Category Archives: Knowledge

WMU-Cooley Constitution Day Speakers Impress Upon Law Students That the Constitution is the Law

We learn about the U.S. Constitution back in grade school, with teachers covering such historical subjects as the founders, the Bill of Rights, and fun facts about the times. As we go through life though, we often lose sight of the cornerstone document of our country in the pressures of daily life. 

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Each September comes a reminder of our heritage in the form of a celebration called Constitution Day where schools across the country, from elementary classrooms on up through high schools and universities, take some time to reflect on the Constitution, citizenship, and other related topics. Law schools, with their obvious connection to the topic, are happy to get in on the celebration.

At Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, speakers brought history alive at all four campuses and touched on a variety of aspects of the Constitution.

In Lansing, the Cooley Center lobby was filled with people who came to hear Jonathan Sacks, the first executive director of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. The commission was created as a result of efforts to improve legal representation for indigent criminal defendants. Sacks said the commission has been working to propose minimum standards for attorneys representing indigent defendants in Michigan.

In Lansing, the Cooley Center lobby was filled with people eager to hear constitutional expert Jonathan Sacks talk about the right to defense counsel.

In Lansing, the Cooley Center lobby was filled with people eager to hear constitutional expert Jonathan Sacks talk about the right to defense counsel.

In Tampa, students, faculty and staff learned about the role of courts in society in the context of landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court. A panel consisting of campus Associate Dean Jeff Martlew, and professors Jeffrey Swartz, Paul Carrier, and Brendan Beery, brought the concepts of constitutionalism clearly into focus for over 60 attendees.

Professor Jeffrey Swartz, Dean Jeffrey Martlew, event moderator Brianne Myers, Professor Paul Carrier, and Professor Brendan Beery, presented Constitution Day in Tampa.

Professor Jeffrey Swartz, Dean Jeffrey Martlew, event moderator Brianne Myers, Professor Paul Carrier, and Professor Brendan Beery, presented Constitution Day in Tampa.

“What too many people don’t understand,” Beery said, “is that the Constitution is law.  So it won’t do to say that a person has done something unconstitutional, but not illegal.  If it’s unconstitutional, it’s illegal. When the Supreme Court issues a judgment on a federal question, there is not a state employee in the United States who is not bound by that judgment.”

In Grand Rapids, the relevance of the U.S. Constitution in today’s political and social climate was brought to life by Warner Norcross & Judd LLP attorney Matt Nelson. Nelson made the argument that the majority of political decisions should be made by the people acting through their representatives, and not by a non-elected court. He suggested that the Court’s role should be limited to striking down laws that are contrary to the plain dictates of the Constitution.

In Grand Rapids, a crowd gathered to hear constitutional law expert Matt Nelson talk about the proper role of an un-elected court in a government dedicated to self-rule.

In Grand Rapids, a crowd gathered to hear constitutional law expert Matt Nelson talk about the proper role of an non-elected court in a government dedicated to self-rule.

In Auburn Hills, the 800th anniversary of England’s Magna Carta prompted a discussion of that document, and how it compares to the U.S. Bill of Rights, by speaker Ronald J. Rychlak, a professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He also gave an overview of the Bill of Rights and how it was was interpreted during the Civil Rights era.

From left, Federalists Society Co-President Krystal Yalldo, Assistant Dean Lisa Halushka, Professor Ronald Rychiak, the Hon. Michael Warren, Federalist Society Co-President Joseph Falzon, and SBA President Michael Ruso.

From left, Federalists Society Co-President Krystal Yalldo, Assistant Dean Lisa Halushka, Professor Ronald Rychlak, the Hon. Michael Warren, Federalist Society Co-President Joseph Falzon, and SBA President Michael Ruso.

According to We the People, “Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution by thirty-nine brave men on September 17, 1787, recognizing all who, are born in the U.S. or by naturalization, have become citizens.” Take time to read the The United States Constitution today.

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U. S. Supreme Court Cites Justice Thomas McIntyre Cooley in Same Sex Marriage Decision

Associate Dean Nelson Miller

Associate Dean Nelson Miller

Author Nelson Miller is Associate Dean and Professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus. He practiced civil litigation for 16 years before joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and filed amicus and party briefs in the United States Supreme Court. He has has many published books, casebooks, book chapters, book reviews, and articles on legal education, law practice, torts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, bioethics, and law history and philosophy.

While the reference won’t make any headlines other than the one immediately above, alumni should be glad to note that the law school’s namesake Justice Thomas McIntyre Cooley continues, well over a century after his death, to impress members of the United States Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas M. Cooley

Justice Thomas M. Cooley

Justice Scalia’s dissent in the Supreme Court’s gay-marriage stand cites Justice Cooley at the head of the historical list of great legal luminaries, “minds like Thomas Cooley, John Marshall Harlan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Learned Hand, Louis Brandeis, William Howard Taft, Benjamin Cardozo, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, Robert Jackson, and Henry Friendly….”

That Justice Cooley continues to receive recognition as a leading member of the jurist’s pantheon should surprise no one.  Over the past century and more, the Supreme Court has cited Justice Cooley and his opinions and treatises so many times that he will forever retain his status as a profoundly effective, even though unusually humble, guardian of the law and Constitution.

Yet this most-recent Supreme Court reference to the great jurist bears special note, placing Justice Cooley at the head of the list before Holmes, Hand, Black, and Brandeis.  Chronology may have had something to do with that prominence, given that Justice Cooley is the oldest of the references.  Yet Justice Scalia could have started his list of great jurists anywhere but decided to start with Justice Cooley.

We here at the great old jurist’s school celebrate Justice Cooley’s continued reputation as the nation’s premier jurist.  Let us all hope that the Constitution that he so vigorously, effectively, and humbly defended will survive just as long as his enduring prominence.

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Same-Sex Marriage: The ultimate decision of the Court will establish significant national precedent

Professor Gerald A. Fisher

Professor Gerald A. Fisher

The pending U.S. Supreme Court case of Deboer v. Snyder and its related cases, examining the legality and enforceability of same-sex marriage, present legal and policy issues of major importance to the nation.  Here is Western Michigan University Cooley Law Professor Gerald A. Fisher’s brief take on some of the key issues.

The cases present issues under two key clauses of the 14th Amendment: the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. Arguments will address whether same-sex marriage is a “fundamental right” that triggers special protections under the Constitution.  The decision may address whether the plaintiffs or the states have the burden of proof, and the extent of that burden in terms of arguing the constitutionality of the regulations in question.  Also of equal importance, the cases have the potential of raising questions touching on the fundamental structure of our country by determining whether the individual states, or the federal government itself, have the jurisdiction to define marriage rights and privileges.

The most likely outcome in the case is a Justice Kennedy-written opinion expressing that there is no rational reason for a state to prohibit same sex-marriage. However, there is a long-shot outcome, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Defense of Marriage Act case, United States v. Windsor, written in 2013 by Justice Kennedy, that the definition of marriage is a matter appropriately left to the states.

WMU-Cooley Professor Gerald Fisher teaches Constitutional Law, Property, Secured Transactions, Zoning and Land Use Law, and State and Local Government Law. Professor Fisher has appeared on 21 occasions in cases presented to the Michigan Supreme Court. He was the recipient of the Roberts P. Hudson Award from the State Bar of Michigan in 1978, named a Best Lawyer in America in 2007, Recipient of the Cooley Law Review Michigan Supreme Court Distinguished Brief Award in 2001, and named a Lawyer of the Year in Michigan (one of ten) in 2001 by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

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Forums Held on Heroin Addiction Generate Intense Interest

Personal tragedy combined with legal knowledge can make for a powerful combination when educating the public about some of society’s more troubling ills. Such is the case with bringing to light a growing national problem with drug addiction, specifically heroin and other opioids.

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau speaking to the media before the event.

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau speaking to the media before the event.

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau knows this well. Recently she spearheaded a program titled, “Silence Equals Death: How the Heroin Epidemic is Driving Change in Perception, Treatment, and the Law,”  with presentations held at both the Lansing and Auburn Hills campuses. It’s an interest founded in personal experience – a young man for whom Rousseau served as a guardian while he was in high school died at age 19 after a battle with addiction to heroin and other drugs.

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau

WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau

Rousseau saw a need to highlight the growing crisis of heroin use among young people and explore ways to improve their odds of survival.

“We have an epidemic with respect to heroin and opioids in this nation,” said Rousseau. “We need to take action to change that. We need to demand that lawmakers recognize addiction as a disease, and ensure that treatment is available.”

Silence Equals Death panel of speakers

Silence Equals Death panel of speakers

The program was set up in a panel format, with various experts weighing in on the practical factors affecting drug addiction issues. Panelists discussed what those who work with people addicted to drugs should know concerning addiction and the best treatment options; what legislation has been passed to assist families affected by drug abuse, in particular, prescription drug misuse; and what tools first responders should have to save the lives of those who have overdosed on heroin and other drugs.

The programs generated a great deal of interest and interaction from attendees as the subject hit home for many.

Panelists from WMU-Cooley Law School’s “Silence Equals Death: How the Heroin Epidemic is Driving Change in Perception, Treatment, & the Law” symposium, (front row, left to right) Erica Clute-Cubbin, Lauren Rousseau and Hon. Jodi Debbrecht Switalski, (back row, left to right) Andre Johnson and Dr. Mark Menestrina.

Panelists from WMU-Cooley Law School’s “Silence Equals Death: How the Heroin Epidemic is Driving Change in Perception, Treatment, & the Law” symposium, (front row, left to right) Erica Clute-Cubbin, Lauren Rousseau and Hon. Jodi Debbrecht Switalski, (back row, left to right) Andre Johnson and Dr. Mark Menestrina.

“Many participants stayed after the programs to talk with me, the panelists, and each other,” Rousseau said. “People told me that they were extremely grateful to WMU-Cooley for organizing the event. Some said they struggled at certain points to hold back tears due to their own experiences with addiction. I did not expect this reaction, and it made me realize how hungry people are for the information we provided.”

 

Watch the entire program

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