Finding Common Grounds: A New Student-Faculty Initiative

Eric Hall '18
Producation Editor

Violent student protest shutting down an inflammatory college speaker. Senate minority members refusing to hold hearings for a Supreme Court nominee. A Facebook user deleting an old friend for posting a pro-Trump message. These events are hardly the fallout from Donald Trump’s election. They are the symptoms of an unprecedented division in our political culture. Although the election results quantified it, to many, including Professor Deborah Hellman, the tear in our nation’s fabric was apparent long before November 8th, 2016. 

“I first started thinking about Common Grounds when two students, one from Fed Soc and one from Virginia Law Women, approached me to moderate an event,” Hellman told me when we sat down last week to discuss her student-faculty initiative aimed at reinitiating thoughtful, civil discussion between politically diverse students and faculty. It occurred to her that there were very few law school events that direct participants to understand each other’s positions. Student groups often host debates, a mode of interaction that, according to Hellman, “only encourages finding what’s wrong with the other side and arguing against it.” Although debates can be helpful, Hellman’s initiative seeks to supplement them by taking residents of opposite ideological houses and facilitating their interaction in a way that builds consensus. The initiative seeks to identify points of agreement on which both houses are built. Hence the name, Common Grounds.

“I think that’s healthy. Our students are going to go out and play leadership roles in society,” Hellman said. She describes Common Grounds’ purpose as a “process goal” that “inculcates in students habits of mind of interacting with people in trust-building ways.” A typical event might resemble a debate but with a moderator whose goal is not to foster controversy but elicit understanding, to have speakers express their opinion and then reason down to basic principles on which both agree. Another exercise, suggested by Professor Kimberly Ferzan, would have student and faculty participants with opposing views discuss their opinions with one another, and then attempt to explain the other side’s view to the group. Hellman also hopes to recruit a speaker from the psychology department here at UVa to describe the challenges in bringing together people with profoundly divergent views. Potential topics for the first few events would include those most familiar (and divisive) to the law school student body such as micro-aggressions, safe spaces, and affirmative action policies. 

The organization is still very much in its nascency, and what it becomes will be in the hands of the brave students and faculty who are willing to cross the aisle. But already Hellman foresees some substantive proposals that could emerge. For example, Common Grounds could partner with the Political Science department on Main Grounds to develop a sort of ranking system for politicians based on their ability and willingness to compromise similar to what certain partisan organizations do for issues like environmentalism or gun rights. For those political disagreements that are empirical in nature, Common Grounds could help certify data as nonpartisan. 

Aside from the usual challenges of starting a new student group, Common Grounds also faces some unique hurdles.  Hellman recognizes the difficulty in today’s political climate of getting, for example, Clinton and Trump voters to talk about anything let alone seek common ground. But she supposes that the law school community may be the best place to open that channel. “There’s already a reservoir of goodwill” that we have towards one another within the law school because of our shared experience. More specifically, UVa’s Southern culture breeds a civility and collegiality that might make it the perfect incubator for such a cross-partisan effort. UVa is also a more politically diverse law school that many of its piers. This feature mitigates another challenge: finding and retaining an ideological diverse membership. “It shouldn’t be a centrist organization,” Hellman emphasized. Already the organization has attracted a handful of professors and students that span the liberal-conservative palette, including professors Kimberly Ferzan and Charles Barzun. 

Notwithstanding these advantages, Hellman has no illusions about how difficult the task will be. Having these discussions without poisoning the reservoir of goodwill will be hard, she freely admits when I press her on the risk that friendships will be strained. But the payoff will be worthwhile. “Our society depends on a constitutional culture” that requires us to engage with one another and compromise where we can, she says. “That is being challenged by the polarization that we have.” Common Grounds seeks to reverse that trend. Now more than ever, we need inititiatives to salvage political discourse, to de-villainize opponents, and ultimately, to save democracy. 

Open-minded students and faculty interested in joining the vanguard of the Common Grounds movement should attend an information session at 12 PM on Monday, February 13th in WB 104. For more information, contact Professor Hellman at


SBA State of the School Address

Alex Haden '17

Monday’s SBA meeting comprised two parts. In the first part, SBA President A.J. Collins presented his State of the School Address for the SBA and all members of the school who wished to attend. The second part consisted of a normal SBA meeting approving the final voting rules for the first Law School election cycle apart from the undergraduate University Board of Elections (UBE). 

Turnout for the State of the School Address was relatively high, although Collins was disappointed that no members of the administration nor members of Student Affairs attended. Collins’ presentation mirrored his campaign slogan from last year: YOUR SBA. The slogan is an acronym: Your ideas, old and new; Openness and transparency; Unifying groups for progress; and Reforming and restructuring.

Collins first discussed the Goluboff Cup, a competition for 1Ls similar to the House Cup at Hogwarts. Collins admitted that the participation in the Cup was lower than expected, but for a first attempt at the competition, it went fairly well. Collins expects next year to be even better with more partnerships between SBA and other groups for point calculations.

Collins also discussed the Wahoos for the Bayous campaign, which raised money for relief funds after the hurricane last year, and the accompanying food drive. The SBA’s Dean-a-Week program was also lauded as a success, as various administrators at the school came in to SBA meetings to discuss their offices and responsibilities.

One of SBA’s most active committees, Health and Wellness Programming, has been very busy this year with all of its activities. They have provided healthy snacks, put on the Health and Wellness Fair that brought many businesses into the school, put on Mental Health Week, and brought therapy puppies to the school. Kudos to Ali Mulry and Christine Sherman, chairs of Wellness Programming, for successfully leading the committee.

Collins then discussed the various projects that are still in progress for the SBA. First on the agenda was the GradFest event, a sort of collaborative fair for graduate students across UVa’s campus. There are some obstacles in place regarding scheduling and communication among the various schools. Second, SBA is still tackling the complicated issue of undergraduates in the library. There seem to be some communication issues among the Law School administration, library staff, and student representatives, but the SBA is determined to find the optimal solution for students. 

The SBA is still looking into the possibility of getting longer cafeteria hours from Aramark, especially given that Darden has longer hours and (apparently) better food. There are a lot of stakeholders at play in this issue, and negotiating this contract may prove tougher than initially thought. Finally, the Wednesday keg still remains an issue for SBA, especially regarding which day of the week it should occur and whether Main Grounds policy should apply to us.

The SBA also hopes to continue improving its technology, including its website and outline bank. They are also looking into creating an SBA app and a more unified communications system.

The more technical part of the meeting was the SBA’s discussion of the new voting procedures for the upcoming Law School election. The measures passed unanimously, and the rules are now in effect. Some of the more substantive changes that are different from past years include:

Student mailboxes may be used during campaigns. The Election Committee felt that the previously-existing ban did not serve an important purpose and therefore, are fair game.

The email policy has completely been revamped. People may send direct emails to any person, regardless of whether they have a personal connection. The old policy was difficult to enforce and hard to properly sanction. Additionally, list-serves may be used for campaign emails so long as the sender is a part of that list-serve. Candidates may not join list-serves for the purpose of sending campaign materials. Candidates may still create their own private list-serves for campaigning purposes.

The Election Committee retains the power to create an appropriate sanction for any violation of the rules. The Elections Committee felt that rules for specific violations would be too inflexible and controversial to pass. All sanction decisions are immediately appealable to an appellate board consisting of two members of the Elections Committee, an Honor Rep, a UJC Rep, and the SBA President. 

The Elections Committee kept the 20-signature petition requirement for candidates to submit before they can appear on the ballot. The Committee explained that they felt it was important to have at least some hurdle to clear in order to appear on the ballot; otherwise, people could just apply for any position with very little cost. In addition, the Elections Committee has imposed a maximum of two positions that a candidate may run for.

The instant runoff voting system from UBE was abandoned in favor of simple plurality voting. In the case that more than two candidates run for a position, a candidate must get a plurality of at least 40% of the vote to be elected; in the event no candidate receives this amount, a separate runoff between the top two candidates will occur right after the main election.

The SBA used its power to enact these rules. One such rule says that these election rules may only be amended by a 70% majority of the SBA voting to change them. This higher bar was implemented in order to ensure that changes could not be made by a simple majority once the voting had gone underway. 

    The Elections Committee is hosting a meeting for candidates to go over these rules on Wednesday, February 1st, at 5PM. Candidacy statements and petition signatures are due on Monday, February 6th, at 11:59pm. Candidates may begin campaigning on Monday, February 13th, at noon. The Law Weekly will host the annual SBA debate on February 20th at 11:30am. Voting opens at 12:01am on Tuesday, February 21st, and closes at 11:59pm on Wednesday, February 22nd 11:59pm. Results will be announced on Friday, February 24th at 5pm.

    Editor’s note: Alex Haden, the Editor-in-Chief of Virginia Law Weekly, is one of the three members of the Election Committee. Therefore, to remain impartial, all future Law Weekly coverage of the Law School elections will be created, edited, and produced without Alex’s input or advice.



Jenna Goldman '18
Executive Editor

 With thousands more than expected marchers spilled into many of the side streets. Photo credit: David Markoff

With thousands more than expected marchers spilled into many of the side streets. Photo credit: David Markoff

While we were away, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the forty-fifth President of the United States. The day following the Inauguration, over 2.25 million people marched in the Women’s March on Washington and in sister marches around the world. In a firestorm of tweets about the comparative size of the Inauguration crowd to the March, the term “alternative facts” was coined by Kellyanne Conway in response to President Trump’s description of his inaugural crowd as “the largest ever.” After a tweet by the Department of Interior comparing an aerial image of Trump’s Inauguration to Obama’s Inauguration in 2009, the new administration directed the Agency to shut down all Twitter platforms until further notice. 

A crowd size expert reported to the New York Times last week that the inauguration audience was approximately 160,000 people, compared to the 470,000 individuals who participated in the Women’s March a day later. 

The Women’s March brought together millions in a stand of solidarity on dozens of progressive, intersectional issues. From Women’s rights and reproductive healthcare, to LGBTQ+ rights, Black Lives Matter and other race relations issues, the environment, and immigration, the organizers applauded the turnout and the notion that the causes are stronger and advanced when advocated together. Speakers at the Washington rally included America Ferrera, Janelle Monae, Michael Moore, and Gloria Steinem, along with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) President Rhea Suh. Hillary Clinton tweeted her support for the march. The actual marching was cancelled due to crowd’s size. 

Now, nearly two weeks since both the Inauguration and the Women’s March, the fight over inaugural crowd size seems trivial compared to the slew of executive orders coming out of the White House. At press time, the most controversial is called “Protection Of The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States” and was signed Friday, January 27th. The order blocks citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) from entering the United States, regardless of visa or resident status; indefinitely bars refugees from Syria from entering the United States; and suspends all other refugee admissions for the next 120 days. The effect was immediate, as individuals entering back into the United States at major airports were detained this weekend as they passed through customs. 

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Donnelly of the Eastern District of New York halted the enforcement of the executive order in a ruling Saturday night. Later the same night,, Judge Leonie Brinkema of Virginia’s Eastern District ruled in favor of three legal permanent residents and sixty other individuals detained at Dulles International Airport, blocking immigration officials from deporting lawful permanent residents detained at the airport and ordering immigration officials to allow lawyers to access detainees. 

Jasmine Esmailbegui, a 3L, is personally feeling the effect of the executive order. Esmailbegui’s father immigrated to the United States from Iran in the 1970s and she holds dual American and Iranian citizenship. Her family was in the process of sponsoring her uncle and his family to move to the United States from Iran. Although her uncle and his family were interviewed for their green cards in December, she is unsure of their current status since the executive order was signed.  

“I’m confused as to the logic of this executive order,” Esmailbegui said. “It is effectively punishing people for the actions of their government and militaries. We must be able to separate the people who are fleeing from their oppressive governments.”  Esmailbegui was planning on visiting Iran after taking the bar later this year, but with the potential retaliation from the Iranian government she says those plans are in limbo. 

Sami Al-Marzoog, 3L, who holds dual Saudi and American citizenship, is also impacted by the uncertainty of the executive order. “My dad still lives in Saudi Arabia, but visits us on a visa. This is a big year for my family; my sister and I are graduating law school, we have a brother graduating medical school, and my sister is getting married, so we are worried that a change of mood with Saudi Arabia may keep our dad from coming to the United States to witness these milestones.” 

Al-Marzoog was a member of the Immigration Clinic last year and says the vetting process is already extremely rigorous and worries what the lack of notice has already done to refugees in transit. “Families sold everything to buy a plane ticket to the United States, now what are they going to do?” Al-Marzoog echoed Esmailbegui’s point, “The administration is talking about how they want to eradicate radical terrorism, but everyone coming here as refugees is trying to get away from that same threat in their home countries.”

Al-Marzoog referenced a study conducted by the Cato Institute which concluded that no person accepted to the United States as a refugee has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since 1980. Before 1980, the only notable attack committed by refugees was by three Cuban refugees. 

An emergency march for “Muslim, Immigrant, and International Students’ Rights” was held on Sunday at the Rotunda, where a number of law students attended, including 2L Joanna Kelly. Kelly, a Middle Eastern Studies major, worked abroad in both Jordan and Egypt before coming to law school and finds the executive order particularly offensive. “I have underlying concerns as to why did they these countries were chosen. It feels like the ban is just an extension of Trump’s fear mongering.”  

Kelly attended both the Women’s March in Washington and the March in response to the order last weekend and felt the tone of encouragement, solidarity, and engagement was apparent at both events. For Kelly, the highlight of the march was hearing Charlottesville’s Vice-Mayor Wes Bellamy speak. “His message was that this order isn’t about politics anymore; it’s about what is right and what is wrong. He urged us to remember how we feel today, and that we need to come out with this force and passion every day.”

In an email to the University, President Theresa Sullivan stated the administration is in contact with UVa students and scholars from the seven countries impacted and international students more broadly. Sullivan affirmed the school’s commitment to supporting international students, faculty, and staff, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students on Grounds. 

Per President Sullivan’s email, if you have questions or are in need of support contact UVa’s International Studies Office at 208 Minor Hall or call (434) 982-3010.



3 Id.


Law Weekly Staff Article

Last Monday, the SBA’s Constitutional Committee submitted its proposed edits to the SBA Constitution to the Voting Members. For a list of those proposed changes, see the article in the November 16, 2016 edition of the Virginia Law Weekly. The SBA adopted the changes through a unanimous roll call vote on Monday, officially amending the Constitution. The majority of the changes that were adopted were related to the elections process at the Law School. These election changes were proposed by another SBA committee, the Election Rules Committee, chaired by SBA Vice-President Sami Al-Marzoog.

    The most immediate changes to the elected positions involve the direct election of the Treasurer and the removal of the SBA voting power of the Ex Officio Members. For the past few years, the Treasurer has not been directly elected by the Law School population. Instead, the newly elected SBA elected a Treasurer from its own Senatorial body in a subsequent election. This secondary election of the Treasurer was meant to insulate the Treasurer from the political influences that would come from answering directly to the student body. However, political influences are not really present in the SBA nor its elections, and any such influences are not particular to the role of Treasurer. Therefore, the Treasurer will now be directly elected like every other position.

    In addition, all Ex Officio members will be unable to vote on SBA issues. Under both the previous and current SBA Constitutions, four enumerated positions were listed as Ex Officio members: UJC Representatives, Honor Representatives, Student Council Representatives, and the ABA Representative. These Ex Officio members were elected by the student body but held their positions on other bodies and had voting power in those respective bodies. However, the previous Constitution allowed some of these members—specifically, the ABA Rep and the StudCo Reps—to have a vote on the SBA, while the remaining Ex Officio members could not vote on the SBA. There was no explanation for this inconsistent treatment of the various Ex Officio members, so to treat them consistently and prevent conflicting votes with their respective bodies, none of these members shall have a vote on the SBA.

    The largest and most significant change made to the elections process at the Law School was the decision to separate from the University Board of Elections (UBE), the Main Grounds Special Status Group that ordinarily administers elections. Most of the 12 schools of UVa use UBE to run elections for student government, UJC/Honor roles, and other school-wide positions; notably, Darden does not use the UBE for its election process. One of the primary reasons that the Law School decided to examine its relationship with the UBE was last year’s election process and its lack of customization to the Law School’s needs.

    The UBE requires a relatively tough process to even appear on the ballot in the first place. First, all applicants must complete a quiz about the election rules. While this quiz isn’t overly difficult, it is an extra procedural step, and the rules that it tests are often inapplicable to the Law School. For example, regulations on chalking are not really relevant for the Law School, since chalking isn’t really used on North Grounds. 

Secondly, the UBE also requires candidates to get the signature of a requisite number of future constituents to even appear on the ballot. While getting somewhere between twenty and fifty signatures isn’t that hard, it isn’t super easy; additionally, candidates would just pass the sheet around a large lecture class instead of speaking with future voters, defeating the purpose of getting the signatures in the first place. Perhaps most annoying was the fact that the signature sheets had to be turned in on Main Grounds, requiring a trek over to Newcomb Hall during business hours and paying for parking just to get on the ballot.

Another frustrating aspect of UBE’s electoral process is its strange rules and lack of ability to enforce them or provide a remedy for candidates. UBE prohibits the use of mailing lists, including email lists, to solicit votes, either by a candidate or any other person on that candidate’s behalf. However, it’s a hard rule to enforce, and it requires candidates to have absolute control over not only themselves and their campaign staff, but also every single enthusiastic supporter who might send an email inadvertently. It’s also hard to craft a remedy for such a violation; is it fair to disqualify a candidate entirely because of an email sent by a staff member? If not, should a certain number of votes be discounted? How many?

The changes to the Constitution do not answer the questions above. However, they do move in the right direction by taking Law School elections out of UBE’s jurisdiction and into the Law School, where we will have more direct say into how these sorts of questions should be answered, and how future issues can be fairly resolved. One issue that still remains to be resolved is how to count Law School votes for school-wide referenda from the Honor Committee or UJC that requires a minimum number of student votes, since most Law Students will not log onto the UBE system to vote.

The new Constitution allows the Election Rules Committee to create a proposed slate of rules for the upcoming election, including various rules, remedies, and requirements to get elected. This proposed slate of rules will be presented to the full SBA for an approval vote. These approved rules will be enforced by the newly created Election Committee, which will run the election itself and handle any issues that the candidates run into. 

The Constitution specifies that the Election Committee shall be comprised of three members, none of whom are allowed to run for an elected position to prevent any conflicts of interest. There shall be one 2L member and two 3L members. To strike the right balance between having an elected official on the Committee and having members who are properly insulated from SBA influence, at least two of the three members must not be current SBA members. The members shall be appointed by the SBA President and confirmed by the SBA.

Upon passage of the new amendments to the Constitution, SBA President A.J. Collins presented his slate of appointments to this year’s Election Committee: Shannon Rice, Alex Haden, and Jennifer Lee. The SBA approved these selections, and now, the Election Rules Committee will have to finish its rules for the elections coming up in February.