By Emily Schleicher
Emily Schleicher spent her past two summers fighting for freedom as an IJ law clerk.
Over the past two summers, I have had the good fortune to be counted among the dozen or so law students the Institute for Justice annually invites to work as summer clerks in the Washington, D.C. office. Hailing from the nation’s top law schools, clerks spend the summer working closely with IJ attorneys on cutting-edge constitutional theories and the plethora of thorny procedural questions that arise at every stage of litigation.
We arrive having learned—either in the classroom or at law firms—to identify and advocate only safe, accepted solutions to legal questions. But such solutions are not IJ’s dominion, and the training clerks receive is unique and invaluable as a result.
The clerks’ job is to assist the attorneys in identifying ways to show the courts and the public that the law has gone terribly astray—and to show them the way to set things straight.
My experience with Kelo v. City of New London showed me what it means to do that job. Much of my first summer was devoted to conducting research for Senior Attorneys Dana Berliner and Scott Bullock, who were at the time busily working on the petition for certiorari in Kelo, in which we asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up our appeal. When I returned to school that fall, I felt invested in the case and took every opportunity to discuss it and to challenge members of my law school community who felt certain that New London’s actions were well within constitutional bounds. In February, I made the journey to D.C. to hear the oral argument, and I’m grateful that I was at IJ on the morning of June 23, when the Supreme Court handed down its 5-4 ruling despite the fact that it was against the Kelo homeowners. There was, of course, disappointment and anger, but the incredible thing was witnessing IJ’s reaction to the decision. The office leapt into action on all fronts, and by the time my second summer came to a close, the current of public opinion was set strongly against the decision, and now dozens of states and Congress had either passed or were considering legislation to prohibit takings for private development. Only IJ could turn a dreadful Supreme Court opinion into a victory for property rights.
The most important lesson clerks learn in their time at IJ, however, is that law is important because it governs people’s lives. This point became crystal clear during a client panel at the 2005 Law Student Conference. In their own words, IJ clients Juanita Swedenburg, Roberta Kitchen and Michael Cristofaro explained how and why they became embroiled in the fight for liberty. It was exciting to spend my summer working on cutting-edge constitutional issues. But this pales in comparison to the astounding realization that the handful of principled, passionate people for whom I have been working are nearly uniquely willing and able to protect lives and livelihoods against the destructive forces of excessive, unrestrained government.
Emily Schleicher is a law student at NYU School of Law.