Archive for "Brooklyn Law School"
On Election Day, a group of Brooklyn Law School students served as legal observers at poll sites across Pennsylvania. Our presence in Pennsylvania was a response to the strict voter ID law that was passed there. Although a federal judge prevented the state from implementing the law this election, it was thought that voters might have been confused over the status of the law, and that the law might be used to intimidate voters. Despite the injunction, poll workers were still permitted to ask voters for ID, but they could not demand ID as a requirement to vote unless that person was a first-time voter.
I was assigned to a poll site in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where I spent almost fourteen hours in front of the polling place, attempting to ensure that no eligible voters were prevented from voting. What I witnessed during those long hours came as a complete shock to me. Call it idealism but I was not at all prepared for the blatant voter suppression tactics aimed at minority voters.
The day was off to a bad start when the Judge of Elections informed me that only twenty provisional ballots were on hand. A quick text message to my friend observing at a poll site nearby established that this was not ideal – they had two-hundred provisional ballots at her poll site. A provisional ballot is for voters who are not listed on the voter rolls but who have a good faith belief that they are registered to vote. The main difference between a regular ballot and a provisional ballot is that regular ballots are counted on Election Day and provisional ballots are either counted in the seven days after the election, or under some circumstances, not at all. If the Board of Elections finds that the voter should have been listed as a registered voter, then the provisional ballot will be counted. Casting a provisional ballot is not ideal, but it is better than casting no ballot at all. The inadequate amount of provisional ballots available at my assigned poll site was especially alarming because of the possibility that it meant that the poll workers had no intention of providing voters with provisional ballots.
My suspicion was confirmed early in the day when three Hispanic women were told that they were not registered, and hence ineligible to vote. Two of the women were certain that they registered on time. The third was a Hurricane Sandy victim from New York who mistakenly believed that she could vote anywhere because she was displaced by the storm. I told the third woman that I could not help her to vote in Pennsylvania because she was not a registered voter there. However, the other two were Pennsylvania residents (one even showed me her identification) and believed that they were registered and that this was their poll site. One said that she registered through welfare and the other at the Obama headquarters. The poll workers refused to give these women a provisional ballot until the Board of Elections was called. Only at that point were they given ballots.
A short while later I spoke with another woman who claimed she registered through welfare but was told she was not on the voter rolls. We had to fight for her provisional ballot as well (it was never a simple process) and when she was finally given her ballot, she was told she was just “wasting her time” since her vote “wouldn’t be counted anyway.” Later, when I met back up with my fellow BLS poll watchers I was told that they all had problems with people who registered through welfare – not one of these people was on the voter rolls.
If a voter does not appear in the poll book, the poll workers are supposed to determine whether the voter is at the proper polling place by calling the Board of Elections to find out where the person is registered. However, some voters (all of which were minorities) were told that the Board of Elections telephone number was not answering and that the voters would have to figure out their poll site for themselves. Others were given inaccurate information, like the wrong poll site. One particularly frustrating case was a black man who waited on line to vote and was then told that he was at the wrong poll site and to go to a different location to vote. When he relayed this information to me, I asked if they called the Board of Elections to determine his correct polling location. He told me that the poll worker did not call any one, but simply asked him his address and upon hearing his address told him that this was not the correct poll site for him. It turned out that the poll worker was wrong, and that this was the man’s correct poll site. I told the voter to go back inside and speak to the poll worker and tell him that this was his correct poll site. The man was again turned away, and I had to pull up the Pennsylvania Board of Elections’ website on my phone, which showed that this was the man’s polling location before the man’s name was found in the poll book and he was able to vote.
At one point the Judge of Elections came outside to confront me about “interfering” in his job. I told him that I was not trying to interfere; I was only trying to inform voters of their rights. He then proceeded to scream in my face that I was not allowed to tell voters to ask for provisional ballots, and that if voters wanted to know their rights, they could “look it up.” At this point several local journalists had shown up because news was beginning to circulate that voters were having a tough time. They immediately attempted to question me, and one woman who was standing nearby gave her account of witnessing the Judge of Elections scream in my face for trying to help voters. The hostility I faced standing outside the polling place was surprising. One poll worker actually shook his hands at me as if he wanted to strike me. I was later told by a local that this was the son of the Judge of Elections who screamed in my face. Even some voters were hostile towards me – one man told me that my presence offends him, and that I should go back to where I came from.
However, many voters were grateful for my presence and told me so. There were so many minority voters that had a problem voting at my poll site on Election Day, and for those that were able to vote because of my intervention they were extremely appreciative. I would say that about 75% of the minorities who came to vote had problems. To be fair to the poll workers there, not all of the problems voters faced were due to voter suppression on their part – a good number of the minorities were redistricted to other poll sites. One woman told me that she lived around the corner and she was redistricted to a poll site in another city! Others told me they never received notification of a switch in poll sites and that they voted at this poll site in the last election.
My effort to protect the vote in Pennsylvania, although utterly frustrating, was not completely in vain. Many minority voters were not prevented from voting due to my presence at the poll site. I fear for voters in battleground states that did not have legal observers present as there is no assurance that poll workers did not obstruct the electoral process and attempt to suppress the vote. I honestly felt that the poll workers at my site were purposely trying to frustrate the minorities’ attempts to vote with the hope that they would just give up and go home (which several people did). What was taken from these people is worse than just their vote–what was taken was their confidence in the very notion of democracy. People were made to feel that they were not a part of the election process and that their constitutional right to vote was easily taken away. I find it offensive to democracy that local officials have so much control over citizens’ right to vote, especially in poll sites like mine that had Republican families running the polling place.
Twelve New York City area law schools participated in the Legal Conference for Social Justice at Columbia Law School on Sunday, September 23, 2012. The Conference was the first event sponsored by the Public Interest Collective (PIC). Sary Udashkin, ’13, founded PIC with area law school students and administrators in 2011 in order to facilitate collaboration between students and administrations of all New York City area law schools. The conference grew out of the desire to foster an activist community across campuses. A group of several dozen students and administrators planned the daylong series of panels, workshops, and networking events.
Approximately 100 students from the area law schools attended the keynote speech, delivered by Bill Quigley, Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and Director of the Law Clinic for Loyola University Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Nura Skaden, ’13, who worked with Mr. Quigley at the Center for Constitutional Rights last summer, invited him to speak after a survey of public interest law students rated him as the first choice for a keynote speaker on the topic of racial justice.
Mr. Quigley drew on his background in the civil rights movement and experiences in post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans to talk about mass incarceration in the United States, which he argued was a problem largely due to the “war on drugs” of the last 40 years. He said that the fact that an African-American person is several times more likely to be incarcerated is prima facie evidence of institutional racism. Mr. Quigley called for radical action to solve the problem of institutional racism. Energized by the keynote, students attended a lunch in which each table focused on a specific area in public interest law, such as juvenile justice and reproductive rights.
Dacia Read, ’14 organized a panel for the afternoon session, “Risk of Permanent Punishment,” which provided concrete examples of institutionalized racism after release from jail. Panelists from the Bronx Defenders, the Legal Action Center, the Fortune Society, and the Open Society Foundation discussed how previously incarcerated or arrested clients face extra challenges as they try to re-enter society. Glenn E. Martin of the Fortune Society described how African-American ex-convicts have to fight for rights that others take for granted. He said they fight for the “four E’s we fought for during the Civil Rights Era: employment, education, enfranchisement, and equity,” pointing out that Board of Elections workers do not understand that parolees retain the right to vote in elections*, and that people charged or convicted with crimes are often not eligible to receive public housing and other social benefits programs.
Other panels at the day-long conference included law school event planning, featuring BLS’ Director of Career Services Camille Chin-Kee-Fatt and Beth Baltimore, ‘08, a homelessness and housing panel organized by Beile Lindner, ’13, featuring Jane Landry-Reyes, ‘93, an intake and interviewing workshop, and a discussion on domestic –violence—all organized by law students from different schools.
Clarissa Wertman, ‘15 said she was “re-inspired” at the conference after surviving the first month of the overwhelming 1L workload.
Organizers plan to continue the conference, and use it as a springboard to share resources and communicate throughout the year about the work of public interest communities across campuses. The PIC’s goal is to ensure that law students like Ms. Wertman follow Mr. Quigley’s advice: “do not give up your dream” of social change.
*Editor’s Note: In NY, a person loses his right to vote if he is convicted of a felony. He regains his right to vote upon the completion of parole, or after successfully submitting a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct while still on parole.
I believe in change. My education at Brooklyn Law School has made me more aware of the vast inequalities of our legal system. Through my clinical practice and legal experience I am better suited to question social structures and privilege in an effort to create systemic change. Through awareness and action, I have come to reflect on the privilege of being a law student, the resources available to me, and the duty to serve my greater community.
Upon returning to BLS this semester, I was surprised to hear a fellow OUTLaws member suggest that our student organization should not promote fundraising events for external entities. I took this to mean that he believed that OUTLaws had become too political and that our efforts should be confined to 250 Joralemon Street. Since the majority of student organizations at BLS raise funds throughout the year for various purposes, it is not clear why this student singled out OUTLaws’ initiatives. It is noteworthy, however, when a member of a group that represents a disenfranchised population avoids recognizing the imprint we as law students have on our community. Such thinking too easily dismisses the duty that oppressed populations have toward one another in fostering societal and economic equality, as well as developing a legacy of cultural heritage.
I am incredibly proud that last year OUTLaws, NLG and BLSPI co-produced the first-ever joint fundraiser for the Peter Cicchino Youth Project (PCYP) as a kick-off event for our respective organizations. PYCP was created to reach out to homeless and indigent LGBT youth and help stabilize their lives. This year, twelve BLS student organizations have joined forces to again host the event. In light of the economic downturn and reduced governmental funding for non-profit organizations, fundraising and outreach is all the more important in ensuring the longevity of programs such as PCYP, which support underserved populations. The funds raised by our event will be used to support the critical work of PCYP, such as paying immigration filing fees, offsetting the cost of name change petitions and subsidizing transportation costs for clients to and from court and meetings with their attorneys.
Community development initiatives, such as hosting fundraisers, implementing charitable drives and advancing volunteerism for local non-profit organizations, are important components of student leadership. They are also an opportunity for students to reflect on privilege. The fact that we are attaining an advanced degree, have the ability to control the hours in which we work and have myriad resources readily available to us is a reflection of such privilege. A commitment to public service is among the values that should be fostered in law students from the moment they arrive at BLS. As Chief Judge Lippman stated when he announced mandatory pro bono requirement for admission to the New York State Bar, “We think that if you want that privilege, that honor of practicing law in the state of New York…then you are going to have to demonstrate that you believe in our values.”
Organizing and participating in projects that promote civic responsibility has reminded me to focus on both reflection and action. It has taught me more about human aspirations and motives than classroom instruction has. It has also reminded me to really see my clients for the complex, undiminished people they are, to take notice of relationships, and to look hard at who I am and the type of attorney I wish to become. Through community service programs, my hope is that BLS students will take notice of their privilege and use it to help guarantee the transformation of society and legal systems.
Kathryn Hensley is a 3L at BLS and a proud graduate of Antioch College. She is the 2011-2013 Co-Chair of OUTLaws and 2012-13 BLSPI Community Development Co-Chair. She is a Bergstrom Child Welfare Law Fellow, Equal Justice America Fellow and Equal Justice Works Summer Corps Recipient.
On Thursday, Brooklyn Law School held its annual Student Organizations Fair. Students gathered in the courtyard and took full advantage of the weather, the free food, and the opportunity to meet student leaders face to face and learn about what their organizations do. Numerous membership organizations spanning a diverse range of legal and cultural interests were present, from Art Law to Environmental Law to the Irish Law Students Association. Notable new organizations included BLS Students to Reelect Obama, the Brooklyn Law Immigration Society, and BLS Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
Several pro bono projects were also present. Pro bono projects offer students the opportunity to work first-hand on legal issues and provide critical advice and support to people who otherwise may not be able to obtain it. For example, students participating in Motivating Youth Through Legal Education (MYLE) help high-school students from disadvantaged backgrounds prepare for national debate competitions on Constitutional Law. Similarly, the Suspension Representation Project (SRP) helps students fight their suspensions in a hearing before an administrative judge. For more on pro bono groups and other public service opportunities, see http://apps.americanbar.org/
For those who did not attend the fair, a full list of school organizations and their contact information can be found on the BLS Web site. If you are interested in an organization or a pro bono project, send its student contact an e-mail to receive more information and be added to its mailing list.
Additionally, in order to help BLS students stay up to date with the numerous opportunities that school organizations provide, The Advocate now features the SBA calendar on our main page. Look for future events that are currently posted and check back frequently for new additions.
Alexander Goldman also contributed to this article.
On Sunday, Brooklyn Law School held its Convocation ceremony. The annual event introduces the incoming class to faculty, staff and student leaders. Students first met with their student advisors at the school, then proceeded to the United States Eastern District Courthouse in Cadman Plaza for the ceremony and reception.
At the ceremony, Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid Henry Haverstick broke down the numbers of the Entering Class of 2012:
- There were over 4,500 applications for this year’s class.
- 361 students (318 full time, 43 part time) accepted a place in the incoming class.
- The students represent 148 different colleges and universities.
- The youngest – 20. The eldest – 50.
Among those present at the ceremony were Catherine Toner, ’15, whose interest in immigration law stems from her work at horse racing tracks, where there is a large immigrant population; John Willumsen-Friedman, ’15, whose parents used to “scream into the phone” to help their friends with various immigration issues, also leading to an interest in immigration law; and Alexandra Elbaum, ’15, who has been active in animal rights and “pets for prisoners” programs, leading to an interest in human rights and prison reform. All three expressed enthusiasm for the beginning of their legal studies, and gave positive reviews of the ceremony.
Incoming Dean Nicholas Allard’s keynote address to the new class was optimistic. Noting that the students’ “future success is the school’s priority,” Dean Allard stated his desire to continue Brooklyn Law’s pioneering traditions in order to keep it ahead of the curve in providing “outstanding professional training.” Noting that the legal field is undergoing “unprecedented change” and that the JD is likely to be most students’ final degree, Dean Allard concluded his address by expressing his belief in the importance of teaching law students critical thinking skills in preparation for future leadership roles.
At the reception, the incoming students spoke with upperclassmen and faculty members – sharing their experiences, talking about their hopes for law school, and asking for advice. Speaking to an incoming student, one upperclassman advised paying close attention to the legal writing class, stating, “it’s two credits, but the skill you learn impacts all of your other classes.”
The school plans to post the first-ever video of the Convocation ceremony on its website.
We asked your classmates for their opinions about the ObamaCare decision. Which Justice got it right? Check out their responses below, and add yours in the comments!
ADAM LUDEMANN, 2014
Adam is the President of the Federalist Society, but the views expressed here are his own. The Federalist Society is a student group whose purpose is to promote a respectful, thoughtful and engaging discourse on campus addressing issues of concern to libertarians, conservatives and the greater student body. They host series of discussions each year featuring topics such as healthcare reform, federalism and economic freedom. Adam encourages anyone interested in further discussion to check out their events on BLSConnect. The Federalist Society does not endorse particular policy positions.
I tend to agree with the Roberts opinion and Thomas, Scalia, et al…As a matter of cost reduction, I believe Congress could have better achieved its ends by reforming the tax code…and allowing the purchase of health care insurance… across state lines…
How does this decision affect you?
“As a paralegal at a large corporate firm before law school, I had great health insurance with broad coverage, low deductibles, and responsive customer service. As a law student over the age of 26, I currently have no real choice other than to participate in the BLS-sponsored insurance program, which features higher deductibles, low prescription drug coverage maximums, more restricted coverage, and terrible customer service. The benefit I receive per dollar of health care spending is clearly lower.”
What are your concerns about the practical implications this decision has on health law?
“I believe that many of these differences, and many of the problems with our healthcare system, ultimately arise from employer tax preferences which came about in the context of wage controls during the Second World War. These tax policies have distorted the healthcare market, linking health insurance to employers in a way which makes healthcare arbitrarily more expensive for the unemployed, students and those who are self-employed.”
As a matter of cost reduction, I believe Congress could have better achieved its ends by reforming the tax code to address these problems and allowing the purchase of health care insurance, like many other insurance products, across state lines, allowing for greater customer choice, more efficient distribution of healthcare services, and broader risk pools for those with preexisting conditions.”
So, which Justice got it right?
“I don’t pretend to be familiar with the law relating to the tax/penalty distinction, although I tend to agree with the Roberts opinion and Thomas, Scalia, et al. on the limitations the decision places on the Commerce Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Federal government’s conditional spending power vis-à-vis the States.
“I wholeheartedly agree with the ACA’s goal of ensuring coverage for pre-existing conditions and coverage for those who are economically disadvantaged. However, I think that lowering costs as described above in connection with a tax refund or voucher-based system would lead to a cleaner, more progressive redistribution of health care resources without the market inefficiencies and cross-subsidies associated with a mandate and regulated approach.”
VERONICA JACKSON, 2014
Veronica is the Co-Chair of the Health Law and Policy Association (HLPA) and the Chair of Girls on the Run BLS pro-bono (GOTR). HLPA is a student-run organization that brings together students interested in a variety of Health Law fields to discuss today’s health care issues and to unite students and health law professionals with similar interests. GOTR is a new pro-bono program at BLS, bringing positive role models to an underserved elementary school in New York City. BLS coaches help to teach life skills through dynamic, conversation-based lessons and running games.
Overall I’m extremely pleased with the outcome of this case…My biggest hesitation with the law is how comprehensive the lowest ranked plans offered in Exchanges will be, and if they will actually lead to an increase in primary care services.
How does this decision affect you?
“I currently have health insurance, but will be losing it when I turn 26 in March and will likely enroll in the BLS offered plan.
Personally, this decision does not have that much of an impact on me. My parent’s health insurance has allowed young adults (up to age 26) to stay on their plan for years, so a negative outcome would not have had an effect on me as of yet. I also cannot foresee myself ever choosing not to have health insurance so the mandate would not really be mandating me to do anything I did not want to do anyways. I am concerned that the plans that I may be able to afford after law school will not be comprehensive enough, but the New York Exchange has yet to release all of its guidelines.”
Which Justice got it right?
“I agree most with Justice Ginsburg’s opinion in that the ACA would have been constitutional under the Commerce Clause. I agree with the Administration’s position that health care is a very unique market in that virtually everyone will enter it at some point in their lifetime. Because of this, I feel that Congress did have the power to enact this law under the Commerce Clause. One of my favorite quotes in her opinion sums it up nicely: ‘Why should the Chief Justice strive so mightily to hem in Congress’ capacity to meet the new problems arising constantly in our ever developing modern economy? I find no satisfying response to that question in his opinion.’”
“Overall I’m extremely pleased with the outcome of this case. I’m a proponent of a single-payer system or a two-tiered system (such as in Germany), but in the interest of being realistic, I know that neither system is in our immediate future. So for now, I support the ACA. Decreasing emergency room use and increasing preventative care are crucial to decreasing our nation’s healthcare costs, and these two goals are made possible in the ACA by giving more Americans access to health insurance.
My biggest hesitation with the law is how comprehensive the lowest ranked plans offered in Exchanges will be, and if they will actually lead to an increase in primary care services. In order to avoid the penalty, many Americans may enroll in plans that still make health care too costly to obtain. This would cause those enrollees to waste money on their premiums each month while still not to receiving health care. The standards will be set by various exchanges, but if Massachusetts is any indication, a new class of “under-insured” may emerge. I am also concerned with how the insurance market could play out 10-15 years from now. There is often very little oversight for these private health plans, and they could become very powerful in years to come. As an intern at the Medicare Rights Center, I have been able to see first-hand how the policy set by regulation committees can often have little to no effect in the implementation and regulating of a plans day-to-day operations and services. Suggestions to committees are for one reason or another often ignored or glossed over when passed onto plans, giving plans too much power and not enough supervision. Hopefully stronger guidance would be built into this system.”
*Editor’s note: We hope you join the discussion but please keep your comments respectful.
|100% of Scholarship Renewed||80% Renewed||55% Renewed||0% Renewed|
|Class Rank Required||Upper 40%||Upper 50%||Upper 65%||Below 65%|
|Approximate GPA Cut-Off||3.355||3.244||3.099||Below 3.099|
|Number of Scholars||162||39||60||97|
|Percentage of First-Year Scholars||45.3%||10.9%||16.8%||27%|
|100% of Scholarship Renewed||80% Renewed||55% Renewed||0% Renewed|
|Class Rank Required||Upper 40%||Upper 50%||Upper 65%||Below 65%|
|Approximate GPA Cut-Off||3.221||3.116||2.975||Below 2.965|
|Number of Scholars||102||24||32||58|
|Percentage of First-Year Scholars||47%||11%||15%||27%|
Then I get the Class Ranking, and several arguments come to mind as to why I should be entitled to coverage in the top 50%:
- Only a few students can ask for similar relief (and it is questionable what the change in #238’s scholarship amount reflects, if any — but for me, it is a matter of some $6,000.)
- The new policy for incoming 1Ls (they only must be in the top 80% to recover 100% of their scholarship).
- Tuition Hikes: the Class of 2013 has seen its tuition rise from $46,300 (approximately) to $48,090 to $49,486 for our last year. (I am not going to get into the living expenses that the school calculates at $5,880—but please sign up for MEP in the fall if you want to investigate this issue more closely.) So the total cost is an additional $3,186, or about the cost of a Bar Review Course.
- 2L Transfers: Their first-year grades are eliminated for purposes of calculating their class rank. If you treat me like a second-year transfer, my GPA is 3.5005, and I’m in the top 40%. Oh.
- NYU gives students grades, but does not rank them, and does not set a cut-off for OCI. I know BLS is not NYU but I do believe the students here are generally of as high a quality as there, and we should do away with rankings and just set these scholarships according to GPA.
- I took the Health Law Practicum internship where I got an “HP.” Some students get grades for clinics (graded on a different-scaled curve) and some just get high passes or regular passes, and some get both grades and passes. When some students are able to benefit from “grading clinics” and others are not, perhaps it only results in a small degree of inequality–but it is just such a difference that separates me from $6,000.
- To me this was the final straw — the last time the school could screw us — and it’s trying to take advantage of the opportunity. Please join me in this fight for economic justice.
Christopher J. Knorps is a 3L at Brooklyn Law School. He serves on the Career Services Committee as an Upper Class Delegate of the Student Bar Association, is the Founder and President of Monthly Expense Project, a subsidiary of the Thrift Club, and is incoming Managing Editor of The BLS Advocate. He seeks Person #238 from the Class of 2013 in particular, and any other students “on the cusp” to form a group to collectively bargain with the school in regards to this issue.