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University of Nebraska’s new First Amendment Clinic to train law students in free speech, freedom of press

Director: Project will fill ‘void’ amid growing need for civil rights lawyers

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln just unveiled a new law clinic to support First Amendment rights and train blossoming lawyers in constitutional litigation.

The First Amendment Clinic at the University of Nebraska College of Law will take on local cases to boost law students’ litigation skills and uphold constitutional freedoms regardless of individual political disagreements, Daniel Gutman, a civil rights litigator and director of the clinic, told The College Fix.

“There may be times when we take a case, or represent a person, who we vehemently disagree with,” Gutman told The Fix. “But the core of the First Amendment is speech, and speech often involves disagreement.”

The law school announced the new clinic in August and it already is seeking clients, but it will not officially launch until January 2024.

During the spring semester, eight students will be granted the opportunity to participate in the clinic under the supervision of licensed attorneys, according to the college.

Gutman told The Fix the clinic will showcase the importance of legal principles above political outcomes when assessing both current and historical First Amendment cases.

This clinic is not the first of its kind. The Stanton Foundation, which funded the new University of Nebraska project, also has supported several other First Amendment Clinics nationwide in recent years, including at Duke University and Cornell University.

Amber Ediger, the director of marketing and digital strategy at the University of Nebraska College of Law, told Nebraska Today that Frank Stanton, a former president of CBS, created the Stanton Foundation to “promote the First Amendment and democratic values through informed citizenry.”

The need for these clinics has grown in recent times due to an uptick in the suppression of First Amendment freedoms. Often, rights have been challenged by cancel culture, which encourages people to shut down opinions that they are personally offended by.

“More and more we are seeing people’s First Amendment rights being stifled,” Sydney Hayes, assistant director of the Nebraska clinic, told The College Fix.

Hayes continued: “Journalists are being denied access, individuals and elected officials alike are being retaliated against for protected speech, and states and political subdivisions across the country have attempted to ban or otherwise stifle speech they do not agree with. The need to protect these constitutional rights is growing, as is the need to train lawyers who are prepared to tackle these issues.”

The new clinic will prepare law students to take on such cases while also ensuring that organizations, journalists, students and citizens have a resource in a culture where First Amendment rights need a stronger defense, according to its website.

Gutman said the University of Nebraska also has a specific need for the First Amendment Clinic. He told The Fix that the First Amendment law is a highly specialized field, and they hope the clinic will add to the number of civil rights litigators in Nebraska.

“Nebraska has very few attorneys who focus their practice on civil rights law generally, or the First Amendment more specifically,” he told The Fix. “The result is that many First Amendment violations, or possible violations, go unchallenged. We hope the clinic will help to fill this void.”

MORE: They fought for their First Amendment rights as students, now they help others do the same

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About the Author
Emily Rosecrans -- Clemson University