Michael O’Connor, a 2009 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, is the winner of the Alliance Defense Fund’s William Pew Religious Freedom Scholarship Competition for 2008-2009.
O’Connor will receive a $2,500 award for his entry, Legitimate Defense of Civil Rights or Raw Congressional Power Grab? The Constitutionality of the Freedom of Choice Act.
O’Connor argues in his paper that the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) – legislation that proponents say would codify Roe v. Wade but which O’Connor believes would reach further – is a questionable exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause and an improper exercise of Congress’ power under Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment.
“Issues surrounding FOCA spoke to my interests in states’ rights and the Constitution,” O’Connor explains. “Plus, I could really sink my teeth into the issues because they are so undecided.”
O’Connor became interested in FOCA as a result of taking Professor Kermit Roosevelt’s Constitutional Law course – which he describes as “one of the most enlightening classes I’ve ever had” – and serving as articles editor for the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law. O’Connor also credits Professor Stephen Burbank, for whom he served as a research assistant throughout his time at Penn Law, for inspiring his “curiosity about complicated issues and cases with lots of moving parts.”
As a student, O’Connor served as vice president of Penn Law’s Federalist Society chapter and helped prepare Penn Law’s successful bid to host the Federalist Society’s National Student Symposium for 2010. O’Connor points out that Penn Law also hosted a national symposium for the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) in the previous year.
“The Federalist Society and ACS are opposing groups on issues related to Constitutional law. The fact that Penn Law hosted their symposia in consecutive years really demonstrates the school’s openness to dialogue across the ideological spectrum,” he says.
Since graduating in May, O’Connor has taken (and passed) the Pennsylvania bar exam and volunteered for Penn Law’s Supreme Court Clinic. He starts at White & Case in Washington D.C. this month, where he plans to practice international litigation.