2016-2017 Course Offerings at Columbia Law School


Posted on June 24th, 2016 by Elizabeth Boylan

Columbia Law School recently announced it’s lineup of classes for the 2016-2017 Academic Year.  We’re pleased to see the number of courses devoted to studying civil rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, gender justice, and the problems of mass incarceration.

The full list of courses may be found here, but we’ve selected a few highlights for our friends, colleagues, and students that we list on our webpage, and in the list below:


FALL 2016


Antidiscrimination Law
Jessica Bulman-Pozen
Law – L6905-001

This course will provide an overview of federal constitutional and statutory antidiscrimination law while encouraging students to consider the proper role of the law in addressing discrimination and inequality. The focus will be on discrimination based on race and sex, but some attention will also be given to discrimination based on other characteristics, including sexual orientation and disability. We will explore: competing frameworks for antidiscrimination law; constitutional and statutory doctrines, including disparate impact; the roles of courts, legislatures, and administrative bodies, as well as private actors, in addressing discrimination; models of bias; and justifications for affirmative action. The course will consider such issues in a range of contexts, including employment, education, and housing.


Human Rights
Catherine Powell
Law – L6276-001

This is a core course in the Law School’s human rights curriculum. The course examines issues ranging from the extraordinary rendition of terrorism suspects to mass atrocities to basic rights to housing, speech, sex equality, LGBT rights and more. The course begins with the origins of the idea of rights from an historical, philosophical and analytical perspective. It then turns to the rise of the modern international human rights regime, including its origins and theoretical foundations, examines the basic international and regional human rights instruments and oversight and enforcement institutions, and considers remedies under both international and domestic law. The course considers the role of human rights law in the U.S. domestic system, as an example of the role of national law and institutions in securing human dignity. It also examines the human rights of women and refugees, the relationship between international criminal law and international humanitarian law and human rights law, and the human rights responsibilities of business enterprises. The course also covers selected rights from a comparative perspective (including international, U.S., and other national approaches), including comparative approaches to such topics as the protection of economic and social rights, equality and privacy in the context of LGBT rights, and the protection of rights in counterterrorism efforts.


Seminar: Civil Rights Lawyering in the Modern Era: Theory and Practice
Kendall Thomas and Myrna Perez
Law – L8155-001

This Tutorial Seminar will investigate issues in contemporary civil rights law and policy across a variety of settings. Particular attention will be given to controversies and questions that have been the subject of recent Supreme Court and appellate litigation or national policy debate. Seminar members will consider contemporary civil rights questions that have arisen in a number contexts, which may include: voting rights; employment discrimination; access to equal educational opportunity; fair housing and fair lending; barriers to reentry for individuals with prior criminal convictions; race and criminal justice; cybersecurity, privacy and civil rights, and immigrants’ rights. After examination of the current statutory and doctrinal framework for addressing discrimination and inequality in each of the selected areas, the seminar members will explore the practical and theoretical issues civil rights litigators and legislative lawyers face in each of the mentioned fields. Through close reading and critical analysis of the assigned materials, seminar members will develop a sense of the context-specific character of civil rights lawyering. Invited guests from both government and non-governmental practice will offer experiential perspectives on civil rights lawyering across a number of discrete institutional and professional locations. Finally, seminar students will consider and assess a broad range of remedial approaches for addressing discrimination and inequality in each context, and consider the structural and conceptual limits of contemporary civil rights law, policy and practice.


Seminar: Critical Human Rights Theory
Kendall Thomas and Thomas Keenan
Law – L8284-001

During the second half of the twentieth century, the idea of universal human rights emerged as a powerful source of legal and political discourse and governance, both within and across states. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, however, consensus regarding the meaning, interpretation and application of contemporary human rights norms continues to elude us. Once taken-for-granted notions bequeathed to us by the liberal humanist tradition–of a sovereign, rational human subject; of a shared human condition; of inalienable global human rights–are now radically contested, on conceptual as well as practical grounds. This three point, two hour weekly Tutorial Seminar will explore some of the classical and contemporary critical writing that has questioned the theoretical foundations of the human rights idea.


Seminar: Human Rights, Law and Development Workshop
Edwin Rekosh
Law – L9252-001

Discredited in the 1970s when it took the form of the “law and development movement,” international assistance in the area of reforming laws and legal institutions has flourished anew in the last two decades under the rubric of “building the rule of law.” In parallel, a human rights approach to international development has become mainstream, as most recently reflected in the adoption of SDGs (Social Development Goals) by the United Nations — particularly Goal 16: “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”The course will examine how human rights plays out in the 21st century against the backdrop of a quasi-consensus on the rule of law, explosive growth of locally-based advocacy organizations and accelerating economic globalization. In particular, the course will examine the fast-developing counter-trend that is constricting the space for local civil society as governments adopt new legislation and policies designed to reign-in the global forces that have been supporting the development of rights-claiming at the national level.


Human Rights Clinic
Sarah Knuckey and Benjamin Hoffman
Law – 9233-001

The Human Rights Clinic prepares students for lifelong careers in social justice advocacy around the globe. Through the Clinic, students join a community of advocates working to promote human rights and to recalibrate the global power imbalances that drive economic and political inequality, exploitation, threats to physical security, poverty, and environmental injustice. Through fact-finding, reporting, litigation, media engagement, advocacy, training, and innovative methods, the Clinic seeks to prevent abuse, promote accountability, and advance respect for human rights. Embedded in the Clinic’s work is a commitment to the values of equality and mutual exchange in transnational partnerships; respect for rights-holder autonomy, voice, and power; and diversity, inclusion, full participation, and justice within the human rights field.Through a combination of Seminars and Project Work, and with the mentorship of Clinic professors and supervisors, students develop the wide range of skills necessary to be strategic and creative human rights advocates, critically analyze human rights, and advance the human rights methodologies of the Clinic and the human rights field.


Mass Incarceration Clinic
Brett Dignam and Farhang Heydari
Law-L9256-001

Challenging the Consequences of Mass Incarceration is a clinic that will focus on litigation in federal court and resolution of claims related to prisoners’ conditions of confinement. Students will visit clients in state and federal prisons where they will interview, counsel and develop strategies. In collaboration with non-profit organizations and small civil rights law firms and subject to the law student intern rules, clinic students will litigate issues identified by the clients.Although the identification of cases will be done collaboratively with the clients, projects may include a federal habeas action on behalf of a state prisoner raising an actual innocence claim and conditions claims from MDC Brooklyn. It is anticipated that claims related to medical care and mental health will become part of the clinic’s docket. Students will continue to work with the community and the New York City Probation Department in an effort to eliminate barriers to successful reentry.


Externship: Domestic Violence Prosecution
Scott Kessler
Law-L6607-001

The Domestic Violence Bureau offers a fieldwork opportunity, in which students are able to prosecute misdemeanor crimes on behalf of the State. Students will have the opportunity to apply law they learned in Criminal Law, Evidence, Criminal Adjudication and other classes. Operating under an Appellate Division special practice order, each student will be responsible for about 15 to 20 active domestic violence criminal cases and may work on other cases. Students will get the opportunity to argue pre-trial motions and take their cases to trial in a first-chair capacity as needed. Students also will subpoena relevant evidence, draft complaints, prepare discovery materials and negotiate pleas with defense counsel. They also will interview victims and meet with police, defense counsel and judges, seeking the right solution to cases that are fraught with consequences for the victims, defendants and families. To the extent possible, matters of discretion (e.g. what to charge, what plea to offer, what evidence to subpoena) are left to the student’s judgment. Thus, each student is forced to grapple with the tough decisions inherent to domestic violence prosecutions. Students will spend at least 10 hours per week working at the Bureau and appearing on their cases in Queens Criminal Court (located next to the E and F subway stop in Kew Gardens, Queens).


SPRING 2017


Family Law
Solangel Maldonado
Law-L6252-001

This course examines the evolution of legal policy toward the family in response to important social changes in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. These changes, which have shaped modern family law, include evolving gender roles in families and in society, the redefinition (and declining importance) of marriage, the expansion of non-marital families, and the increasingly effective advocacy by gays and lesbians for legal recognition of their family relationships. Against this backdrop, the course will focus on the legal regulation of marriage and other intimate adult relationships, and of the parent-child relationship. Substantial time will be devoted to premarital agreements, the meaning of marriage and marriage regulation, including the movement toward recognition of same sex marriage, divorce grounds, child custody, economic aspects of marriage dissolution (including spousal support and division of property by courts as well as private ordering through contracts), child support, the establishment and termination of non-marital relationships, establishing parenthood, and adoption.


Gender Justice
Katherine Franke
Law-L6506-001

This course will provide an introduction to the concrete legal contexts in which issues of gender and justice have been articulated, disputed and hesitatingly, if not provisionally, resolved. Readings will cover issues such as Workplace Equality, Sexual Harassment, Sex Role Stereotyping, Work/Family Conflict, Marriage and Alternatives to Marriage, Compulsory Masculinity, Parenting, Domestic Violence, Reproduction and Pregnancy, Rape, Sex Work & Trafficking. Through these readings we will explore the multiple ways in which the law has contended with sexual difference, gender-based stereotypes, and the meaning of equality in domestic, transnational and international contexts. So too, we will discuss how feminist theorists have thought about sex, gender and sexuality in understanding and critiquing our legal system and its norms.For more information, go to: http://web.law.columbia.edu/gender-sexuality/faculty/katherine-franke/gender-justice


Human Identity and the Scientific Revolution
Patricia Williams
Law-L8678-001

This class will explore the challenges of translating the coded “œtext”€ of the double helix into the taxonomies of law, public policy, social science. We will consider the balancing of interests in the evolving intersection of DNA technology and the law, particularly as a contrasting set of scientific conventions and legal discourses.The human genome project has complicated the Anglo-American jurisprudential model, premised as so much of it has been upon a Manichean divide between mind and body, freedom and instinct, intellect and impulse. In addition, genetic modification and “€œbioprospecting”€ of microbial, plant and animal life forms have vexed the meanings of “€œproperty,” “€œnature,” “€œregulation”€ and “reproduction.”  Finally, in a world where DNA can pinpoint a range of medical or biological inequalities, the very cornerstone of our constitutional identity–the notion of equal personhood–is increasingly undercut by confusions about the distinction between cultural (or “€common sense”€) norms and reproducible scientific insight. That is, socially-constructed, pseudo-biological taxonomies like “€œrace”€ or “€œdisability”€ are given new if misleading life when falsely interwoven with the authority of genetic sequence.The challenge we face is how to chart an ethical course in the face of nearly unprecedented technological leaps and expansion of human understanding. How can we re-examine the etymological history hidden in common metaphors or the unconscious images embedded in the language we bring to the enterprise of knowledge production? What principles or philosophical coordinates do we employ in deciding what’€™s right and what’€™s wrong in confronting these evolving moral, legal and policy challenges?


Seminar: Domestic Violence and the Law
Dorchen Leidholdt
Law-L8006-001

This seminar provides an in-depth examination of the issue of domestic violence, and the movement to advance the rights of survivors, from legal, historical, and multidisciplinary perspectives. It explores a wide range of topics across legal practice areas, including police and prosecutorial response, expert witness testimony, domestic violence survivors as criminal defendants and prisoners, legal remedies for victim safety, domestic violence and child custody, civil rights and civil actions, legal remedies for battered immigrants, economic justice for intimate abuse survivors, the intersection of intimate partner and related forms of gender violence, and domestic violence as a human rights concern. Many of the topics are approached using case studies drawn from actual cases handled by Ms. Leidholdt and other attorneys at the Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, which she directs.Special emphasis is placed throughout on the evolving response of state systems to intimate partner violence–especially criminal justice, child welfare, immigration, and human resources–as well as parallel developments in jurisprudence and theory. Students will explore and assess the legal and social justice strategies that contributed to these developments, from impact litigation to campaigns for legislative and public policy reform. In lieu of a textbook, students will be given The Lawyer’s Manual on Domestic Violence, 6th Edition, which Ms. Leidholdt edited. Students will also be provided with a weekly packet of readings drawn from case law, state and federal statutes, legal and social science commentary, and redacted litigation materials from actual cases handled by Ms. Leidholdt and the attorneys she supervises.


Seminar: Human Rights at Home: U.S. Human Rights Advocacy
Risa Kaufman
Law-L8044-001

This seminar explores the use of human rights strategies to advance social justice lawyering in the United States. In advocacy on issues ranging from racial disparities in the criminal justice system to access to healthcare, U.S. lawyers are increasingly using the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations and Inter-American Human Rights System, drawing on international human rights and comparative foreign law in litigation in U.S. courts, and engaging in broader advocacy such as documentation, organizing, and education. They find that a human rights framework provides new and cross-cutting strategies and highlights the interdependence of rights. Indeed, the human rights framework is having a profound impact on social justice lawyering in the United States.This seminar contextualizes and explores the growing movement to incorporate human rights strategies into U.S. social justice lawyering while preparing students to thoughtfully engage these tools in their own practice of law. We begin the semester by exploring the historical context of the contemporary U.S. human rights movement and developing an understanding of the sources of human rights in U.S. law. We then examine the ways in which advocates have sought, in recent years, to incorporate human rights discourse and practice into their domestic efforts to advance rights defense and promotion in general, and institutional responses to those efforts. The seminar explores litigation efforts, as well as non-litigation strategies, including engaging UN mechanisms and mobilizing grassroots communities. Through course materials, discussion, and guest speakers, we investigate the promise of domestic human rights strategies, along with the challenges and limitations. Many of the examples considered in readings and in discussion draw on advocacy related to economic and social rights, as well as work to advance racial justice in the United States.


Seminar: International Human Rights Advocacy
Hina Shamsi
LWPS-W8829-001

This seminar considers major issues in contemporary international human rights from the perspective of the advocate. The initial class sessions will familiarize participants with key human rights standards and their implementation and enforcement through international, regional and national institutions and by non-governmental organizations. The remainder of the seminar will evaluate human rights advocacy tools and strategies applied in current political and social contexts and through case studies. We will critically examine the role of institutions and non-governmental organizations in upholding, advocating or failing to uphold international human rights standards. Topics are wide-ranging and include the challenges and opportunities presented to human rights advocates by: developments in national security and counterterrorism laws and policies; the intersection of international human rights and humanitarian law; and, how “positive” economic and social rights can and should be enforced in market economies and resource-challenged developing countries. We will have several human rights activists as guests.


Seminar: Mass Incarceration
Brett Dignam and Jeffrey Fagan
Law-L9612-001

This seminar examines detention centers, jails, and prisons in an era of “hyper” or “mass” incarceration. Nearly 2.4 million Americans are now behind bars, roughly one in every 100 adults, far more per crime than any other industrialized nation. If we include persons on parole or probation, one adult in 31 is under correctional supervision. Criminologists say that the experience of incarceration is so pervasive among some social groups as to be a defining feature of their collective (rather than individual) experience. We will examine both how people get to prison and their experiences once there. We will look beyond the institutional walls to analyze external regulation and oversight by executive or other public bodies, the influences of organizations of correctional professionals, legislation addressing detention and incarceration, and litigation brought by public and private actors.

This course is designed to stimulate students to think critically about contemporary punishment practices, and the serious social and economic consequences of mass incarceration. What accounts for the growth of incarceration, including both prison and jail? What have been the effects of the prison build-up on individuals, their families and communities? What are the social costs of incarceration in the communities that send the most persons to prison? What are the public safety consequences? What happens to inner-city communities when prisoners return in need of social and economic support? What happens to the children of incarcerated parents? How shall we interpret and critique the development of “supermax” prisons in the 1970s that place individuals into indefinite solitary confinement? What happens after people are released from prison? We will address these topics, bringing legal, statutory, policy and criminological perspectives to bear on these important policy topics.


Seminar: Race and Gender in Corporate Law, Governance & Theory
Aaron Dhir
Law-L8808-001

This seminar explores the intersections of race and gender with corporate law, governance, and theory. The confluence of these fields, to date, has garnered little attention. Traditionally, the disciplines have lived in remote houses and have had few occasions to speak to one another. And yet, almost 30 years ago two feminist scholars argued that “the impacts of corporate cultures are not…marginal to the experiences of women” and bemoaned “the relationship between patriarchal culture and the development of business corporations.” And as noted by a leading scholar of racial justice, “[r]ace suffuses all bodies of law…even the purest of corporate law questions within the most unquestionably Anglo scholarly paradigm.”In addressing these intersections, topics such as the following will be considered:

(1) race and gender in the corporate law curriculum;

(2) feminist engagement with corporate law doctrine and theory;

(3) critical race engagement with law and economics and corporate law theory

(4) corporate board composition and the implications of homogenous boards for organizational performance and social justice;

(5) legal reform strategies aimed at addressing corporate board homogeneity;

(6) the use of corporate law tools to address gender and race issues; and

(7) corporate law in the transnational sphere and the implications for indigenous communities.


Seminar: The Anatomy of Autonomy: From Personhood to Personification
Patricia Williams
Law-L8174-001

This course will examine what it means to be a person in the eyes of the law. We will examine the rhetorical framing that infuses our conception of living subjects, legal persons, non-persons and things. The line between human and subhuman, or person and thing, is given new urgency in an era when the limits of incarceration, torture, human trafficking, medical experimentation, and the right to due process often turn on newly minted meanings of words like “enemy combatant,” “IQ,” “underclass,” “market choice,” “race,” “terror” or “illegal immigration.” If slavery is “unthinkable” to most people today, why? How do we keep bringing the unthinkable back into being? What connection do historical taxonomies have to the contemporary perpetuation of genocide, torture, disappearance, starvation? What disconnections? What about us is truly or essentially “inalienable”?Whom we consider a person, whom we label less than fully endowed, are questions that inform some of the most urgent legal and political questions of our time. We will look at legal opinions, historical documents, as well as texts in philosophy, anthropology, linguistics, literary criticism, and popular culture.


Seminar: Topics in Sexuality Law
Katherine Franke
Law-L9549-001

This seminar, previously called the Queer Theory Workshop, will explore in the spring of 2014 the ways in which appeals to religion, tradition and/or culture have been increasingly used to limit or trump the application of otherwise generally applicable laws securing equal rights for LGBT people and reproductive/sexual rights more generally. The seminar will cover the legal and political contexts in which religion or conscience are used to carve out exceptions to otherwise universally binding rights of equality and sexual liberty.The seminar sessions will be comprised of outside speakers for half of the sessions and selected readings related to the work of the outside speakers in the intervening sessions.


Seminar: Vision, Action and Social Change
Susan Sturm and Richard Gray
Law-8019-001

This field research seminar and practicum, co-taught by Professors Susan Sturm and Richard Gray, the Director of Community Organizing and Engagement at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, will explore innovative ways to reduce structural inequality and advance full participation in educational institutions and surrounding communities, with a particular emphasis on education and criminal justice. The seminar and field research projects will expose students to cutting edge, collaborative approaches to community and policy change through an action research approach connecting theory and practice.In class, the seminar will examine the dynamics that have produced growing inequality and shrinking mobility, limited quality education for under-served groups and communities, and the world’s highest incarceration rate. We will investigate strategies for enabling leadership of communities directly affected by these dynamics, building collaborative networks, mobilizing institutional and community-level change, achieving collective impact, and changing public policy informed by community needs. The course also provide training on qualitative interviewing, data analysis, network mapping, and policy research and examines the role of innovative lawyers in participating in this kind of community and systems change.For the fieldwork, students will undertake collaborative action research and policy projects, connected to ongoing change initiatives in their assigned setting. They will have the opportunity to work closely with leadership, staff and community members in their field research site. The course also offers students the opportunity to develop knowledge and capabilities that are crucial to be effective in advancing social change in a wide variety of contexts, such as facilitation, problem framing, using multi-disciplinary knowledge, conducting institutional analysis, mapping, collaboration, information gathering and analysis, and multi-media presentation.


Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic
Suzanne Goldberg
Law-L9232-001

The Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic provides students with a cutting-edge opportunity to step into the shoes of lawyers advocating on sexuality and gender law issues. The clinic’s cornerstones are collaboration, communication, and a multidimensional approach to advocacy.For much more information about projects and pedagogy, please see the Clinic’s website: http://web.law.columbia.edu/sexuality-gender-clinic/about

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