The Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought seeks to bridge theory and practice. Along this dimension, the center directly engages contemporary social issues through practical engagements, including litigation and public policy interventions. It brings contemporary theory to bear on current social problems, primarily in the area of punishment practices and penal law.
Columbia students can get involved in these practical engagements by participating in researching and writing motions, appellate briefs, and other legal and policy documents. To get involved, please e-mail Anna Krauthamer.
Death Penalty Litigation
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta has appointed Professor Bernard E. Harcourt to represent an Alabama inmate who has been on death row for 26 years. Doyle Hamm is appealing the denial of his federal habeas corpus petition by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama in Birmingham.
“This is a classic case—typical in the capital punishment context—where a death row inmate sits for decades awaiting death and the courts never get to the merits of his case, always instead fighting over procedural technicalities,” Harcourt said. “If the federal court in Birmingham had gone straight to the merits of Hamm’s case, justice would move a lot faster and the process would have a lot more legitimacy.”
Eleventh Circuit Litigation:
Doyle Hamm Brief
Doyle Hamm Reply Brief
Eleventh Circuit Opinion
Supreme Court Litigation:
Petition for Writ of Certiorari
Appendix to the Petition for Writ of Certiorari
Appendix: "PROPOSED MEMORANDUM OPINION"
Brief of Amici Curiae Alabama Justice and Bar Presidents in Support of Petitioner
State of Alabama's Brief in Opposition
Reply of Petitioner
Corrected Petition for Rehearing
Supplemental Brief for Rehearing
The Case in the News:
"The Long Defense of the Alabama Death-Row Prisoner Doyle Lee Hamm" (The New Yorker, September 13, 2016)
"In Alabama death penalty cases, judges' opinions are routinely written by prosecutors" (The Washington Post, June 23, 2016)
"Hasty Death Penalty Review Raises Doubt in Alabama" (Bloomberg View, June 22, 2016)
"The Death Penalty Case Where Prosecutors Wrote the Judge’s ‘Opinion’" (The Marshall Project, June 19, 2016)
"When Prosecutors Write Opinions That Judges Sign Off On" (Brennan Center for Justice, November 13, 2014)
Life Imprisonment without Parole Litigation
Phillip Tomlin was convicted of capital murder in Mobile County, Ala., in 1978 and sentenced to death. After 27 years on death row, Tomlin's capital sentence was vacated in 2004 and he was resentenced to life imprisonment without parole (LWOP). For the past 36 years, Tomlin has been challenging the various judicial reinterpretations of the 1975 Alabama Death Penalty Statute. In June 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta finally agreed to hear his challenge to the 1975 statute under which he is sentenced to LWOP. Tomlin filed his brief at the 11th Circuit on Oct.6, 2014, with the assistance of the center. On July 16, 2015, the Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court's denial of the habeas corpus petition and remanded for further review of the LWOP challenge.
Phillip Tomlin Brief
Eleventh Circuit Opinion
Petitioner's Main Brief
Petitioner's Reply Brief
Petitioner's Supplemental Appendix
Columbia Law School faculty members discuss and provide information on the St. Louis grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on any charges related to the death of Michael Brown and the Richmond County (Staten Island) grand jury decision not to indict New York City police officers on any charges regarding the homicide of Eric Garner.
"The New 'New Policing'" (The Marshall Project, December 19, 2014)
"Professors Fagan and Harcourt Provide Facts on Grand Jury Practice After Staten Island Decision" (Columbia Law School, December 22, 2014)
"Professors Fagan and Harcourt Provide Facts on Grand Jury Practice In Light of Ferguson Decision" (Columbia Law School, December 5, 2014)
Prison Healthcare Initiative: 2015
Professor Bernard E. Harcourt teaches his first-year Legal Methods students the ethics and practice of law through an ongoing case arising out of his death penalty litigation. After reading a letter from one of his clients describing the denial of Hepatitis C medication to many in the prison, himself included, a group of his past and present students were galvanized to action.
Their research revealed troubling shifts in pricing of standard pharmaceuticals Hepatitis C as well the blatantly unconstitutional but generally accepted unconstitutional health conditions of prisoners, who are ironically the only American residents with a constitutional right to health care.
The students eventually found ongoing litigation--Dunn et. al. v. Thomas--suing the entire Alabama Department of Corrections for failing to provide constitutionally adequate health care to persons in its custody. They are now in the process of adding the Professor's client to this sweeping class action that could significantly improve the lived experience of state prisoners in Alabama. The students have offered to assist the lawyers in that case and will be providing pro bono research in support of the litigation.
Teaching at Rikers Island
We are looking for two students who want to volunteer assistance teaching a workshop at Rikers Island. Here are details about the workshop:
We are teaching a Graphic Design workshop that is being offered through the Justice in Education Initiative, a program administered in cooperation by the Center for Justice and the Heyman Center for Humanities.
The workshop is being taught by three co-teachers. Mia Ruyter is Manager of Education and Outreach at the Heyman Center and an artist. Alexandra Martinez is a recent Columbia graduate who facilitated the Justice Arts Lab summer program at the Center for Justice and a filmmaker. Isaac Scott is a researcher at the Center for Justice and a graphic designer.
The workshop will be held once a week at Rikers Island. The goal of the class is to offer some basic skills training for job readiness, to re-engage students in education, and to explore issues of justice. The schedule is not yet confirmed, but the class will be on a weeknight, beginning around 4pm, last 2 hours, and will run in October - so it will begin soon.
We are interested in finding two students who are committed to social justice issues and have some background in arts. It is not necessary that they be fluent in graphic design concepts or tools.
If you are interested, please send an email with your background, your interest, and your resumé, to Mia Ruyter at firstname.lastname@example.org .