Need your help to name a new initiative to educate and motivate progressive lawyers to run for state and local office

Immediate need: a good name for the project described below. Please tweet ideas to @heidilifeldman or send an email to me at hlfgulc at gmail com.

Synopsis: Many people with an interest in politics attend law school. But no law schools provide hands on information for how to shape a legal career with an eye toward holding office at the local or even state level. Given the threat to rule of law emanating from the current federal government, we need to encourage young lawyers and law students already interested in and committed to rule of law, civil rights, and inclusive diversity to be the local level shock troops for these values across the country. To that end I am developing a cocurricular program ultimately for use across law schools nationwide and an online resource for current politicians and activists to make it easier for them to understand just how towns, cities, and counties as well as states can actually be nodes in a meaningful web of rule of law in the U.S.

Further information about the project

Goals: Publicize the power of states and municipalities in creating a decentralized web of human and civil rights protections. Make it easy for ordinary citizens, activists, and state and local office holders and their staffs to build this web. Draw progressive young adults to local and state politics by offering concrete, sophisticated information about how to run for state and local office.  


1. Create an online handbook with specific, practical information and guidance. The handbook will include (but will not be limited to):

  • An overview of the legal organization and powers of towns, cities, counties and states 
  • An explanation of home rule: what is it, which cities have it, how do they use it effectively; more general examination of how a state and its municipalities can effectively coordinate protection of human right and civil rights;
  • Case studies on cities actively using local autonomy to protect rights; city-state battles over human rights or civil rights; municipality to municipality cooperation on human and civil rights protections; regional coordination of civil and human rights protections;
  • Comparing different avenues of legal protection including litigation, regulation, and taxation. 

2. Develop an extracurricular workshop series for progressive post secondary students interested in careers in state and local politics. The workshop series will initially be tailored to law students, covering topics such as the following. 

  • The structure of U.S. political parties, especially at the state and local level, and how state and local parties interact with national party organizations;
  • When, whether, and how to become a formal member of a state or local branch of a political party;
  • Public offices that specifically call for legal training, e.g. judgeships, state attorneys general;
  • Overlooked but important public office, such as zoning boards, local magistrate;
  • Election law, focusing on law relevant to candidates’ campaigns;
  • Ballot access and voting procedures;
  • Role of digital in state and local campaigning;
  • Successful relationships with the press;
  • Civic organizations that serve as pipelines to elected office.

I plan to pilot these workshops at Georgetown University Law Center and possibly at the University of Washington Law School and Seattle Law School and at law schools in North Carolina. I also hope to make them more widely available via the American Constitution Society for Law and Public Policy (

Some further information about me

I am Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center and, by courtesy, an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Georgetown University. Immediately after the 2016 Presidential election, I created an unofficial co-curricular group for progressive Georgetown Law students interested in running for state and local office, staffing state and local campaigns, or both. Through informal outreach, this initiative has already attracted seventy students. Since January, I have arranged three speaker events for these students, hosting well attended lunchtime meetings with a top election lawyer, a leading journalist, and a digital campaign expert. Now, I want to find the resources to build this budding program in the ways described above. 

A bit of deep background 

The foundational legal framework of United States government rests on dual sovereignty. Dual sovereignty channels legal, political, and economic power. Prior to the American Civil War, dual sovereignty enabled chattel slavery, the worst transgression against human rights in United States history. Following the Civil War and subsequent efforts to dismantle Jim Crow, dual sovereignty concentrated attention to civil and human rights at the federal level. That concentration has created an imbalance of legal investment in protecting these rights, one weighted toward the federal government at the expense of state governments and their municipal subdivisions. This apportionment is not immutable. Indeed, the law of dual sovereignty means that states can directly exercise their authority to protect civil rights and the rule of law. Moreover, because states are sovereign over their subdivisions, they can give counties, towns, and cities real power to do likewise. They can, for example, ensure fair labor markets, protect free speech and freedom of conscience, guard against arbitrary or abusive uses of government power, increase access to education and to health care, provide cleaner water and more affordable food. But without specific, accessible information about how state and local governments operate, however, laypeople, activists, and even politicians miss out on opportunities to resist and counteract federal hostility to rule of law and civil rights throughout the United States.

Need your help to name a new initiative to educate and motivate progressive lawyers to run for state and local office

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