Minnesota Law

Spring 2021
For the Record

In Brief

14 Clemency Project Clients Granted Commutations

Fourteen clients represented by the Law School’s Clemency Project, directed by Professor JaneAnne Murray, were among the list of commutation grants announced by President Trump in the waning hours of his administration. All were represented pro bono and their clemency petitions were filed with the Office of the U.S. Pardon Attorney.

Professor JaneAnne Murray

The grantees were all low-level participants in nonviolent drug distribution cases, who received extremely long sentences that would be significantly shorter today as a result of changes in the First Step Act and in the relevant federal sentencing guidelines. They all have exemplary records in prison and excellent release plans. Since the commencement of this project at the Law School, more than 50 students have worked with Murray on state and federal clemency cases. Most are female clients Murray visited at Waseca FCI (Minnesota) and Carswell FPC (Texas) with her students.

“We are filled with joy that these clients are reuniting with their loved ones,” Murray said when the commutations were announced. “We will continue to represent similarly situated prisoners and seek to redress the systemic inequities driving their disproportionate sentences.”

Prof. Tonry Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship

Prof. Michael Tonry has been awarded a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.

Professor Michael Tonry

The highly competitive, annual national fellowship was awarded to 184 American and Canadian scientists, scholars in the social sciences and humanities, and writers and artists of all kinds, selected from a field of almost 3,000 applicants.

This is the second Guggenheim awarded to a Minnesota Law professor. (Professor Heidi Kitrosser received one in 2017.)

Tonry plans to research and write on the influence of frontier values on the American justice system. “My goal is to offer a new and original account of the historical and cultural forces that have made contemporary American criminal justice systems systematically unjust, unprecedentedly severe, and largely indifferent to defendants’ and offenders’ human dignity,” he explained in his statement of plans submitted to the foundation.

“Our deepest congratulations to Professor Tonry on earning this highly coveted award through his rigorous scholarship and deep commitment to advancing the understanding of and improvement of the American criminal justice system,” said Garry W. Jenkins, dean and William S. Pattee Professor of Law. “We could not be prouder of Michael and the incredible honor he brings to Minnesota Law as a member of our faculty.”

Tonry is the McKnight Presidential Professor of Criminal Law and Policy, director of the Institute on Crime and Public Policy at Minnesota Law, and a scientific member of Germany’s Max Planck Society. Previously he was professor of law and public policy and director of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University. He has been president of the American and European Societies of Criminology.

Career Center Launches ‘Lawyering for Social Justice’ Series

Heather Abraham '12

Minnesota Law’s Career Center recently launched an engaging new series, “Lawyering for Social Justice,” to give students the opportunity to hear from human rights and social justice practitioners and learn about their work and diverse career paths. The series premiere featured Professor Heather Abraham ’12, director of the Civil Rights & Transparency Clinic at the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law. Abraham has previously held two federal clerkships, an Equal Justice Works Fellowship, and a clinical teaching fellowship at Georgetown Law.

Anne Sexton ’12, assistant director of the Law School’s public interest programs and a lecturer in law, moderated a wide-ranging 40-minute discussion with Abraham on her public interest career.

The discussion is now available as a podcast for streaming or download on SoundCloud or your preferred podcast network.

Brandie Burris, 2L, Elected First Black Editor-in-Chief of Minnesota Law Review

Brandie Burris, 2L, was elected editor-in-chief of Minnesota Law Review in February. She is the first Black student to hold that position in the publication’s 104-year history.

Brandie Burris, 2L

“I am honored and pleased that my peers thought that I am the right leader for the role,” says Burris. “I recognize that … while I bring a wealth of experience and vision to the role, there have been so many outstanding Black law students who came long before me. A lot of people, a lot of my peers, were surprised to learn that my election was a historic first for Minnesota Law, but we’re thrilled this landmark moment has happened. I think that, if anything, this says a lot about the group of editors whom I’m working with collectively. It’s not just my legacy, but it’s Volume 106’s shared legacy together, and I hope that my tenure as the first African American editor-in-chief at the Minnesota Law Review is followed by many more leaders from diverse backgrounds.”

“I think this says a lot about the group of editors whom I’m working with collectively. It’s not just my legacy, but it’s Volume 106’s shared legacy together, and I hope that my tenure as the first African American editor-in-chief at the Minnesota Law Review is followed by many more leaders from diverse backgrounds.”
Brandie Burris, 2L

Garry W. Jenkins, dean and William S. Pattee Professor of Law, says, “Brandie’s commitment to excellence, to supporting her peers, and to expanding diversity and inclusion in both the Law School and in the legal profession make her a great fit for this role. Her professional work experience, as well as her involvement with the Black Law Student Association and work as a legal writing fellow, bring a valuable perspective to our flagship journal. I am extraordinarily proud of her and her Minnesota Law Review colleagues in reaching this milestone moment for the Law School.”

Prior to enrolling at Minnesota Law, Burris spent three years as policy director of EdAllies, a Minneapolis-based organization that partners with schools, families, and communities to ensure that every child has access to a rigorous and engaging education. Before that, she was managing director of policy for Educators 4 Excellence, a New York City-based organization dedicated to ensuring that teachers have a leading voice in the policies that impact their students and profession.

Burris was a policy fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs from 2016-17. She received her B.A. in public policy analysis from William & Mary, where she was a recipient of a Sarah Le Cates Humanitarian Award, a James C. Reilly Research Grant, and a Women’s Leadership Fellowship. She was also a Phoenix Project Nonprofit Leadership Fellow.

At the Law School, Burris serves on the executive board of the Black Law Student Association and the Diversity & Inclusion Committee of the Federal Bar Association. Last fall, she served as an orientation leader for the incoming class of first-year students.

Burris has identified three key priorities as she takes the helm of Minnesota Law Review:

1. Documenting the ways in which MLR has changed its policies and operations in response to COVID-19 and making determinations on which changes should be retained and which pre-COVID policies and procedures should be reinstated once the pandemic subsides;

2. Focusing on diversity and inclusion, including creating a petition process that feels inclusive and that encourages diverse students to apply; and

3. Being a good leader.

“I want to live out the position in the way that feels authentic to me, and to support and encourage the editors to do their best work,” Burris says. “I want to really empower the people who are going to be leading in each stream … and to provide those leaders the trust and the autonomy to achieve their goals and lead their departments in their own style.”