By Andrew Cohen
Berkeley Law’s seven visiting professors this semester have myriad reasons for wanting to spend a few months on campus. Burt Neuborne freely cites climate change as one of them.
“I swore I’d never go through another New York winter,” said the iconic NYU law professor and civil liberties lawyer. “That only explains finding a school with warm weather, though. There are plenty of those, but only one Berkeley.”
The founding legal director of NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, Neuborne has spoken at Berkeley several times over the years. “I’ve always been intrigued by the unique energy and commitment to social causes here,” he said. “The students are exceptional, high energy, and willing to argue about things that matter.”
Neuborne’s career could well be described as pursuing just that—things that matter. To wit:
- Since 1996, he has served as principal counsel in a series of lawsuits seeking to recover property taken from Holocaust victims by Swiss banks and German corporations during the Nazi era. The litigation has accrued more than $7.5 billion for distribution to 450,000 Holocaust victims and their families worldwide.
- His courtroom prowess helped legal aid programs overturn federal rules that had barred them from certain litigation options such as class-action suits and representing immigrants without green cards.
- He defended 17 Air Force pilots who refused to bomb Cambodia during the Vietnam War, served as the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal director, and was special counsel to the National Organization for Women Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Honoring his daughter
Of all his achievements, helping the families of Holocaust victims was especially meaningful. “I’m relentlessly secular, but my youngest daughter was in her last year of rabbinical school when she died of heart failure,” Neuborne said of the 1996 tragedy. She was 27. “It was devastating, and I needed to continue the arc of her life in some way. I took on the project three months after she died to use my talent in support of her values. It gave me great solace.”
Neuborne has argued a dozen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, authored four books, and in 2001 was inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also Court TV’s main commentator during the O.J. Simpson trial and played Jerry Falwell’s lawyer in the 1996 hit movie The People v. Larry Flynt.
This semester, Neuborne is teaching Evidence and a First Amendment seminar with U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Marsha Berzon ’73. The latter course examines his new book, Madison’s Music, in which he contends that the First Amendment’s clauses were carefully integrated.
“We tend to read them as separate silos, which has led us to construe the amendment in strange ways,” he said. “Did the founders just throw a pot of ink at the wall and let the splatter decide the order of these clauses, or was there some inherent logic involved? If we read it more coherently as a narrative of democratic thought, the First Amendment should be democracy’s best friend—not something that makes it harder to function.”
Neuborne urges students “not to master what my book or the Supreme Court says the First Amendment means, but to develop their own philosophy—what they think it ought to mean.”
After graduating from Harvard Law in 1964, Neuborne spent three years at a Wall Street firm before veering toward the civil rights movement. At the New York Civil Liberties Union, he defended anti-Vietnam War protestors—which he calls “half commitment to opposing the war and half commitment to developing the First Amendment as a mechanism for allowing ordinary people to express their views.”
While grateful for the country’s “enormous” civil rights progress over the past few decades, Neuborne wants to “make sure the rights we’ve successfully formalized are an every-day occurrence. The challenge for today’s civil rights lawyers is to affirmatively make sure those rights are enjoyed by all of society. It’s not an easy job.”
An all-star cast
This semester’s other visiting professors offer a wide range of backgrounds and expertise. “We’re fortunate to host these talented legal scholars from around the world,” Dean Sujit Choudhry said. “It’s very meaningful to have them engage with our students and community.”
Joining Neuborne among the group teaching JD courses are:
Stephen Burbank, David Berger Professor for the Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Course: Complex Civil Litigation. FYI: Appointed by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives to the National Commission on Judicial Discipline and Removal, Burbank was the main author of the Commission’s 1993 report.
Devon Carbado, Honorable Harry Pregerson Professor of Law at UCLA School of Law. Course: Race, Police Violence, and the Fourth Amendment. FYI: Carbado was an inaugural recipient of the Fletcher Foundation Fellowship, modeled on the Guggenheim fellowships, which is awarded to scholars whose work furthers the goals of Brown v. Board of Education.
Jan Dalhuisen, Emeritus Professor at the Dickson Poon School of Law at King’s College in London (regular visiting professor at Berkeley Law since 1998). Course: International Arbitration Colloquium. FYI: Dalhuisen served as secretary general of the International Primary Market Association, the trade organization of the Euromarkets’ underwriting investment banks.
Reza Dibadj, Professor of Law at the University of San Francisco (USF) School of Law (regular visiting professor at Berkeley Law since 2008). Course: Business Associations. FYI: An expert on corporate and securities law as well as administrative law and regulation, Dibadj won the USF School of Law’s Distinguished Professor Award in 2008.
Sarath Sanga, Visiting Assistant Professor at Berkeley Law. Course: Contracts. FYI: Sanga, who earned his Ph.D. in economics from UC Berkeley in 2011 and his law degree from Yale in 2014, was selected to participate in Cornell’s prestigious Junior Empirical Legal Scholars Workshop last fall.
Peter Schuck, Simeon E. Baldwin Emeritus Professor of Law at Yale University. Course: Law and Policy in the Administrative State. FYI: The author of a dozen books and more than 100 articles, Schuck is a contributing editor to The American Lawyer and a member of the American Law Institute’s advisory committee for the Restatement of Torts (Third).