Recommended Video Podcast Series with Professor Nancy Leong: The RightsCast

On Wednesday, January 28 at 2 p.m. ET, University of Denver Sturm College of Law professor Nancy Leong – a specialist in civil rights, constitutional law and civil procedure – will launch an innovative video podcast series about civil rights called The RightsCast. The first episode will feature a discussion with UC Hastings professor of law Scott Dodson on his new book about United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  You can preview their discussion here

Each week, Professor Leong will speak to a different scholar about his or her research via Google Hangout. That video will then be made publicly available on YouTube. Professor Leong hopes that while scholars and lawyers tune in to The RightsCast, it reaches beyond the legal academy to law students, college and graduate students in related disciplines, members of the mainstream media and the general public. Her goal is to bridge the gap between those within and outside academia.  While many academics do interesting, important and relevant research, most people never hear about their work because they don’t read 80-page law review articles. The RightsCast hopes to bring important civil rights scholarship to light in a format that is both interesting and accessible.

Late last week, I interviewed Professor Leong about The RightsCast. Excerpts from our conversation are below. 

Silverbrook: Why have you chosen to focus on civil rights scholarship in particular?

Leong: It made sense because my own practice experience, research, and teaching all relate to civil rights. I keep up with scholarship in a number of areas that all fall under the civil rights umbrella -- constitutional law, criminal procedure, employment discrimination, critical race theory, and so forth -- and so this was an opportunity to highlight research in those areas that is interesting and useful and relevant.

I also invited some of the guests with my students in mind. For example, the episode focusing on Professor Margo Kaplan's "Sex-Positive Law" article appearing in the NYU Law Review will make everyone think differently about obscenity doctrine and is a great jumping off point for a discussion of that doctrine. At this point, most of the classes I teach are open-source, meaning that I don't assign a casebook but rather that I have students gather the cases and other readings on their own. A typical assignment might be 3-5 cases, some commentary from a popular media outlet or a blog, and now, perhaps a ten-minute excerpt from an episode of The RightsCast. It's almost like inviting extremely knowledgeable guest speakers to all my classes, except that the speaker is then available on demand for the rest of the semester and subsequent semesters.

I should mention that I consider civil rights a large umbrella -- many areas of the law bear on civil rights. I've invited an intellectual property scholar to talk about copyright as a remedy for the social harms caused by revenge porn. I've invited a bankruptcy expert to talk about the disproportionate impact that certain bankruptcy laws have on communities of color. Nearly every area of law has some implication for civil rights, and one thing I hope to accomplish with The RightsCast is to get people to think more broadly about all the different areas of the law that affect our civil rights.

Finally, I think that a natural starting point for people to engage with the law is to think about civil rights. Civil rights affect everyone -- everyone can imagine having their car pulled over and searched by police, or having an employer fire them for something they said. People can relate to civil rights discussions even if they don't have any formal legal training, and I hope the RightsCast will encourage more nuanced thinking about civil rights by both lawyers and non-lawyers.

Silverbrook: What are you hoping to achieve by reaching an audience outside the legal academy? How does this benefit the scholars you interview, as well as communities you hope to reach?

Leong: I think it would be wonderful if the interesting, relevant, timely research I'm highlighting in The RightsCast reached a wider audience. Of course this would benefit the scholar by gaining exposure for his or her work, but more importantly it will improve public knowledge about civil rights. It's good for people to understand how employment discrimination claims are litigated. It's good for people to know how the growth of "big data" affects when and where the police can stop and search them or their belongings. I hope that making this information available in a format that is more accessible than an 80-page law review article will improve everyone's understanding of the way the law can and does affect their daily lives.

To be clear, I'm not saying that people shouldn't write law review articles -- they definitely should! That detailed, comprehensive research is a necessary prerequisite to a full understanding of a particular topic. That extensive research can then be distilled or reframed for different audiences. My goal is for the RightsCast to provide one entry point into that research.

Silverbrook: Approximately how long is each episode?

Leong: I aim for around half an hour per episode. Since I'm not part of a broadcasting network with a set schedule, fortunately there's no real time constraint in any direction. But I think half an hour is about the right amount of time to share interesting information about a topic without overwhelming someone who's completely new to the issue.

Silverbrook: If a scholar wants to participate in the RightsCast, how should they contact you?

Leong: They should email me at nleong@law.du.edu! I'd love for people to get in touch with me if they're interested in talking about their research. So far everyone I've slated for an episode is a law professor, but I'm also interested in chatting with people in law-related fields or those who have both legal training and an advanced degree in another area.

Silverbrook: Who do you plan to interview next?


Margo Kaplan

"Sex-Positive Law": http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2308955

(Margo also wrote a WaPo op-ed on sex-positive law that is super interesting and got a lot of interest around the internet: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-the-law-should-recognize-the-joy-of-sex/2013/11/21/dc119aae-4e40-11e3-be6b-d3d28122e6d4_story.html)

Jessica Clarke

"Inferring Desire": http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2238252

Andrew Ferguson

"Big Data and Reasonable Suspicion": http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2394683

The RightsCast episodes air on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. ET/12 p.m. MT. Be sure to tune in online!

*Julie Silverbrook is the Executive Director of The Constitutional Sources Project (www.ConSource.org), a non-profit organization devoted to increasing understanding, facilitating research, and encouraging discussion of the U.S. Constitution by connecting individuals with the documentary history of its creation, ratification, and amendment. Julie is member of the Board of Directors of Ms.JD and serves as Chair of the Ms.JD Academic Committee. 

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