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A Constitutional Expert on Church-State
Hamilton L’88 Has Fervor for Intellectual Pursuits
Six years ago, Marci Hamilton stood on the biggest stage in jurisprudence and thrust herself into what she calls “one of the most heated church-state issues in the twentieth century.” She argued before the United States Supreme Court, taking on the Catholic Church and bedrock religious freedoms.
Hamilton represented city officials in Boerne, Texas who, citing the town’s historic preservation ordinance, denied a request by a local church to demolish its building and construct a much larger one. The case pitted supporters of the then-new federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act - which aimed to prevent government agencies from interfering with religious practice without compelling cause - against opponents like Hamilton who declared it unconstitutional.
In the end, Hamilton’s side prevailed. She won Boerne v. Flores in 1997.
Not bad for a career academic. It was Hamilton’s first case, and the case changed her life. In the aftermath, she litigated many more church-state cases and began to focus her academic research on the theological origins of the Constitution.
But one thing didn’t change: her fervor for the rewards and flexibility of teaching. “It gives me the freedom to pursue the intellectual threads that are most important to me,” says Hamilton, who holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. “But there are also endless opportunities to try to make the world a better place through the legal system. Being a law professor does not stop in the classroom, or even with the publication of an article, it also extends to public debate and battle over the most important issues of the day.”
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