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Friday, January 03, 2020

Taking states seriously: new frontiers of public law

One of the most interesting and revelatory new connections I forged during my post-decanal sabbatical adventure was with Mr. James Tierney.  Teaching currently at the Harvard Law School, Jim is the former attorney general of Maine -- and not just any AG, but someone who has been described as "America's 51st attorney general."  Passionate, brilliant, and energetic, Jim is an evangelist for curricular attention to state public law.  He explains, rightly, that most of our students will become deeply engaged, in one way or another, with state and local legal institutions. These institutions (take the state judiciary as just one obvious example) function in the long shadow of state political institutions.  Lawyers permeate these institutions and the work of lawyers on behalf of clients, whether for private pecuniary interest or the public interest broadly defined, is deeply enmeshed into state legal and political structures. 

To the end of enriching student learning, both doctrinal and experiential, Jim and a number of other resolute colleagues have developed meaningful courses in this space. State constitutional law, which is experiencing a nice renaissance, and local government law are obvious examples.  Less obvious are traditional courses which would benefit from such exposure to the work of, inter alia, the state executive branch and also the network of relationships among state agencies, state courts, and general purpose local governments.  Students could (and perhaps should) be exposed to these issues in the first year private law core, including torts, contracts, and property.

Tierney, who has walked this walk at Columbia and Harvard Law Schools, among others, has also developed a web of resources for current state AGs.  The stateag.org site, linked here, gives one a flavor of a rich bevy of programs and initiatives that assist state lawyer-leaders and also communicate, and not too subtly, the message that understanding the mechanisms of state government is increasingly important. 

At the level of tactics, we ought to look for ways of connecting these professional opportunities with law school curricula, and even academic scholarship.  There is, of course, imaginative and sophisticated work in local government law, some of which connects to state public law themes rather directly. And state con law, as mentioned above, is an active scholarly field with good growth potential.  What Tierney's initiatives, propelled (as I can testify first-hand) by a remarkable lawyer with boundless energy, point to is a marriage between ambitious public law academics and their law school homes on one side of the aisle and seasoned AGs and other public officials who are committed to working within the domain of academic culture to fertilize this field of state public law.   

 

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on January 3, 2020 at 12:32 PM in Daniel Rodriguez | Permalink

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