The Brandeis Project
What is the Brandeis Project? — The Brandeis Project, a new joint effort by the Center for State Innovation and the Progressive States Network, is a network of law professors and public interest organizations. Its aim is to give law students more opportunities — in training, research, summer internships, and jobs — to contribute to progressive state government, policy advocacy, and politics. Brandeis will promote early-career student awareness of opportunities in this field, and encourage better law school training for those interested in pursuing it. It will also develop opportunities for students to contribute during the school year to substantive state policy debate and reform. It will do this by identifying useful research projects and other needs in state advocacy that law students can contribute to meeting. Participating Project professors will supervise and in some cases give course credit for that research or clinical work.
What motivates the Brandeis Project’s formation is the recent explosion in the importance and extent of state progressive advocacy, and the shortfall between that and existing in-state policy resources.
The Progressive Opportunity in States — States have always been hugely important to American politics, but the past quarter century of national policy devolution and retreat from New Deal commitments (often equivalent developments) has further raised their political profile. So has higher public concern for policies traditionally controlled by states (e.g., education, economic development, transportation and energy use, public safety, election rights). And so has DC policy gridlock. States are leading progressive reform on a host of issues — health insurance, global warming, wage and job quality standards, stem cell research, civil unions — that the federal government has failed to address.
For all these reasons, progressives have recently focused much more organizing and advocacy work on states. Part of this new interest may fade with regime change in Washington. But a larger part of it is permanent. It comes from belated but genuine recognition of the enduring power and strategic importance of states, and the opportunity they offer for modeling policy innovation — the “laboratory” function celebrated by Justice Brandeis (see New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 288 U.S. 262, at 311).
The Need for Help— But existing state institutions are ill-prepared to take advantage of this opportunity. Most state legislatures are made up of poorly paid, part-time lawmakers with few if any staff to research or evaluate the laws they are asked to approve. This means that unless public-interest researchers and legal analysts supply them with better policy alternatives, they often just rubber stamp special interest legislation drafted by lobbyists. Even Governors and other statewide elected executives often lack critical policy capacity (including knowledge of their own powers, and what other states, are doing). State public interest advocacy groups are perennially strapped for talent, unable to meet demand.
Here’s where law students could be of enormous help. Brandeis can connect law students directly to state progressive electeds and public-interest groups, leading high-impact reform efforts, who need their legal and other research help right now. This is intellectually demanding as well as socially useful work. It’s also great training, and an early-career networking opportunity, for a future in progressive lawyering, politicking, and citizenship.
How to Get Involved — We are looking for both law students who want to get involved and coordinate with other law students, and faculty advisors to oversee these projects. If you’re interested in helping please email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Nathan Newman (email@example.com or 212-680-3114) or Joel Rogers at State Innovation (firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-262-4266) directly.
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