The Federal Legislation Clinic Celebrates Success with Start of Fall Semester
In representing nonprofit organizations’ interests on Capitol Hill, Clinic students have gained several unique experiences and legislative wins—including two projects that recently “crossed the finish line” into enactment.
The Federal Legislation Clinic kicked off another semester of learning legislative lawyering with the celebration of recent success.
The Clinic’s main principle is teaching students the “art of legislative lawyering at the intersection of law and politics.” This includes a focus on policy writing and advocacy, which differs greatly from the skills gained in traditional law school experiences like Legal Research and Writing courses or Moot Court.
Students engage in different exercises to foster these skills. “Walk-with-me” briefings, which are quick, walking updates on the status of students’ projects, simulate the experience of staffing members of Congress and briefing them on an issue or project as they head to the House floor or a press interview. Through “rounds,” students lead their classmates in discussing challenges and brainstorming ideas for their projects. The semester culminates with mock staffer pitches, which serve as a sort of Moot Court for Congress. Students pitch legislative proposals to a group of real Congressional staffers and network at the end of the evening.
The Clinic represents non-profit organizations with legislative interests on Capitol Hill, which entails working on legislative ideas from conception to final passage. Students write policy memos for clients discussing the different options for the clients’ legislative goals; draft proposed legislation; meet with legislators to see if they are interested in introducing the legislation; and take numerous other steps leading up to enactment.
Crossing the finish line
Two of the Clinic’s legislative projects—one for each of its clients—recently crossed the finish line and were sent to the President’s desk. The Clinic works with the Alliance to End Hunger, which combats hunger domestically and abroad through a coalition of organizations and political advocacy, and the Project on Government Oversight, or “POGO,” which champions government transparency and accountability and works to expose government waste, fraud, and abuse.
The Clinic assisted the Alliance to End Hunger and other coalition groups in encouraging the Administration to hold a White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. Their efforts succeeded, and the White House held the conference on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. It was the second of its kind, with the first White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health occurring in 1969. The Alliance believed it was time to have another check-in on where the United States stands on hunger, Professor and Clinic Director Rapallo said. Clinic students met with Congressman Jim McGovern, Chairman of the House Rules Committee, and a broader group of organizations who hoped to revive the conference. Ultimately, Congress allocated $2.5 million in the omnibus appropriations bill for the White House to host the conference.
Students worked with POGO to help ensure that two amendments improving operational integrity at the Pentagon were signed into law as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”). One amendment increases the recusal period for defense contractors taking high-level positions within the Department of Defense from one year to four years. The other improves ethics rules in the defense acquisition process. The students helped draft a letter to the House Rules Committee seeking a floor vote on the amendments. After the NDAA moved from the House to the Senate for consideration, students worked on multiple advocacy documents to seek inclusion of the provisions in the final bill.
Along with these two legislative wins, students gained other unique experiences through their recent clinical work. Last semester, Clinic participants Sierra deSousa and William Twomey worked on a proposal for POGO to prevent insider stock trading and conflicts of interest among members of Congress. When POGO’s Director of Public Policy, Liz Hempowicz, testified before the Committee on House Administration at a hearing on “Examining Stock Trading Reforms For Congress,” Twomey and deSousa sat right behind her. DeSousa graduated from Georgetown Law in May 2022 and now works on Capitol Hill for Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, who serves as the U.S. Representative for the Third District of Ohio.
“That was the highlight of the semester,” deSousa said. She and Twomey helped Hempowicz prepare for the hearing, and deSousa has found that experience translates well to her work on Capitol Hill. The students helped Hempowicz anticipate what kinds of questions she would receive from different members in the hearing by researching the members’ questions in past hearings and issues of importance to them. Now, deSousa helps write hearing questions for her boss. Other Clinic experiences—from building confidence through class and client presentations to working on tight deadlines to learning the ins and outs of federal policy and lobbying—have been incredibly valuable, deSousa said.
“I think he has really structured the whole course to maximize our experience based on what will actually be valuable in this career because he’s been there,” she said of Rapallo.
Using experience to educate
Several other Clinic students have gone on to work on the Hill and in government following their participation. The Clinic is currently building an alumni database with hopes of involving past participants in its activities. Rapallo hopes to have Clinic alumni assist with mock staffer pitch exercises, network with students, and give students advice. The Clinic also brings in guest speakers, so alumni with expertise or backgrounds in particular subject matter have the opportunity to share that insight with students.
Rapallo himself worked as a teaching fellow for the Clinic in the mid-1990s for its founder, Professor Chai Feldblum. This experience gives Rapallo an understanding of how the Clinic has worked in the past and what he can do to add value, he said. More than two decades of experience working in Congress and the White House also serve Rapallo well in his role as Clinic Director. While in Congress, Rapallo worked with Members of Congress on impeachment, investigations that reached the Supreme Court, and landmark legislation to admit Washington, D.C. as a state, which passed in the House of Representatives—a “Constitutional trifecta” for any lawyer, Rapallo said. Clinic teaching fellows Courtney French and Jessica Killin have extensive experience working in and with Congress on both the House and Senate sides, as well.
Rapallo, French, and Killin’s experiences are helpful in giving students substantive knowledge on how the Hill works, such as House procedures or budgetary rules, Rapallo said.
“It really helps to have a lot of stories to weave in to illustrate these things and why they’re important,” Rapallo said.
Rapallo joined the faculty as Associate Professor of Law and Clinic Director following the death of United States Representative Elijah Cummings, for whom he had worked for nearly a decade prior. Rapallo served as Staff Director of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Reform, which Cummings chaired. After Cummings’ death, Rapallo had to decide his next chapter. When the Clinic Director position came across his desk, Rapallo said his son reminded him of something Cummings used to say: “Our children are the living messages we send to a future we will never see.” This reminder inspired Rapallo to step into the Director role and, in the spirit of Cummings’ quote, share his experience and knowledge with our nation’s future attorneys and expose them to careers in government service.