Institute for Legislative and Governmental Affairs
Programs and Events 2009 - 2010
By Arthur D. Wolf, Director
Constitution Day, September 17, featured a lecture by award-winning scholar and Western New England College History Professor John Baick. In his talk, “Myths, Misconceptions, and Morality: How Every Generation Reinvents the Constitution," Dr. Baick traced the changing meaning of the Constitution in American history, starting in the present with the current debate over the government’s role in healthcare and ending in the late eighteenth century with the the adoption of the Constitution. In between, he covered several other pivotal moments in which Americans have interpreted, reinterpreted, and misinterpreted the document that is the foundation of the Rule of Law, as well as central to our national identity, culture, and mythology.
For the past 14 years, the School of Law has sponsored an annual review of the decisions of the United States Supreme Court at its last term. On October 3, Professors Erin Buzuvis, Leora Harpaz, Arthur Leavens, and Bruce Miller presented the principal cases of the 2008-2009 term. Interested readers may review the presentations on our webpage. The discussions included decisions involving freedom of speech, affirmative action, criminal justice, and strip searches. The seminar also explored recent changes in the makeup of the Court with the departure of Justice David Souter and the arrival of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
On October 27, we had the privilege of hosting six Ukrainians who were visiting the United States as part of the “Open World Program at the Library of Congress.” Attorney Simon J. Brighenti Jr. ’87, a member of the West Springfield Rotary Club, which sponsored their visit to western Massachusetts, facilitated the visit. As government officials and officers in nongovernmental organizations, the Ukrainians, some of whom had legal training, had a strong interest in visiting an American law school. While here, the visitors and law school personnel shared their ideas and information about legal education, the rule of law, providing legal services to under-served populations, and other relevant legal topics.
On October 28, the Institute hosted a public forum led by Dr. Sherri Killens, Commissioner of the Department of Early Education and Care. Entitled “Massachusetts Birth to School Age Task Force: Phase 1: Pre-Birth to Age Three Forum.” Mrs. Dora Robinson, President and CEO, United Way of Pioneer Valley, facilitated the discussion. Senator Gale D. Candaras ’82, the State Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, introduced Commissioner Killens and provided legislative perspective.
In February, we hosted Lt. Gov. Tim Murray ’94, who chairs the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual and Domestic Violence. In the J. Gerard Pellegrini Moot Court Room, he presided over a community forum to explore these issues, which included experts on and victims of sexual and domestic violence. In April, our Fourth Annual Regional Civil Rights Conference drew over 180 people, with Attorney John Relman delivering the keynote address. Attorney Relman presented several cases in which public officials and private persons sought to interfere with and prevent the enforcement of fair housing and other rights of minorities.
In addition, Conference panelists addressed fair housing, predatory lending, and foreclosure litigation strategies; community development and obstructions to affordable housing; hate crimes and community policing; and reducing barriers to employment and housing because of disability, domestic violence, and other disadvantages.
The Legislative Institute had an especially active spring semester. In addition to the programs noted here, we entertained the semi-annual visit of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Further, the Institute offered a simulation course in Legislation, in which students engaged in research, writing, drafting, and role playing (legislators and committee witnesses).
We were also privileged to host a panel discussion based on the acclaimed book, The Guantanamo Lawyers: Inside a Prison Outside the Law. Book authors Mark Denbeaux, Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School, and Jonathan Hafetz, Attorney with the National Security Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), were joined by fellow Attorneys Ellen Lubell and William Newman, local ACLU Director. The four lawyers have represented detainees held at Guantanamo. The panelists explored the struggles to bring justice to GITMO against seemingly insurmountable odds, giving voice to the experiences of the detainees.
Ms. Brittany Decker, a Western New England Communication major, and School of Law Professor Matthew Charity brought new perspectives to the Cambodian killing fields. Professor Charity began the program by exploring the autocratic rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-79, resulting in the murders of over one million Cambodians, and the current criminal prosecutions. Ms. Decker had recently visited Cambodia under the auspices of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. She showed her pictures and offered commentary based on her observations, interviews, and photos about the contemporary impact of the killing fields on Cambodian life.
The Institute also worked with our Office of Career Services and International Law Society to bring Attorney Brenda Oppermann ’04 to campus to discuss employment opportunities in international law. She has worked in Iraq, Sudan, and other “hot spots” around the world, addressing human rights and related issues.
As part of our annual summer program, the Institute hosted two Siena College students. Under faculty supervision, Siena fellows Dan Supple and Jill Wojdyla engaged in extensive research and writing projects. Jill worked with Professor Bruce Miller, exploring the Military Commissions Act of 2006 as the legal basis for trying detainees in the war on terrorism. Dan Supple, whom I supervised, examined reforming medical malpractice in Massachusetts, focusing on the tribunal system and the limits on certain monetary awards in comparison with New York. As part of his research, Dan traveled with State Senator Gale Candaras ’82 to the Massachusetts State House to further explore the critical issues.