From Courtroom to Classroom: Professor Julie Kalish ’91 Wins Accolades from the ACLU

Julie Kalish '91 not only has students reading and writing about constitutional law in the courses she teaches for the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric -- Writing 5 and Writing 41: Writing and Speaking Public Policy -- she is also at the forefront of defending constitutional rights via her work for the Vermont ACLU.

Most recently for the ACLU, Professor Kalish and her colleague Attorney Bernie Lambek represented Franklin, Vermont resident Marilyn Hackett in Hackett v. the Town of Franklin. For years, Ms. Hackett had complained that the recital of a sectarian prayer at the opening of her town's annual meeting was unconstitutional. Attorneys Kalish and Lambek argued their case based on Vermont Constitution's Article 3, which ensures freedom of conscience while prohibiting state endorsement of any religion through compelled attendance at worship—an argument that prevailed in the Vermont Superior Court. Professor Kalish and her colleague were awarded the Jonathan B Chase Cooperating Attorney Award for their achievement.

Professor Kalish talks about how her work with the ACLU informs her work in the classroom—and vice versa. "I like how the two worlds intersect," Professor Kalish reflects. "The ACLU keeps me on the front lines of what state & national conversations are as regards constitutional rights; the students keep me connected to the next generation—their values, experiences, and points of view. This "cross-over" perspective lets me be a different sort of voice within the ACLU community, and also brings interesting questions and conversational material into my classes."

What's most striking, for Professor Kalish, is how excited students become when they understand that the law is dynamic. "What the Constitution means, what our rights are, are always changing," she remarks. "Today's students are the ones who are going to have a voice about what these laws mean in the future. I love being able to convey that idea to the students –that the law is not "fixed," that they get to decide, for example, what "privacy" means and what our rights are going to be in the years to come."

Working in law has also informed the way Professor Kalish teaches writing in her classes for the Institute. "The law is, essentially, argument," Kalish says. "It is the forum in which people write to persuade one another about what the law means and should mean." Her writing courses provide students with rich opportunities to analyze and participate in this kind of writing.

Professor Kalish was recently elected to the Vermont ACLU Board of Directors, a position she will hold for at least three years.