Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

Meeting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

By Brooke LePage ’19, Contributing Writer

My name is Brooke LePage and I am a rising Public Policy & Law major at Trinity College. This fall, I am partaking in a Washington Semester Program through American University.

Through this program, I am taking an American Politics I Seminar, an elective course called Political Communication, and interning three days a week at the United States Department of Education in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs. There are four interns in my office and each of us has an area of education policy we specialize in. Inspired by the Public Policy and Law Title IX course I took at Trinity last fall, my focus area is higher education policy.

Both of my classes are not lectures. Rather, they are a mix of lecture, seminar-style discussions, and guest speakers. On October 17th, my American Politics I Seminar had the pleasure of going to the United States Supreme Court where Justice Ginsburg was our class guest speaker. How my professor—along with the professor of the Justice & Law Seminar—was able to organize this incredible opportunity for us, I will never know.

Justice Ginsburg spoke to us in the East Conference room of the Supreme Court. Everything in that room, from the divine ceiling to the windows overlooking a terrace garden, was magnificent. My class of 20 students from colleges across the country, along with the 20 students from the Justice & Law Seminar, sat perched in our seats waiting for Justice Ginsburg to arrive.

We were nervous and excited at the same time. We all stood as she entered the room. After telling us to be seated, she began talking about all of the portraits of a few past Chief Justices around the room. Finally, she told us she would take three questions which she later extended to four.

Each student had a question prepared, yet we were all extremely nervous to stand up, introduce ourselves, and ask one of the greatest legal minds a question. Knowing that I was in the front row and had a good chance to be picked, and that I would always regret if I did not raise my hand, I shot my arm in the air. I ended up being one of the four people that got to ask Justice Ginsburg a question.

Due to my interests, I knew that I wanted to ask her a question about Title IX. More specifically, I wanted to ask her about due process, or lack thereof, during Title IX investigations on college campuses. Yet, because we could not ask anything too recent, I had to scale my question back. I ended up asking Justice Ginsburg how one applies intermediate scrutiny to a Title IX investigation—a question my professor helped me craft.

Ultimately, I wish I could say that I remember asking my question. The second I stood up, I was full of such adrenaline and awe, that all of my thoughts went out the window. My classmates say I was poised and my question was coherent but I am merely taking their word on that. Through my question and another of the other three students, Justice Ginsburg talked about how gender discrimination and the role of women in law has changed so greatly over time.

I am so grateful that I took part in the Washington Semester Program. I am even more grateful that Trinity’s Public Policy & Law program made me confident enough to sit in the front row, raise my hand, and ask a Supreme Court Justice a legal question.

Brooke LePage ’19 poses in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington.

The podium wherefrom Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke to Brooke and other students.

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Six Public Policy & Law Majors Raise Over $7,000 for the Fulco-Cabot Fund in Honor of Professor Cabot’s Retirement

In October 2015, students of Ned Cabot, an Associate Professor who helped to found Trinity’s Public Policy & Law program, were surprised to learn that he was retiring, effective immediately. Many were anticipating enrollment in Cabot’s PBPL 202: Law, Argument, and Public Policy, one of the major’s foundational courses, or his senior seminar in the Spring semester.

Students thought about how best to show their appreciation for Cabot’s sixteen years of dedicated and inspiring teaching, including Public Policy & Law major and former PBPL 202 teaching assistant Christina Claxton ’16. “Professor Cabot had a profound impact on my education and experience at Trinity,” she said. When I learned of his retirement, I knew I just had to do something to show him my gratitude and to help others express theirs, too.”

With similar feelings about the program’s impactful founding professors and a desire to further help students in the major, graduating Public Policy & Law seniors created the Adrienne Fulco and Edward Cabot Public Policy & Law Fund in 2013. Once it reaches $50,000, it will become an endowed fund and used to support the Public Policy & Law department and its students through senior thesis research grants, guest and alumni lectures, and other resources to supplement the academic portion of the major.

For Claxton and five other seniors from the class of 2016; Ethan Cantor, Claire Hogan, Antonia Lluberes, Julia Mardeusz, and Isabel Monteleone, growing the fund in honor of Professor Cabot’s retirement seemed like a fitting tribute. With the help of Amy Brough, Director of Institutional Support, they launched their first appeal to faculty, staff, alumni, and current students in April with a deadline of May 12, the date of the Public Policy & Law major’s senior dinner, bringing the senior class and Public Policy faculty, including Professor Cabot, together.  Unsure of the reaction they would get and how much money they would be able to raise in little over a month, Antonia Lluberes ’16 said that “…we thought that $2,000 would be a tangible goal to set in the time frame we had. We knew that people were always getting asked to give money to things and that current students didn’t have tons of extra money around to donate.”

Ultimately, the six seniors helped raise over $7,000 for the Fund in his honor from 97 individual donors, most of whom are young alumni and current Trinity students. Towards the end of the senior dinner, the seniors in charge of the campaign surprised Professor Cabot by presenting him with a large check and list of all of the donors from the fundraising campaign. The seniors also enacted an oral argument, a fixture of PBPL 202, for a fake case: Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 v. Professor Cabot, in which it was “found” that Professor Cabot has a constitutional right to retire.

Regarding the reception of the campaign among the Trinity community, Ethan Cantor ’16 said that “we got very positive responses from many of the alumni, current students, and faculty members who we contacted for the campaign. We received several emails recounting how influential Professor Cabot was to alumni’s academic and professional careers. It was a touching and heartening experience to see that so many other people feel the same way about Professor Cabot as we do.” Isabel Monteleone ’16 added: “people really admire Professor Cabot and it was great to see that across the broad spectrum of alumni we reached out to…I think it really speaks to Professor Cabot’s influence in the department, as well as how much Public Policy means to alumni.”

Looking towards the future, students who participated in the fundraising effort hope to see the Fund reach endowment status to begin benefiting students as soon as possible. Lluberes thinks that “with a major that is growing like Public Policy & Law is, to have an endowment fund to pay for guest lecturers and to subsidize unpaid internships and thesis research for students will be another asset of the program. The possibilities of what a fund like this could do for students and the program are endless, but I’m happy to know that we are one step closer to reaching that goal.”

Written by Julia Mardeusz ’16

Professor Cabot receiving the check for the recent fundraising campaign for the Fulco-Cabot Fund in honor of his retirement. From left to right: Edward Cabot, Antonia Lluberes '16, Isabel Monteleone '16, Claire Hogan '16, Julia Mardeusz '16, Christina Claxton '16, Ethan Cantor '16.

Professor Cabot receiving the check for the recent fundraising campaign for the Fulco-Cabot Fund in honor of his retirement. From left to right: Edward Cabot, Antonia Lluberes ’16, Isabel Monteleone ’16, Claire Hogan ’16, Julia Mardeusz ’16, Christina Claxton ’16, Ethan Cantor ’16.


The entire Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 posing for a picture along with Professors Mark Silk, Adrienne Fulco, Edward Cabot, Abigail Fisher Williamson, and Rachel Moskowitz.

The entire Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 posing for a picture along with Professors Mark Silk, Adrienne Fulco, Edward Cabot, Abigail Fisher Williamson, and Rachel Moskowitz.

The six seniors in charge of the fundraising campaign performing Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 v. Professor Cabot

The six seniors in charge of the fundraising campaign performing Public Policy & Law Class of 2016 v. Professor Cabot

Professor Adrienne Fulco delivering some prepared remarks about Professor Cabot.

Professor Adrienne Fulco delivering some prepared remarks about Professor Cabot.

Professor Cabot speaking about his time at Trinity and sharing advice with the Class of 2016.

Professor Cabot speaking about his time at Trinity and delivering advice to the Class of 2016.

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

Obamacare’s Contraception Mandate, Post-Scalia

This article was written by Christina Claxton ’16 and was published by Religion in the News, a publication of The Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College.

“Uterus is back on the menu at the Supreme Court,” wrote Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick in her November 6 dispatch on the day’s big judicial news. The Supreme Court had agreed to hear a follow-up to Hobby Lobby, the case that established a religious right for “closely held” for-profit companies. This latest “clash between religious freedom claims and the rights of secular Americans” is, Lithwick wrote, “an emblem of what is sure to be one of the biggest themes of the coming years” at the Court.

The new case, Zubik v. Burwell, challenges the accommodation to the Contraceptive Mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), under which health insurance plans must cover contraceptive services for women free of charge. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014)two for-profit corporations seeking an exemption from the mandate on religious grounds were told by the Court said that they were entitled to the same exemption as religious non-profits. The exemption allows these groups to sign a waiver indicating their religious objection to contraceptive coverage, thereby triggering a process by which their insurance company would provide the coverage instead.

Zubik deals with the religious non-profits themselves. Seven of them are claiming that the very act of signing such a waiver puts an undue burden on their free exercise of religion. What they want is the wholesale exemption from the mandate – i.e. no free contraceptive coverage for their employees – that is provided to houses of worship and other organizations whose sole purpose is religious.

Zubik consolidates cases brought on behalf of the anti-abortion group Priests for Life and an array of religiously affiliated schools and colleges, but most public attention has focused on the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of nuns that runs more than two dozen nursing homes in the United States. The nuns are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a conservative non-profit law firm specializing in free exercise cases.

Becket also represents two small Baptist universities in Texas that are challenging the mandate, but it gives pride of place on its website to the Little Sisters, and it’s pretty clear why. Sweet elderly nuns fighting for their rights provide better optics for religious liberty than institutions of higher education looking to deny contraceptives to sex-crazed college students.

Coveage of the Court’s decision to take the new case by major news organizations was generally balanced. Adam Liptak of the New York Times gave equal weight to arguments from each side and maintaining neutrality in his own language, as did the Wall Street Journal’s Brent Kendall and Louise Radnofsky. The two papers outlined the challenge’s movement through the lower courts and highlight the main controversies present in the debate.

The Times and the Journal both quoted Gretchen Borchelt of the National Women’s Law Center, an advocate on behalf of the government in favor of women’s health rights. They quoted lawyers representing one or more of the non-profits in the case – Mark Rienzi of Becket in the Times, and Greg Baylor of the Alliance Defending Freedom in the Journal.  The quotes juxtaposed the arguments on either side evenhandedly.

However, in an otherwise balanced report, USA Today’s Richard Wolf let his bias show. The Supreme Court, he declared in his lede, “is about to climb back into Americans’ bedrooms.”  The statement gives the impression that Wolf is opposed to government involvement in private affairs, such as those that take place in the bedroom. It also certainly leaves readers with vivid imagery of what this decision could mean for Americans.

Opinion about this issue has been sharply divided ever since Little Sisters and the other religious non-profits began challenging the ACA mandate back at the end of 2013. At first, there was no accommodation of any kind – the accommodation for religious non-profits was part of final additions to the Affordable Care Act, made in the summer of 2013.

Soon after, Little Sisters filed for an emergency stay from the Supreme Court to exempt them from the accommodation. Appeals courts repeatedly denied the request, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor said yes on New Years Eve, the night before the accommodation rules would go into effect on January 1, 2014.  In the days that followed, journalists on each side of the debate hit the ground running with their coverage of the Little Sisters’ claim.

On the left, writers have been largely content to cite the overwhelming success in appeals courts in their analysis of the claim, as well as the stern opposition of the federal government. Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches quotedthe government’s declaration that “the Little Sisters have no case”, and that interpreting RFRA to legitimize their claim would be “extraordinary.”

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson likened trying to understand the claim to being “closed into a small room with reflecting walls,” since the Little Sisters have asked for an accommodation to an accommodation. She said, “the suit embodies the irrationally passionate objections to not only Obamacare but also women’s access to contraceptives and, more broadly, reproductive rights.”

On the right, where judicial backing has largely been absent, opinion writers have relied on advocates or their own rhetoric. Ingrid Jacques of the Detroit News announced that the “federal government should leave nuns alone”, shaming the “federal government’s mission to force nuns to violate their faith.”

The National Catholic Register ran an article in September of 2014 whose headline read, “Obama Administration Continues to Target Little Sisters of the Poor.” The article’s author, Adelaide Mena, quoted a variety of Little Sisters supporters, including Adele Keim of Becket. Mena also placed the word “accommodation” in quotations, indicating her distain for the government’s rule.

Since the Court agreed to hear the case, nothing much has changed in journalistic rhetoric.

Opinion writers on the left had nothing good to say. “It doesn’t violate your religious beliefs when the government asks you to declare your religious beliefs so that it can accommodate your religious beliefs,” Jon Green wrote on America Blog. His article features an image of a cross and the iconic Papal headdress superimposed over a picture of a Hobby Lobby store.

In perhaps more sophisticated opposition, Advocate’s Rea Carey makes an argument that echoes the sentiments of those who want to protect the Little Sisters from big government, declaring that “employers should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.” She goes on to connect the contraception exemption controversy to other civil liberties debates, explaining that allowing religious employers to claim complete exemption to contraception could also lead to similar objections, for example, about PrEP, an anti-HIV drug.

On the other hand, supporters of the challenge frame the issue as a question of “whether the Obama Administration can force employers to violate their religious beliefs.” No satire is present in the supporting coverage – in fact, the language used is often very grave. Ben Johnson of Life Site News explained that the challenge was brought because the accommodation still requires the plaintiffs to violate their conscience and “participate in a process that will give their employees drugs that could take an unborn human being’s life.”

Jonah Hicap of Christianity Today employed more neutral language, but the only quotes he included either favor the Little Sisters or are statements made by the Little Sisters themselves.

At the heart of the case is the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which was passed in 1993 to overturn Unemployment Division v. Smith, a Supreme Court decision that said that neutral laws which apply to everyone cannot be challenged as violating anyone’s religious free exercise. Under RFRA, the federal government must establish that the law in question advances a compelling state interest, and that it achieves that interest by the least restrictive means possible. If it fails to do so, the religious non-profits will win the case.

After a series of seven rulings from federal appeals courts that upheld the validity of the accommodation, opponents won a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in September. With the appeals courts in disagreement, the Supreme Court had effectively no choice but to take the case.

Although oral argument is several weeks away, the central question to be addressed is clear enough: Does the waiver option sufficiently accommodate the free exercise rights of non-profits under RFRA? This question has been thoroughly explored by the appellate judges who have ruled on one or another of the cases.

Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit pointedly rejected the argument that the act of asking not to be required to provide contraceptive care makes an organization “complicit” in providing it. Rather, under the accommodation, “new contracts are created, to which the [religious non-profit] is not a party, between the government and the insurers.” Therefore, in Posner’s view, the accommodation meets the least restrictive means requirement.

By contrast, Judge Roger L. Wollman of the Eighth Circuit found that while the government does have a compelling interest in providing women with free contraceptives, the accommodation does not sufficiently alleviate the burden on religious exercise caused by the contraceptive mandate. Wollman wrote that the government “could provide subsidies, reimbursements, tax credits, or tax deductions to employees, or…the government could pay for the distribution of contraceptives at community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support.” There is no evidence to suggest that these alternate options are unattainable, Wollman said, and thus the government has not met the least restrictive means requirement.

At this point, it looks as though the Court will accept the position that, as Wollman conceded, the government has a compelling interest in providing women with free contraceptive coverage. Its decision is thus likely to turn on the question of “least restrictive means,” and how it interprets the claims within the framework of the RFRA conditions.

Prior to the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia February 13, neither side appeared over-confident of the result. Proponents and opponents alike focused their attention on Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has provided the swing vote in many recent cases involving the tension between secular rights and religious liberty.

In Hobby Lobby, Kennedy’s concurrence commended the waiver accommodation as a reasonable compromise.  “There are many medical conditions for which pregnancy is contraindicated”, he wrote, explaining that the Court recognizes that “the HHS regulation here at issue furthers a legitimate and compelling interest in the health of female employees.”

He also declared that the arrangement for religious non-profits was indeed a valid means of assuring both religious liberty and women’s access to free contraception: “In these cases the means to reconcile those two priorities are at hand in the existing accommodation the Government has designed, identified, and used for circumstances closely parallel to those presented here.”

In other words, Kennedy already appears to have signaled that he sees the accommodation as fulfilling the “least restrictive means” test in reconciling the interest of the government with that of the religious groups. If so, it would mean that, even if Scalia were still on the court, the non-profits would lose their case. If not, the court would almost certainly split 4-4, leaving the various appellate decisions to stand in their respective jurisdictions until justices can take it up again.

Full coverage of important dates, amicus briefs, and the petitions involved can be found at SCOTUSBlogOral argument is scheduled for March 23 with a decision expected in June.

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

From Paris, Lessons for Hartford

Each time I hear our presidential candidates argue over how to combat the threats of ISIS-inspired terrorism and immigrant minorities, I am reminded of how Parisians and I lived with these two problems over the last few months. And now that I am living back in Hartford, I see common themes in the French dilemma and ours in this city.

In two weeks, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter will work on a strategy to defeat ISIS with 27 of his European and Middle Eastern counterparts. That meeting in Brussels will focus on how to dislodge ISIS from territory it controls. Just as important is the threat of home-grown terrorists who draw inspiration or direct orders from fanatics abroad.

Yet we all know that France’s terrorism problem, and ours, cannot be solved by the military alone. Anyone who lived through the Paris terror attacks and France’s strongly anti-immigrant reaction to them, as my fellow college students and I did, knows that they are rooted in a phenomenon far more difficult to the fight than the plotting of radical foreigners. Six of the nine alleged perpetrators of the Paris attacks, according to French authorities, were French citizens. They lived on the outskirts of Paris, just Metro stops away from us, in areas the French call the banlieue, populated largely by people who, like these terrorists, are descendants of immigrants from France’s former colonies, particularly in North Africa.

The perpetrators of the Paris attacks are among the thousands of young people who are tempted by a radical ideology that tells them that French society is rigged against them, that they will always be outsiders, and that the only way out is violence. And now French society debates whether any of these children and grandchildren of immigrants can be trusted, whether any Muslims can be trusted, and whether they are or will ever become truly French. The president of France, Francois Hollande, has gone as far as proposing a law that could strip some of citizenship.

Sound familiar?

Hartford does not have a terrorism problem, but it does have areas of the city that are wracked by poverty, gang violence, drug dealing and abuse, and unemployment, all of which are a manifestation of the same societal failure that Parisians now grapple with. While there may not be any jihadi terrorist collaborators in Hartford recruiting people for ISIS, there are gangs who appeal to the same sense of frustration and exclusion that the residents of the banlieue feel. We have yet to solve the problem of generations of minority populations who, whether descended from African slaves or from more recent waves of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries, have experienced decades of discrimination and have come to live in pockets of our cities that are no less socially and economically isolated than the banlieue I saw in Paris.

And just as the far-right French political leader Marine LePen is now calling for a stop to immigration, we have Donald Trump and other presidential candidates calling not only for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, but pledging to round up and expel millions of mainly Latino undocumented immigrants whom he paints, just as some of the French paint their Muslim immigrants, as never quite truly part of our society, even if some have been working and raising families here for years, in some cases decades.

To be clear, the situations in Paris and Harford do have some differences. With the exception of the San Bernadino attacks, the population in the U.S. has not yet been tempted by the jihadis’ perversion of Islam. And it does not seem likely that Harford is going to breed suicide bombers.

However, we should recognize that jihadi terrorism is just the most extreme manifestation of a large and longstanding problem that both Hartford and Paris now face. Here, many young people have been tempted instead by gangs whose argument is similar in its us vs. them message: society is rigged against you, you ‘ll never get a job, the mainstream won’t accept you, the way to succeed is through violence and breaking the law, and the world belongs to he who grabs it.

Both these ideologies are like diseases that spread violence and chaos through these communities, and must be combatted. Law enforcement is part of the solution. But the rest of us can and must do much more to change the environment that helps these groups to thrive.

First, we must believe that all our fellow citizens deserve a chance to join the mainstream, and that they can succeed.

To reduce the marginalization of Latino and other minority communities in Hartford we need more youth-focused programs and afterschool activities so that children are exposed to positive role models and find safe ways to spend their afternoons. At a time when city and state budgets are tight, Hartford’s university students could play a significant role. I personally saw the effect a college-age mentor can have when I worked with middle schools students at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy on Broad Street. All three of the Hartford area universities should commit to having a majority of their students become engaged with communities in need.

A critical challenge that many people in the community face is getting a first job. Hartford businesses should launch internship and apprenticeship programs that specifically target disadvantaged young people.

The City of Hartford, for its part, should provide appropriate career counseling services similar to the kind my fellow students and I receive at our college. Since high school I have had access to adults who encouraged and believed in me, who could help with creating a resume, interview preparation, and job skills, and I have them to thank for first jobs and internships. Extending the network of those of us who live by networks to Hartford kids will at least give them the message that there is a way in, and a way up and out.

Finally, as Americans we must remind ourselves, as the French have had to do this fall and winter, that our fear and anger towards immigrant and Muslim communities is misdirected. Following the attacks in Paris, Muslims in their communities shouldered much of the blame. I was one of hundreds of college students in Paris, both French and foreign, who decried the labeling of all French Muslims as potential terrorists.

Among my fellow students at Sciences Po, where a noticeable number of students come from Muslim-majority countries, it became obvious that it made no sense to categorize my Muslim peers as potential terrorists. Yet it was impossible to ignore how strongly certain French politicians disagreed with our view. Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National, argued that France should shut its borders to immigrants and close radical mosques.

Both in France and in the United States, we must not give in to panic and fear of people whom we really don’t know. Instead, the citizens of Harford and its suburbs, the city’s businesses and its colleges, and the state political leadership that works here, must commit to action to combat the social and economic ills that plague both Paris and Hartford. We shouldn’t need more extreme violence to open our eyes and get us involved.

Clara Abramson, who just completed four months of study at Sciences Po in Paris, is a Public Policy and French major at Trinity College in Hartford. The abridged version of this article published in the Hartford Courant can be found here

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Antonia Lluberes ’16 Shares Her Experience Interning at Third Way

Antonia Lluberes '16, seen on the bottom right, with Third Way's group of summer interns.

Antonia Lluberes ’16, seen on the bottom right, with Third Way’s group of summer interns.

For nearly 10 weeks, I have had the pleasure of working in Washington D.C. as an Outreach Intern at Third Way, a centrist think tank aiming to bring moderates on both sides of the aisle together and lead from the center. My first few weeks at Third Way were somewhat of a whirlwind as I tried to keep up with the fast paced work environment, get a handle on Third Way’s policies and positions, and navigate the D.C. transit system. Right off the bat I knew my experience at Third Way would be a very formative one and would provide a platform to learn and work with interesting people.

As an Outreach Intern my duties included researching political history, PAC donations, memberships of potential sponsors and writing corporate briefs for department heads for meetings with new clients. Additionally, I helped prepare for and run Third Way events by entering RSVPs, setting up venues, running check-in, greeting VIPs, and other logistical tasks. My roles and responsibilities were diverse, interesting, and oftentimes challenging as I tried to keep up with multiple projects or run around DC for various events, sometimes even attending two a day.

Now in my last week at Third Way, I can honestly say I have learned more than I ever could have imagined and have a more well-rounded view of what it takes to get work done in Washington. One of my proudest accomplishments from my summer internship experience, however, is the small role I played in researching and writing Third Way’s statement for the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

In the fall of my sophomore year I had my first taste of the Public Policy major in Professor Fulco’s PBPL 201 class. The topic of the semester was voting rights and I spent those four months reading, researching and writing about the VRA and voting rights. More specifically, my classmates and I learned about the struggle most black voters faced, particularly in the South, with disenfranchisement leading up to the VRA. We read Gary May’s Bending Toward Justice and testimony from Americans who were denied the right to vote simply because of the color of their skin. We also looked closely at the effects of the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder which struck down the VRA’s Section 4 formula used to determine which states and counties needed to have changes to their voting laws “pre-cleared” by the government. Since the decision, many states have passed measures like mandating citizens to provide photo ID to vote, cutting early voting periods, or eliminating same day registration.

In light of my knowledge of the Voting Rights Act and interest in the state legislators’ attempts to disenfranchise voters, I was pleased to find out Third Way’s Social Policy and Politics intern, Megan John, was writing Third Way’s statement on the 50th Anniversary of the VRA. I told Megan I had some background on the VRA and would be happy to help in any way I could. She took me up on that offer in a big way and informed Lanae, the Director of SP&P, of my work and asked if I could join the collaboration to write the piece.

A few days later I was in a brainstorming meeting with Megan and Lanae, rattling off ideas and discussing the VRA, the Shelby County decision, and the actions of states since the decision. In the meeting, Megan was able to pinpoint four things we would need to highlight in the piece, and then we got to work. I wrote up a summary of changes states have made to their voting laws since 2010, and even used my final paper for 201 which detailed the changes made in Virginia and North Carolina specifically. I sent what I came up with to Megan, who then combined it with what she wrote for a rough draft of the piece before sending it to Lanae for edits. Two days later Lanae forwarded me the final version before it went live, and thanked me for my help.

Although my name isn’t on the piece, it is exciting to know I was able to help Third Way and contribute to their work concerning something I am passionate about. I came into this internship knowing I would gain experience and hoped I would be able to use what I had learned in class as a Public Policy and Law major. My experience at Third Way this summer went above and beyond my expectations and having the opportunity to share what I knew about the VRA with an organization I am proud to be part of was icing on the cake.

To read Third Way’s piece that Antonia contributed to, please click here.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

A Conversation with the Notorious R.B.G.

Justice Ginsburg speaking at Jones Day in Washington D.C. this past July. The photos of this discussion come from Duke Law's summary of the event which can be accessed by clicking the photo above.

Justice Ginsburg speaking at Jones Day in Washington D.C. this past July. The photos of this discussion come from Duke Law’s summary of the event, which can be accessed by clicking the photo above.

One of the best things about being a post-grad in Washington, D.C. is that you never know who you’ll see on your way to work. One of my roommates bumped into Speaker John Boehner on the sidewalk outside our house, and another recently met Senator Bernie Sanders outside of a local coffee shop.

Being a Public Policy & Law major, nothing compared to the woman I met last Wednesday. Perhaps it was her pop culture celebrity, legacy on the court, or the hours and hours I spent during my last year of college reading her opinion in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, that made meeting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg such an incredible honor. My senior thesis, Justice Ginsburg’s Call to Action: The Court, Congress, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, focused entirely on RBG’s scathing dissent in the infamous wage discrimination lawsuit that prompted Congress to pass the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Needless to say, I was elated and nervous to meet the woman who I believe to be responsible for so many of the rights I enjoy today.

The event was hosted by Duke Law School, and was packed with Duke undergrads, Duke Law students, and Duke alumni. Thanks to the generosity of a new friend, Matt Hamilton, I was invited to tag along. The line for the hors d’oeuvres wrapped around the entire room, only to be outdone by the line for the bar. We scrambled to get seats before they were all taken, and those long lines and the excited chatter seemed to evaporate when Justice Ginsburg walked in and took her seat. The conversation began with Justice Ginsburg describing to the audience (and even reciting a few bars from) the Opera by Derrick Wang, Scalia/Ginsburg. “It’s a story about people who have differing opinions, but who can still be great friends,” she explained. Throughout the course of the talk, she would often break from conventional metaphors and cite the plot of a favorite opera.

Inevitably, the topic changed to something with more gravitas, and Justice Ginsburg spoke on her greatest disappointment, Citizens United, and the Court’s latest earth-shattering decisions in Obergefell and King v. Burwell. On the topic of differing opinions, she said, “You’ll find the difference is between textualist interpretation and what I like to call reasonable interpretation,” prompting a few of us to chuckle in response. She spoke about her time at Harvard, then teaching at Columbia, and eventually the ACLU. “There were no women on the court. My family thought it would be a good thing for me to become a school teacher. That was a profession women could go in to. I wanted to be a lawyer because I thought I could help people,” she said, “so you have to put in the hours and put in the work to make your dreams come true.”

When the time came for open questions, my mind was racing with a million things to ask. Which case are you most proud of? Does the Constitution really contain the ever-elusive right the privacy? Where did you get your shirt? After three other audience members asked their questions, I felt my arm shoot up, and someone handed me a microphone. “What is the greatest challenge women in America still face? Is it reproductive rights like in Hobby Lobby or pay equality like in Ledbetter?” I asked. She closed her eyes, and took a moment to think. “Both, and more,” she replied, “It is important for young women in your generation not to forget that there are still rights that you need to fight for.” She went on the cite Lawrence and Ledbetter, two cases I had spent many late nights reading in my thesis cubby in the Raether Library. It struck me how lucky I am, that I am not without strong female role models in positions of influence. I’m sure for Justice Ginsburg this was probably yet another speaking engagement. For me, it was a chance to get some of the best advice in town.
Youlan Xiu, PBPL '15, asking Justice Ginsburg what she believes to be the greatest challenge still facing women in America.

Youlan Xiu, PBPL ’15, asking Justice Ginsburg what she believes to be the greatest challenge still facing women in America.

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