Second-year law student Joseph Kerins, a current Marshall-Brennan teaching fellow who is working with students at Eastern Senior High School.

The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project: A Program with Local Origins Continues to Grow in National Stature

Nov. 16, 2017

Founded in 1999 by two visionary American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL) faculty members, Jamin Raskin and Stephen Wermiel, The Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project has grown exponentially to become a nationally recognized law-related education initiative with chapters in 19 law schools. The program promotes civic engagement and constitutional literacy by placing talented and dedicated upper-level law students in high school classrooms to teach courses in constitutional law and oral advocacy – helping the high school students develop problem-solving, collaboration and critical thinking skills, while fostering a deeper awareness of how the law relates to their everyday lives.

2017 Marshall-Brennan William H. Karchmer Moot Court Competition finalists, Nick Scurriati (Wilson High School), Jerra Holdip (School without Walls), Mia Strickland (Capital City Public Charter School), and Taylor Williams-Palmer (Eastern Senior High School) pose with U.S. District Court for D.C. judges, Senior Judge Reggie B. Walton, Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey, and District Judge Rudolph Contreras.

The AUWCL Chapter of Marshall-Brennan sends law students to teach in D.C. area high schools, including Capital City Public Charter School, Dunbar High School, Eastern Senior High School, Paul Public Charter School, School without Walls and Wilson High School. The hallmark of the project each year is the William H. Karchmer Moot Court Competition in which the high school students come to AUWCL for a day-long session to argue a mock legal case before attorneys and judges. Finalists from the competition go on to compete nationally against the top students from the other participating law schools. The upcoming competition will be held at AUWCL on Saturday, Nov. 18.

The program is all about empowerment

Marshall-Brennan serves as a mechanism for exposure,” explains Lisa M. Curtis ’11, who serves as associate director of the project as well as an adjunct professor at the law school. “We’re giving our law students a unique opportunity to hone their oral advocacy skills while mentoring young people and fostering civic engagement within the community. We’re hoping the exposure that the high school students have to our students and to various legal and constitutional issues will foster an interest in law as a career option and, more importantly, the belief that they can make a difference in promoting a fairer and more equitable society.”

A critical complement to the law school curriculum

“The opportunity that Marshall-Brennan offers you to learn oral advocacy skills is second to none, and is critical to your legal career,” explains Emma McArthur ’17, a recent AUWCL graduate and Marshall-Brennan Fellow for two years who is now a law clerk at the D.C. Court of Appeals. She is so enthusiastic about the project that she helped form a Marshall-Brennan alumni committee, which she now chairs. The committee supports outreach and fund raising efforts for the project.


“Having to explain complex legal issues to a group of 16-year-olds – in terms they can understand and relate to – is incredible training for what you’ll be expected to do once you start practicing. Not only that, but the program offers a unique firsthand perspective on the challenges and concerns of the people you’ll be serving in the community. That’s a rare opportunity you don’t often get in law school internships.”

Joseph Kerins, a second-year law student who is now a Marshall-Brennan teaching fellow working with students at Eastern Senior High School, in D.C. agrees. “I see the project as an extension of my law school education. The experience has been incredible. It has given me the chance to dive deep into constitutional and criminal law, and break legal issues down in a way that is easily understood.”

“The [Marshall-Brennan Project] offers a unique firsthand perspective on the challenges and concerns of the people you’ll be serving in the community. That’s a rare opportunity you don’t often get in law school internships.”

Emma McArthur ’17, chair of the Marshall-Brennan Alumni Committee

The opportunity to become change agents

“I already see the project’s impact,” adds Kerins. “Just this week, a 10th grader, with only a limited background in U.S. history, put together a compelling legal argument touching on both First and 14th Amendment issues. The class gives the students the opportunity to recognize and take advantage of skills they already have. I find that extremely gratifying.”

“The selection process for becoming a Marshall-Brennan teaching fellow involves a series of steps, including an application, an interview and the chance to participate in a session in the classroom,” explains Curtis. “We’re looking for students with a real desire to make a difference.”

Based on the experiences of Kerins, McArthur, and the 500-plus teaching fellow alumni who have contributed their time and talents, the project has already achieved quite a legacy. As the program approaches its 20th anniversary in 2019, Marshall-Brennan is a remarkable example of what can be achieved through vision and dedication.