Yale Law School students studying the freedom of expression will now have more resources at their disposal.
Floyd Abrams LAW ’59, a renowned constitutional lawyer who specializes in the First Amendment, donated $3 million to the Law School to establish an institute in his name dedicated to promoting freedom of speech, freedom of the press and access to information. The Floyd Abrams Institute will hold conferences and events about freedom of expression, while also funding the expansion of the Media Freedom and Information Access clinic, a faculty-led group of Yale law students who help journalists in old and new media address freedom of information and open access issues.
Abrams said he hopes the Institute will help educate people both in and outside the Law School community about the need for citizens to understand their First Amendment rights and how to protect them.
“We live in a time of acute polarization of views in our nation,” Abrams said in an email Monday. “It is of critical import that no voice be stilled and that government play virtually no role in determining who speaks and to what extent. The First Amendment makes us the envy of the world and it is worth learning and relearning why that is so.”
Law Professor Jack Balkin, director of the Law School’s Information Society Project, which will oversee the Floyd Abrams Institute, said he thinks the students who work in the MFIA clinic will benefit most from Abrams’ donation. The Abrams Institute will hire a permanent faculty member to lead the clinic, which has previously been overseen by visiting faculty, said Margot Kaminski LAW ’10, executive director of the Information Society Project. With a permanent faculty member, the clinic will be able to take on more cases and broaden its legal scope.
In addition to serving clients, the clinic also serves as a place where students can gain legal experience with First Amendment cases and other issues of open access and freedom of expression. Currently, the clinic primarily handles cases that involve media access to government information, Balkin said, but the donation will likely allow the clinic to tackle more cases involving “new media issues,” which he described as issues involving the rights of bloggers and online journalists.
Three students interviewed who have been involved with the clinic said they were excited by the possibilities created by the donation.
Jeff Love LAW ’12 said in an email that he hopes the Institute will bring together different students and faculty interested in First Amendment and media law. He added that he thinks these students and faculty have had a hard time finding “outlets for [their] collective energy” in the past.
Isia Jasiewicz LAW ’13, who said she came to Yale partly because of the MFIA clinic’s prominence and “hands-on” approach, said she hopes Abrams’ name recognition in the area of First Amendment law will help spread the word about the clinic’s work and draw more cases. Independent journalists are often unaware that they can fight the government’s decision to deny applications for information filed under the Freedom of Information Act, Jasiewicz said.
Jennifer Bishop LAW ’12, who is a student director of the MFIA clinic, was encouraged that a lawyer as respected as Abrams would invest in Yale’s programs.
“Having Floyd Abrams invest in what we do is a little like if you had started a baseball team and then Babe Ruth comes along and says he believes so much in what you’re doing that he’s going to support you all the way,” Bishop said in an email Monday.
Abrams currently works for the New York City law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel.