March 14 Panel Set to Explore “Trump, the Mueller Investigation, and the Constitution”

What are the key things every American should know about the investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election and how it affects our constitutional democracy? Join Chuck Rosenberg, a nationally recognized expert in counterintelligence, national security, and federal criminal law enforcement; UB School of Law Prof. Garrett Epps, and UB School of Law Prof. Kim Wehle for a panel discussion of “Trump, the Mueller Investigation, and the Constitution.” The event will be on Thursday, Mar. 14, from noon to 1:30, in AL Room 202.

We are expecting a big turnout for this event, so secure your seat with an RSVP here by Tuesday, Mar. 12.

Chuck Rosenberg is an MSNBC legal analyst, a lawyer in private practice in Washington, D.C. , and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He served as director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from his appointment in May 2015 by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, until his resignation in October 2017.

Prior to joining DEA, Rosenberg served as the chief of staff and senior counselor to FBI Director Jim Comey (2013-2015). Before rejoining the FBI in 2013, he was a partner at a Washington, D.C. law firm. He also served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (2006-2008), and as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas (2005-2006).

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Chuck at MSNBC and know his reputation for giving measured, expert advice on criminal law with an insider’s view on federal government service,” says Prof. Wehle. “I’m so excited and honored that he’s coming to UB!”

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‘Check Your Privilege’: A Report from the ACS Student Convention

By Stephanie DeLang, Class of 2021

“Check your privilege at the door.” I’ve heard it before, but is that really the best thing to do? At the American Constitution Society’s Student Convention, held Feb. 22-23 at the University of Virginia School of Law, speaker Cyrus Habib, lieutenant governor of Washington state, reminded attendees that we should be using our privilege to help others rather than see privilege simply as an unearned advantage.

Attending the student convention was a privilege for me, and I plan to use it to help others. Providing law students from across the country with ideas and strategies for addressing social justice and equity via the legal community is a top ACS convention goal, and the weekend’s speakers — including UB School of Law Prof. Garrett Epps — did not disappoint.

professor epps at American Constitution Society conference
Prof. Garrett Epps, center, was part of a panel on effective advocacy beyond litigation at the 2019 ACS student convention.

Prof. Epps participated in a plenary panel titled, “Attorney in a Complex Battleground,” which explored how attorneys can be effective advocates beyond litigation and change how traditional “lawyering” looks. By discussing tactics such as scholarship, media engagement, community organizing, and legislative advocacy, panelists examined how attorneys can proactively strategize and achieve results outside the courtroom. Later, Prof. Epps led a breakout session on how to engage the media to influence social change at the local and national levels.

Other presenters included the Hon. Pamela Harris, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit; Khizr Khan, constitutional rights advocate; Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate, and the Hon. L. Felipe Restrepo, a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

As the largest progressive legal network in the nation, ACS focuses on community organization and movement lawyering to advance equity. Every person who presented at the convention has taken notable actions to make a positive impact. They shared those experiences and their knowledge to give the next legal generation ways to do the same. I learned more about applying the values of the Constitution to problems today. The framers of the Constitution intended it to ensure effective governing, justice, and liberty for all Americans.     

Over the past few years I have become more and more aware of my own privilege. I sometimes question how an individual like me will be able to make any impact. The ACS has provided a platform, a network, information, resources, and so much more to help me understand how to help further a progressive vision for the future.

Although I left the convention with more questions than I had before attending, I also came away with the assurance that we can make a positive impact through progressive lawyering, progressive federalism, and joining together with impactful groups like ACS. It is one of my responsibilities — everyone’s responsibility, really — to gain a better understanding of the tenets upon which our country and our Constitution were built.

So I have to ask, do you want to watch from the sidelines and see what happens, or do you want to be part of the impact, part of the change, part of promoting equality for all? If social values in the context of the Constitution are important to you, please considering becoming a part of the American Constitution Society!

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Faculty Share Views on Establishment Clause Challenge in Supreme Court

One of the most significant cases of the 2018 term was to be argued today in the Supreme Court. The American Legion v. American Humanist Association presents an Establishment Clause challenge to a 40-foot-high World War I memorial shaped like a Latin cross. The monument was erected in 1925 in Bladensburg, MD, on private property that was later acquired by the state. The cross now sits adjacent to a traffic circle.

The American Humanist Association sued on behalf of its membership, asking that the cross be removed. The court determined that the display of the monument does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause because the cross “has a secular purpose, it neither advances nor inhibits religion, and it does not have the primary effect of endorsing religion.”

On appeal, the Fourth Circuit held that “the cross has the primary effect of endorsing religion and excessively entangles the government in religion. The Latin cross is the core symbol of Christianity. And here, it is 40 feet tall; prominently displayed in the center of one of the busiest intersections in Prince George’s County, Maryland; and maintained with thousands of dollars in government funds. … Therefore, we hold that the purported war memorial breaches the “wall of separation between Church and State.” 

Writing about this case in a Feb. 19 edition of The Atlantic, UB School of Law Prof. Garrett Epps wrote, “A lot is riding on [the high court’s] reasoning. If a cross-shaped war memorial is allowed, why is it constitutional? The answer will shape how courts around the country respond to monuments, official and “voluntary” public prayer, and other official and semiofficial manifestations of popular faith and belief.” Prof. Epps noted that he expects the court, when it rules later this year, to reverse the Fourth Circuit.

Espousing a different perspective, Prof. Gregory Dolin co-authored an op-ed in today’s Detroit News. Writing on behalf of the Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, Prof. Dolin argued that “government’s engagement with and recognition of its citizens’ religious practices protects minority religious believers.” The op-ed suggests that banning Christian displays and symbols would also restrict Jews, Muslims and others from freely carrying out their religious traditions and rituals, which would only further marginalize them.

In fact, Prof. Dolin and his co-author argue, it is through public displays like community menorah lightings that the Christian community has learned to understand and appreciate what were once unfamiliar Jewish customs. The op-ed concludes: “A decision that requires the government to forgo any interaction, no matter how minor, with religion, will disproportionately hurt practitioners of minority faiths.”

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Prof. Bessler Contributed to Amicus Brief Cited in Recent Supreme Court Decision

On Feb. 20, in Timbs v. Indiana, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously vacated a lower court ruling. In doing so, it decided that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause is applicable to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the Court, held: “For good reason, the protection against excessive fines has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties.”

In Timbs, police had seized a $42,000 Land Rover from an Indiana man in a controlled substances case. The man contested the civil forfeiture and initially won that legal battle, with the trial court finding that the forfeiture would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offense. But although the Eighth Amendment’s prohibitions against “excessive bail” and “cruel and unusual punishments” had long before been incorporated against the states, the Indiana Supreme Court ultimately held that the Eighth Amendment’s Excessive Fines Clause only constrained federal, not state, impositions. 

A footnote in Justice Ginsburg’s opinion, which reversed that judgment and held that the protection against excessive fines is a fundamental right, cited a “Brief for Eighth Amendment Scholars as Amici Curiae.” One of the three Eighth Amendment Scholars was none other than UB School of Law Prof. John Bessler. “We submitted a brief about the history of the Excessive Fines Clause and why it was added to the English Bill of Rights and, later, to early American state constitutions and the U.S. Bill of Rights,” said Prof. Bessler.  

The amicus brief, prepared by David Schulmeister and Nicholas McLean, was joined by two other Eighth Amendment scholars: Beth Colgan at UCLA School of Law and John Stinneford at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. The amicus brief described the deep historical roots of the prohibition on excessive fines. Prof. Bessler is the author of a new book, The Baron and the Marquis: Liberty, Tyranny, and the Enlightenment Maxim that Can Remake American Criminal Justice (Carolina Academic Press, 2019).

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A Day at the Supreme Court: UB School of Law Students Enjoy a Rare Treat

Eight students from Prof. Kim Wehle‘s Federal Courts class visited the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 20 and enjoyed special behind-the-scenes tours and meetings.

In addition to watching oral arguments before the justices and hearing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg announce the unanimous decision in the case Timbs v. Indiana — which, by the way, cited an amicus brief co-written by UB School of Law Prof. John Bessler — the students spent time chatting with the 20th Clerk of the Supreme Court, Scott S. Harris.

“This was THE coolest trip I have gone on in law school,” said Clarissa Lindsey, a 3L who works in the Innocence Project Clinic. “Overall, the trip was certainly a monumental experience.

“As a law student, it’s like you’re attending the premiere of a movie in Hollywood. As someone who is about to enter the legal field as a young attorney, observing the oral arguments and the justices was invigorating and put so much of what we learn into a practical perspective,” said Lindsey. 

“Supreme Court justices are celebrities for law students, but watching them pound counsel with questions underscored why they work so hard in law school,” said Prof. Wehle, who arranged the visit and the meeting with the clerk, Mr. Harris. “Lawyering requires diligence, thorough preparation and agility. It was an experience of a lifetime, and I was thrilled to make it happen for them,” she said.

“The last thing we did on our trip was a behind-the-scenes tour, ” said Lindsey, “which we learned is something that is not routinely offered. The amount of history we learned about the justices and the architecture of the building itself was astonishing. The experience was just not something that could be learned in a textbook.”

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Online Bidding is Open for UBSPI Auction; Get Event Tickets Today!

Have you ever dreamed of spending a week in Guatemala, or taking 13 of your closest friends to see a Baltimore Orioles game in style? You can bid on these and many more exciting opportunities at the Feb. 22 UB Public Interest Gala & Auction. Still need tickets? Buy them here.

Join Profs. Will Hubbard, David Jaros and Rob Knowles, l. to r., for a bowling adventure you won’t soon forget. Just don’t bring a Pomeranian.

The 25th annual UBSPI auction, held at the law school from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., raises money to provide stipends to UB School of Law students working as fellows in public-interest organizations over the summer. The online auction, which runs through 11:59 p.m. Feb. 21, features such interesting items as a “very nice” breakfast for two students, with Prof. Mike Meyerson; an Amazon Echo Spot; 30 days of personal training at Red Run Fitness, and a wine and cheese tasting for 10 at Basignani Winery in Sparks, MD.

The live auction, the night of the event, includes big-ticket items such as those mentioned above, plus one-of-a-kind experiences like “Manicures and Mochas” with Prof. Dionne Koller and Prof. Michele Gilman; tennis and lunch with Dean Ron Weich, and an excursion with Professors David Jaros, Will Hubbard and Rob Knowles that they’re calling “Bowling with the Pin-Ultimate Trio of Hubbard, Jaros, and Knowles.” (We prefer to think of it as “The Big Law-bowski.”)

You’re invited to browse the online auction items and bid like crazy. Then come to the event prepared to bid large and leave happy! We hope to see you there for a fun and entertaining evening.

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What Is, a 2012 Cum Laude Graduate of UB School of Law?

The answer is: Eric Backes. If you’re a “Jeopardy!” fan, you might have seen this confident contestant handily defeat the reigning champion, Bif Reiser, on the Feb. 11 episode. In case you missed it, Backes finished his first appearance with $48,001 after providing the correct question, “What is Grey’s Anatomy?” to the final answer, “Complications was a suggested title for this ABC drama that was renewed for a 15th season in 2018.”

Jeopardy! champion and Eric Backes, at right, with show host Alex Trebek.

Viewers quickly observed that Backes was very fast with the buzzer to get first crack at many answers. What they didn’t know was that Backes, now residing in Texas, lived in Maryland for many years and earned a law degree, with honors, from UB School of Law in 2012. Backes attended UB while working as legislative director to current Maryland Senate President Pro Tempore Katherine Klausmeier.

“My phone hasn’t stopped vibrating since last night,” said Backes in a Feb. 12 phone interview. “It has been a great experience. I really am enjoying the encouragement I’m getting, including from my classmates at UB.” His second appearance on the game show was to air Feb. 12, but he was sworn to secrecy about the outcome. The shows are taped about a month before they air.

Backes did say that his first-game winnings, at $48,001, are the fourth highest first-win amount since 2002, when prize amounts doubled.

After working for many years in government relations with various Maryland transportation agencies, Backes moved with his family to Round Rock, TX, outside of Austin, last summer. His wife took a position at the University of Texas and he began work with a trade association.

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