Furthering the Constitution’s Progressive Promise through the Next Generation
This summer, CAC welcomed four interns to learn our method of understanding the progressive promise of the text, history, and values of the U.S. Constitution. Check out their reflections on lessons learned and lasting impressions they will carry forward in their careers.
Understanding the Constitution’s Power
Alexandra Butler, Harvard Law School 2021
Working at CAC this summer has been a dream. Over the past eight weeks, I have been surrounded by a group of people not only dedicated to the progressive power of the Constitution, but also genuinely invested in helping me to grow as a law student and future lawyer. What I have found most exciting is how dynamic and essential my assignments have been. Each one became a master class in unfamiliar, but important constitutional provisions and federal statutes. And with every memo written, I felt as if I were truly contributing to CAC’s work.
Immersive. That is the word that I would use to describe the summer. From attending a Supreme Court decision day to sitting in on litigation team meetings to delving into legislative records, my experience at CAC helped me to become even more invested in the Constitution’s text, history and ability to influence and shape our lives and the world in which we live. Near my desk in the office, there is a poster that reads: “WE THE PEOPLE, RECLAIMING THE CONSTITUTION.” Thank you, CAC, for allowing me to be a part of this work.
Commitment to Protecting Constitutional Rights
Josh Feinzig, Yale Law School 2021
I can’t say enough wonderful things about my time at CAC this summer. I’ve learned a great deal about progressive advocacy and lawyering, have worked on a variety of interesting and critical legal cases, and have gained inspiring mentors and friends. And now, I’m excited to return to law school and build on this experience, which I’ll look back upon with profound fondness, as I chart my way forward.
Supporting CAC’s team of attorneys has been tremendously rewarding. I’ve learned about litigation strategy and progressive coalition building. I’ve worked on a variety of pressing legal challenges, from the ways in which Congress is constitutionally empowered to oversee the Executive Branch, to severability doctrine in the context of the defense of the Affordable Care Act, to the (largely dormant) constitutional protections against the government’s imposition of livelihood-depriving fines. I’ve also observed Brianne, Ashwin, Brian, and Dayna form legal arguments around these issues and discuss the oftentimes subtle strategic considerations undergirding CAC briefs. The work has always felt collaborative, timely, and deeply intellectually engaging.
Perhaps most importantly, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside individuals who—on a day-to-day basis—are relentlessly committed to defending constitutional rights and giving expression to the Constitution’s promise of equality. In today’s pivotal and often dispiriting political moment, I’ve drawn inspiration from CAC’s determination to hold the Trump Administration accountable and fight for the most vulnerable among us. It’s this commitment to the rights of others—a deep faith in the inclusive potential of the American constitutional project—that I’ll remember most.
Meeting SCOTUS Justice RBG
Madison A. Needham, Yale Law School 2021
Standing backstage at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, my pulse drummed in my ears loud enough to drown out the din of the audience beyond the curtains. The hand extended before me was small, and it was waiting for my grasp. I shook it with hesitation, barely containing a squeal as Elizabeth Wydra, CAC’s president, introduced me.
“Justice Ginsburg,” she said, addressing the national icon I was currently palm-to-palm with. “This is Madison. She helped write the brief for tonight’s event.”
Justice Ginsburg regarded me with a slight smile. “Hello,” she said, and it was enough to set my heart on wings.
At the start of this summer, I never could have imagined the sheer diversity of experiences my work at CAC would offer me. From writing the comedy brief for Justices Ginsburg and Breyer’s bi-annual charity mock trial to working on litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act, the Emoluments Clause, and the Second Amendment, every task was a new, exciting opportunity to refine my skills. Better yet, I always knew I was engaged in good work with good people. The CAC team is stellar; they are experienced, genuinely concerned with the progressive promise of the Constitution, and dedicated to helping their clients—and the nation—fulfill the guarantees of that promise.
Grappling with the Constitution’s Original Meaning
Daniel Polonsky, Harvard Law School 2021
I did not fully appreciate the impact of the work I was completing this summer until I saw my research memorandum incorporated into a brief written on behalf of members of Congress. By implementing what I had learned in law school and collaborating with the amazing team of lawyers at CAC, I was helping to elucidate the original meaning of statutes protecting the rights of asylum seekers. The questions of interpretation we debated in school weren’t just cerebral or theoretical; the ability to push back against narrow and harmful constructions of laws in this case is essential to potentially keeping real individuals from being returned to countries where they fear persecution. Although some jurists may claim a monopoly on interpreting statutes, we have an obligation to everyone with a stake in the outcome to dig into the plan embedded in our laws and ascertain the actual meaning of the text. Justice requires us to do this work and to get it right. And this is even more true when it comes to our Constitution.
When I told my peers I would be interning at an organization advancing legal arguments rooted in the text, history, and values of the Constitution, I received a few skeptical looks. This is not a perspective many of my friends are accustomed to wielding. But this summer I learned to embrace the progressive promise of the Constitution, especially as amended, and to not cede this important battleground to those who would twist history and ignore whole swaths of the text in an attempt to narrow the freedoms and protections the Constitution guarantees.
I am incredibly grateful for the strong mentorship and thoughtful discussions these past months. It has been a privilege working alongside brilliant and dedicated lawyers who refuse to shy away from the complexity of our laws and to spend a summer grappling with the original public meaning of certain due process protections, exploring the breadth of our anti-discrimination laws, and ascertaining the limits of sovereign immunity. Whether determining the standard of review for a writ of mandamus or clarifying the requirements of a cause of action addressing executive overreach, I have learned to more carefully consider and assertively articulate how history informs meaning and how our laws and our Constitution require us to reach just solutions.
CAC is grateful to have hosted these summer interns and looks forward to their future careers in the legal profession.