Through the 2020 Constitution Day lecture, constitutional rights litigator Mara Verheyden-Hilliard explored how the fight for democracy and fundamental human rights — currently playing out in streets across the nation — is supported in the courts through strategic First Amendment rights litigation. Her talk, “Unconstitutional: Fighting Back Against the Nationwide Effort to Criminalize Dissent,” took place on Thursday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. via Zoom.
“We are at a critical juncture in history where the fight for racial, social and economic justice and against the climate catastrophe is being propelled by the force of millions of people nationwide demanding action,” Verheyden-Hilliard says. She notes that, at the same time, new anti-protest laws enacted around the country dangerously criminalize peaceful protest, penalizing non-violent protestors with felony charges and huge fines.
Co-founder of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, a nonprofit public interest legal organization based in Washington, D.C., Verheyden-Hilliard also directs the newly launched Center for Protest Law and Litigation. Her practice focuses on complex trial and appellate litigation, particularly concentrated in the areas of free speech, assembly or other protected First Amendment activity and the intersection with Fourth Amendment rights.
Verheyden-Hilliard served for more than a decade as the co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild Mass Defense Committee, providing technical support and coordination to lawyers and activists around the country challenging denials of access to public space, unconstitutional laws, mass arrests, brutality and the criminalization of dissent. She received her B.A. from Hampshire College and her J.D. from Columbia University Law School.
Recent Constitution Day speakers at HWS include civil rights and criminal defense attorney Marty Stolar, lawyer and faculty member at Cornell Law School Sujata Sidhu Gibson and political scientist and author Corey Robin.