News Archive

Berkeley Law Launches New California Constitution Center

By Andrew Cohen

Executive director and founder David A. Carrillo ’95 has ambitious plans for Berkeley Law’s new California Constitution Center. The nascent center’s fall program starts off with nothing less than a moot court for attorneys whose cases are pending before the Supreme Court of California.

The moot court gives attorneys a venue to practice their arguments, while also providing superb training for law students. Second-and third-year students will prepare bench memoranda and act as law clerks to mock jurists on eight chosen cases, as part of a three-unit seminar. One side of each case will be presented, with a mix of scholars, experienced lawyers, and retired judges forming the panel.

Offered in both the fall and spring semesters, the course has drawn intense interest from students and has quickly become oversubscribed. Practitioners seem equally attracted to the program, as all of the argument slots for the current term were quickly snapped up.

The program is available to most practitioners with cases that have completed briefing in the state Supreme Court, said Carrillo, with some special considerations. Cases involving compelling constitutional issues such as same-sex marriage, for example, will be given priority; capital cases will not be eligible due to their complexity.

The moot court idea emerged four years ago at a Berkeley Law conference on the state’s high Court, but it took Carrillo to bring it to fruition.

“The California Constitution Center is another example of Berkeley Law using its outstanding scholarly resources to make a meaningful impact beyond the school,” said Goodwin Liu, a Supreme Court of California justice and former Berkeley Law professor. “Lawyers who appear before the Court, judges, and Berkeley Law students all stand to benefit greatly from this endeavor.”

Carrillo has even grander plans for the center: to develop scholarship on complex policy issues that arise under the state charter. The more he discussed this idea with fellow attorneys and judges, the more certain he felt it would fill a much-needed void.

“I kept hearing comments like, ‘we’ve been hoping for someone to do this,’ ” said Carrillo. “This center will provide a valuable service to attorneys and the courts.”

Pragmatic Legal Scholarship

The center will offer several academic programs, including a California Constitutional Law seminar, a yearly journal for articles on substantive issues of state constitutional law and the state Supreme Court, and research fellowships for J.D. and post-J.D. students.

“The California Constitution Center will offer law students and practitioners alike a means to better understand legal trends that constantly and often uniquely emerge from the nation’s most populous, diverse, and innovative state,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said. “I couldn’t be more proud that former and current lawyers from our office were instrumental in helping establish the center. I’m confident it will make major contributions to a fascinating realm of legal scholarship.”

At the Berkeley Law conference in September 2008, then-Chief Justice Ronald George noted that state courts decide nearly 98 percent of legal disputes filed in U.S. courts and that California courts comprise “the largest law-trained judicial system in the world.”

In his opening remarks, George said: “It has been very gratifying to see one of the finest law schools in the nation conclude that state courts, and specifically the California Supreme Court, deserve closer study because of the significant position they occupy in the legal fabric of the United States.” He called states courts “the tribunals with which individuals are most likely to come in contact, whether as a party, witness, juror, or victim; to pay a traffic ticket; or to obtain a copy of an official document.”

An Extraordinary Resource

Carrillo formed invaluable campus connections while earning his undergraduate, J.D. ’95, LL.M. ’07, and J.S.D. ’11 degrees at UC Berkeley. He tapped his many campus friends and colleagues to empower the center’s efforts—soliciting scholarly contributions from other constitutional law experts and collaborating with the California Law Review.

In fact, Dr. Carrillo’s idea for the center first sprouted while he was preparing his J.S.D. dissertation.

“I encountered a California constitutional law issue I wanted to research, but I couldn’t find much of anything,” he said. “Unlike the federal court system, there’s no comprehensive body of legal scholarship available on critical state constitutional issues facing our courts. Be it the state budget, redistricting, or same-sex marriage, California’s state constitution has a dramatic impact on our daily lives. It’s important to understand how its provisions affect us.”

Active in trial and appellate practice for 16 years, Carrillo has been a deputy attorney general with the California Department of Justice, a deputy city attorney in San Francisco, and a deputy district attorney in Contra Costa County. He also worked as a commercial litigation associate in private practice.

Danny Chou, chief of Complex and Special Litigation at the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office, will play an active leadership role at the center. “California courts have long recognized that the state constitution is a document with independent force and have been increasingly relying on it in their decisions,” said Chou, who has co-taught classes and co-authored articles with Carrillo. “Despite this, there has been little scholarship devoted to the state constitution. The center fills this void at an important time, as more and more litigation focuses on the California Constitution.”

“The California Constitution Center is going to be on extraordinary resource,” said political strategist Dan Schnur, who directs the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics. “It’s not just for the university and for the legal community, but for the entire state of California.”

Carrillo also intends to create a Supreme Court of California bar association for practitioners who have litigated cases in the court, scholars who study the court, and retired justices. “We want to become the clearinghouse for all things related to the state constitution and high court,” he said.

Carlos Moreno, a former Supreme Court of California associate justice, said “it’s time we had a non-partisan academic research center devoted to the critical study of our state constitution and the important work of the California Supreme Court.” He praised the center for “bringing together academics, appellate practitioners, public officials, citizens, and law students to focus on the ever-evolving and unique role of our state constitution.”