FACULTY MEMORANDUM ON GOVERNMENT, CIVIL RIGHTS,
AND PUBLIC INTEREST PRACTICE
Updated September 2011
Faculty: Linda Bosniak, Victoria Chase, Roger Clark, Perry Dane, David Frankford, Ann Freedman, Sally Goldfarb, Joanne Gottesman, Philip Harvey, Donald Joseph, Harriet Katz, Kathryn Kovacs, Earl Maltz, Anne Mallgrave, Craig Oren, Traci Overton, Rand Rosenblatt, Sarah Ricks Ruth Anne Robbins, Beth Stephens, Robert Washburn, Robert Williams
Adjunct Faculty: Hon. Peter Buchsbaum, Frank Corrado, Hon. Noel Hillman, Louis Moffa, Laurence Rosoff
Government, Civil Rights, and Public Interest practice encompasses a wide range of legal activities, and indeed the terms overlap and are interpreted in a variety of ways.
Government practice includes the many forms of civil law practiced by and against government attorneys, as well as criminal law practiced by prosecutors and public defenders (as to which see the Faculty Memorandum on Criminal Law). It addresses legal and policy issues arising at the federal, state and municipal levels of government. Government practice can involve litigation, legislation, regulatory matters, the general legal counseling of public officials and the procurement of government contracts. In its broadest sense, government practice includes not only attorneys who work within government itself, but also those who represent private clients whose interests are implicated by government action or inaction.
Several foundational courses are important to virtually all aspects of government practice. Constitutional Law provides a structure for understanding constitutionally-guaranteed individual rights and the relationship of the units of government within our federal system. Administrative Law teaches students about the important regulatory processes of administrative agencies, both the quasi-legislative process of adopting rules and regulations and the quasi-judicial process of applying rules in individual cases, plus the judicial review of both of these agency functions. The Legislation course covers the process of statutory development and methods of statutory interpretation.
Courses explaining statutory law in concrete policy contexts are:
Race and American Law
Sex Discrimination Law
Social Welfare Law & Policy
Law & Urban Problems
Election and Political Campaign Law
Current Issues in Civil Rights Litigation
Law, Politics and Democracy
Students who wish to work for (or against) the federal government should of course maximize their exposure to courses about federal litigation and administrative procedure, and also about the substantive areas they might be interested in, such as Environmental Law, Health Law, Social Security Law, Foreign Relations and National Security, International Criminal Law, and offerings in the area of international human rights.
For students who anticipate working for state or local governments, or handling matters before or against such public bodies, several courses may be useful. State Constitutional Law examines the various charters for subnational governments, insofar as they regulate the functions among the three traditional branches of government (executive, legislative and judicial) and confer rights on citizens of the various states. Local Government Law concerns the delegation of state power to county, municipal and other local public entities, and the exercise of those powers by those respective offices. Civil Rights and the seminar Current Issues in Civil Rights Litigation examine constitutional claims against local government actors and the statutory defenses to constitutional liability. Given the importance of land use issues at the local level, future municipal practitioners also can benefit from the study of zoning law in Regulation of Land Use.
Future government lawyers and their private-sector counterparts who intend to practice law in New Jersey should learn about New Jersey's unique constitutional framework and expansive notions of individual rights in New Jersey State Constitutional Law. Such students also can obtain a detailed understanding of New Jersey's system and rules of civil procedure in New Jersey Administrative Law and New Jersey Practice. The substantial legal work in New Jersey concerning its many casinos in Atlantic City also makes Casino Law a worthwhile offering.
Students who aspire to serve the government in policymaking roles, or who expect to represent private clients on regulatory matters, are encouraged to obtain a deeper exposure to the art of lawmaking in the courses and seminars focusing on particular statutory areas such as the environment, health care, and immigration noted above, in the course on Law and Economics and the seminar on Legislative Process and, when available, the courses on Lawyers and Lobbying and Law, Justice, & Society.
The enforcement of governmental regulations and the resolution of disputes with government agencies often entails substantial civil litigation. Accordingly, courses recommended within the Litigation specialization are likewise helpful to the future government practitioner, including Evidence, Pretrial Advocacy, Trial Advocacy, and Alternative Dispute Resolution, Federal Courts, , and, when available, Federal Practice and Procedure, and Class Actions.
Students interested in public policy might also consider two of our joint degree programs: one with the Eagleton Institute of Public Policy at Rutgers-New Brunswick, the other with the Graduate Program in Public Policy at Rutgers-Camden. Finally, students seeking practical legal experience in government practice are encouraged to participate in one of the many Externships regularly offered in a variety of federal, state and local government and public interest agencies in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area.
Civil Rights Practice
Civil rights typically refers to fundamental individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution and civil rights statutes, such as freedom from discrimination on grounds of race, sex, nationality, disability, and other factors; freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, privacy and personal autonomy, voting, and due process of law (e.g. freedom from police brutality).
Private legal practice of this sort on behalf of plaintiffs is financed by damages in cases of employment and other kinds of discrimination, tort recoveries against police and other government actors, and attorneys= fees available to prevailing parties under many civil rights statutes. The civil rights defense bar is paid predominantly on a salaried basis by government defendants, and on a fee basis by employers and other private defendants.
Some government agencies, such as the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state-level analogues, also pursue cases in the interest of beneficiaries of civil rights. Finally, there are a small but active number of non-profit entities, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, the NOW Legal Defense & Education Fund, and the Women's Law Project of Philadelphia, that undertake litigation and other forms of work in this area of the law, usually using a combination of salaried and volunteer attorneys.
Virtually everything said about course selection with respect to government practice also applies to civil rights practice. Litigation skills are clearly needed, so courses involving litigation doctrine and skills are quite helpful. In addition to taking courses relevant to government practice generally, students interested in civil rights should be particularly interested in such courses and seminars as:
Race and American Law
Issues in Sex Discrimination Law & Practice
Social Welfare Law & Policy, Citizenship
Current Issues in Civil Rights Litigation
Law and Religion
Public Interest Practice
Public interest practice is even less clear than government or civil rights practice, but it generally refers to advocacy on behalf of a widely-diffused group and/or those who are politically or financially disenfranchised. Classic examples of widely diffused groups are consumers, and people who benefit from a clean environment. Widely-diffused interests may be large in the aggregate, but no one individual or easily-organized group of individuals will be able to monopolize the benefits of litigation and/or political action, thereby insuring a large number of free riders (people who will benefit from the action but who have not contributed to its costs) and discouraging anyone from undertaking it. Public interest law seeks to overcome this problem through: support from foundations and/or individuals with an unusual commitment to the values at stake (e.g. the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Interest Research Groups [PIRGs]), through government agencies that themselves are supposed to pursue the public interest (e.g. the Environmental Protection Agency, and state attorney generals who are litigating against and/or attempting to settle with the tobacco industry), and class action and other enhanced recoveries that encourage private litigants to act as private attorney generals, i.e. to pursue private remedies that will also have systemic effects.
Examples of those who are politically or financially disenfranchised include children, women, persons with disabilities, and the poor. Public interest lawyering gives members of these groups an opportunity to be heard and to effectuate necessary changes in the legal and political systems.
Courses relevant to public interest practice include many of all the courses recommended with respect to government practice and civil rights practice. In addition, students interested in public interest lawyering should consider taking courses in administrative law and courses involving litigation doctrine and skills. Students interested in this area of the law would also find participation in any Clinic or the Externship program beneficial. Courses such as Social Welfare Law & Policy, Poverty Law, Anti-Discrimination Law are also generally relevant.
Those interested in advocating on behalf of widely-diffused groups may find helpful courses and seminars such as Environmental Law, Health Law, Law and Biomedical Ethics, Hazardous Waste, Toxic Torts, & Environmental Justice, Disability Law, Law & Economics.
Students considering a career in public interest lawyering may also find courses such as Disability Law, Immigration Law, Domestic Violence Law, and the seminar in Juvenile Justice particularly relevant.