BY SARAH MCGONIGLE
It’s not every day that you run into HLS students who have changed the law with real life wins and losses, if even briefly, toward their own vision of right and wrong. Three-L Kevin Walsh is just one of those select few. He’s pretty cagey about his experience — he doesn’t like to talk about his accomplishments and places ample credit on those around him. But he has gotten in the litigation trenches to change constitutional law in his short tenure here at HLS — and that’s not something easily dismissed.
In the past three years, Walsh has worked on various cases through the Society of Law, Life and Religion. Most recently, he worked on McGuire v. Reilly, in which he contributed to briefs challenging a buffer zone around abortion clinics here in Massachusetts. When the district court enjoined enforcement of the law Walsh was challenging and freed protestors to approach those entering reproductive health clinics, Walsh was thrilled.
“The best part was when the district judge ruled in our favor and for a time the law was unconstitutional. Once you see that actually some of these cases are winnable it kind of whets your appetite to do more,” he says, eyes sparkling. He is disappointed, but undeterred, by the First Circuit, which overturned the district court earlier this year.
In fact, it is impossible to talk to Walsh about his work in the courts without becoming excited about the law. His enthusiasm for it is infectious.
“You can sit in Con Law and think that Hill v. Colorado [the most recent Supreme Court case on the issue presented by McGuire] is a ridiculous decision and you can kind of argue about that … and that’s one thing,” he says. “But it’s another to be able to go into court and make your case with a real plaintiff in front of a real judge and try … to change the law.
“Everyone has cases that they think are wrongly decided … it turns out that Hill didn’t close the issue here and we got to go ahead and see what we could do,” he says.
Walsh also predicts that “if everyone realized that there was a sort of opportunity and if it were presented to everyone, I’d be shocked if they didn’t jump at the opportunity.”
Walsh brushes off the suggestion that he is different from his classmates in his motivation to fight for change. He says he has gone to court simply “because I could.” His friends seem to agree — they affectionately chide him for his bent toward “vexatious litigation.” He returns fire, saying “Hey, the courts are there …”
But Walsh is serious enough about his experience. He heaps credit on the “real lawyers,” and insists that his role has been purely supportive, focused on research and strategy. He is also solemn about the opportunity HLS provides to get involved, saying, “I think that being at HLS you have the opportunity to be exposed to these things and people take you seriously.”
Roger Severino, the Head of the Society for Law, Life and Religion agrees, “When we’re patient we do have some wonderful results and we work on high exposure cases … this is something [club members can] put on a resume, but it’s also something [they] can take pride in, very few clubs or law schools could have people working on Supreme Court briefs at this early stage.”
On the other hand, the “real lawyers” express real gratitude for the work of involved students like Kevin. Mark Rienzi ’00 has worked with Walsh on various cases and he explains, “Everyone’s doing [this kind of work] pro bono, which makes it tough — that’s why student help can be so valuable … they can sit around and flesh these things out and its very helpful for the lawyers out there trying the case to have smart [students] helping them out.” Rienzi emphasizes that the freedom students enjoy and the time they can invest are great resources to local lawyers who work for little or no money on these issues.
Walsh also adds that the type of work he is involved in can get more difficult after graduation, rather than easier. That is because time becomes a premium and pro bono work of this sort can’t support young lawyers. But he also says that getting involved takes some resolve. He says he looked into working on the death penalty project as a 1L, but didn’t for reasons he can’t remember.
“… Probably because of Miller,” he says, referring to his Civil Procedure class.
He adds that there is also an element of timing and chance involved in his decision to get involved: “It just turned out that Massachusetts passed this law that we believed was unconstitutional at the time and we knew plaintiffs — you can’t just go write a brief. [Also,] we were able — although students can do some research — [to find lawyers] who have passed the bar. The fact that there’s an established pro-life legal community that informs us about opportunities also helps.”