Minnesota Law

Fall 2020

10 Ways Minnesota Law Effects Change in the Region, Nation, and World

While 2020 has been a uniquely challenging year for many, the start of a new decade provides an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the many ways that Minnesota Law has an impact. We are grateful for our incredible global network of more than 13,000 alumni, our world-class faculty, our hard-working staff, and, of course, our incredibly engaged and talented student body. The following are just 10 of the many, many ways in which the Minnesota Law community is taking on leadership roles and effecting positive change.

1. Advancing the Law through Litigation and Advocacy

Minnesota Law’s faculty, students, and clinics have successfully argued cases before state and federal courts that have impacted literally thousands of lives. One of many examples is Mellouli v. Holder, a U.S. Supreme Court case handled by the Federal Immigration Litigation Clinic of the Law School’s James H. Binger Center for New Americans. In its 2015 ruling in favor of the clinic’s client, the Supreme Court set a precedent that protects from deportation thousands of legal permanent residents convicted of certain low-level drug offenses. Another example is a U.S. Tax Court decision,Feigh v. Commissioner, 152 T.C. No. 15 (2019), in which ProfessorCaleb Smith, working through the Ronald M. Mankoff Tax Clinic and aided by then-3L Matthew Barron ’20, scored a precedential U.S. Tax Court ruling that stands to benefit many low income taxpayers nationwide.

2. Aiding in the Administration of Justice

Law School students and alumni are making a difference in courthouses throughout the state and the nation. Nearly a third of our graduates are selected for judicial clerkships, and, in turn, many of our alumni serve their communities as judges. Minnesota Law alumni have also achieved a high level of prominence on the bench. For example, four occupy seats on the highest courts of three states: Supreme Court Justices G. Barry Anderson ’79 and Natalie Hudson ’82 (Minnesota); Supreme Court Justice Janine M. Kern ’85 (South Dakota); and Court of Appeals Judge Paul Feinman ’85 (New York). In Minneapolis, the federal courthouse was recently renamed in honor of the late Diana E. Murphy ’74, who was the first woman ever appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. Minnesota Law faculty members have also been tapped for the bench, including David Strass (U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in 2017) and Laura Thomas (Hennepin County District Court in 2020).

3. Contributing to the Community through Public Service Partnerships

Through their commitment to public service, Minnesota Law students generate positive change and promote access to justice in the local community, the nation, and the world. In 2019 alone, students performed more than 37,500 hours of public service locally, nationally, and internationally. The Law School’s partnerships with the Great North Innocence Project and the Minnesota Justice Foundation, along with its wide variety of clinics, externships, field placement, and other pro bono opportunities, allow students to gain valuable skills while serving communities in need. In March 2020, students working with the Innocence Project helped free a man serving a 28-year sentence after investigating his case and unearthing previously missed cell-phone evidence tending to confirm his alibi.

4. Improving Legal Education through Innovation

Minnesota Law is forging new paths in legal education. Recognizing the importance of early feedback, a pioneering approach to 1L instruction developed by Professor Daniel Schwarcz is changing the face of legal education. His 2017 law review article, “Midterm Feedback Policy,” in which students are given qualitative feedback on their performance during their first year of law school, has been adopted not only by Minnesota Law, but also a growing number of other law schools. Another example of Minnesota Law’s focus on curricular innovation is its Law in Practice (LiP) program, which provides real-world legal skills to students in their 1L year. LiP, developed by Professor Prentiss Cox ’90, has been hailed as a national model for practical learning.

5. Promoting the Public understanding of the Law

Minnesota Law’s world-class faculty improves the public’s understanding of the law through research and scholarship, media appearances to explain legal concepts and cases, and participation in educational programs and initiatives. Earlier this year, Professor Jill Hasday won the prestigious Scribes Book Award for the best work of legal scholarship. Her award-winning work, Intimate Lies and the Law (Oxford University Press, 2019), is the first book to uncover the hidden body of law governing deception in dating, sex, marriage, and family life. Professor Francis Shen conducts empirical and interdisciplinary cutting-edge research at the intersection of law and the brain sciences. Professor Susan Wolf, who holds appointments in both the Law School and Medical School, is one of the most oft-cited interdisciplinary scholars in country. Professors Shen and Wolf are part of a team that was recently awarded a $1.6M National Institutes of Health grant to produce ethics recommendations for the use of breakthrough MRI technology that is portable and cloud-based.

6. Leading Legal Reform Efforts

Through scholarship, advocacy, and public service efforts, Minnesota Law faculty, staff, and students bring about positive change in the justice system. For example, sentencing reform efforts across the country received a major boost when 15 years of work spearheaded by Professor Kevin Reitz culminated in the adoption of the Model Penal Code: Sentencing by the American Law Institute in 2017. The model code provides key guidance on some of the most important issues of the day, from mandatory minimum sentences to racial and ethnic disparities in punishment. Other examples include Professor Maria Ponomarenko joining seven other legal scholars in a report recommending immediate policing reforms, and Dean Garry W. Jenkins and Professor Bob Stein serving on the Uniform Law Commission. The Law School also has numerous faculty members who have been elected to membership in the American Law Institute.

7. Filling the Ranks of Government Leadership

Minnesota Law’s long tradition of cultivating leaders who serve in public office is not only alive and well, but also reaching new heights. Key Capitol posts in Minnesota currently occupied by Minnesota Law alumni include speaker of the house (Melissa Hortman ’95), house majority leader (Ryan Winkler ’01), attorney general (Keith Ellison ’90), secretary of state (Steve Simon ’96), governor’s chief of staff (Chris Schmitter ’13), and commissioner of human rights (Rebecca Lucero ’07). Outside of Minnesota, our alumni in service include a U.S. Representative for Wisconsin (Ron Kind ’90), the solicitor general of Texas (Kyle Hawkins ’09), and the immediate past mayor of Kansas City, Missouri (Sylvester James Jr. ’83), among many others.

8. Supporting Economic Growth and Justice

Minnesota Law’s strong clinical program provides small businesses with free legal assistance, fueling their efforts to develop and expand. With many Twin Cities small business owners facing devastation from the combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and damages incurred in the civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd, the Business Law Clinic stepped in to provide free virtual advice sessions to proprietors. Over the summer, through a partnership with the SBA, the clinic also held a series of virtual presentations on legal topics of interest to business owners. The Law School’s Intellectual Property and Entrepreneurship Clinic also aids small businesses with their business needs. Over a single year, the Law School clinics provide an estimated $250,000 worth of free legal assistance to local small businesses.

9. Sharing Insights and Expertise with Policymakers

Minnesota Law’s faculty, staff and students freely and frequently share their expertise with policymakers by testifying before Congressional committees, federal and state administrative agencies, and global councils. For example, Kristin Trapp, 3L, testified last February before state lawmakers on the merits of a constitutional amendment she helped draft proposing to replace gender-specific language in the state Constitution. Faculty and staff have also been tapped for leadership roles at state, national, and international levels. Examples include Robina Institute of Criminal Law Executive Director Kelly Mitchell, who chairs the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, and Professor Alexandra Klass, who was recently appointed to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s Advisory Council on Climate Change.

10. Protecting Human Rights on a Global Scale

Minnesota Law’s human rights program is safeguarding liberty worldwide with its highly influential scholarship, advocacy efforts, and service programs. Minnesota Law’s Human Rights Center, for which Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin serves as faculty director, is internationally acclaimed for its excellence. A recent example of its many globally important initiatives is its involvement with launching a COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker last spring. Working with Professor Ní Aoláin, 3Ls Abby Oakland and Seiko Shastri researched COVID-19 emergency power declarations around the globe and added them to the tracker to help ensure that leaders exercising those sweeping powers are held accountable for human rights abuses. Professor Ní Aoláin was recently reappointed to a second three-year term as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.