dear Senator, On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the...
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 31, 2023

Liberal justices earn praise for ‘independence’ on Supreme Court, but Thomas truly stands alone, expert says

Fox News
Some democrats compare Justice Clarence Thomas to ‘Uncle Tom’ and house slave in ‘Django Unchained’
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, By Brianna Herlihy
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 7, 2023

In Her First Term, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson ‘Came to Play’

The New York Times
From her first week on the Supreme Court bench in October to the final day...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, by Adam Liptak
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 8, 2023

The Supreme Court’s continuing march to the right

Major legal rulings that dismantled the use of race in college admissions, undermined protections for...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, by Tierney Sneed
Federal Courts and Nominations
June 25, 2023

Federal judge defends Clarence Thomas in new book, rejects ‘pot shots’ at Supreme Court

A federal appeals court judge previously on short lists for the Supreme Court is taking the rare...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra
Federal Courts and Nominations
May 1, 2023

Supreme Court, done with arguments, turns to decisions

Roll Call
The justices have released opinions at a slow rate this term, and many of the...
By: Brianne J. Gorod, By Michael Macagnone