Three graduating Harvard Law School students, Samuel Weiss ’14, Catherine B. Cooper ’14, and David Baake ’14, recently received Ford Foundation Law School Public Interest Fellowships. The fellowship is designed to identify and help develop new leaders in social justice.

Weiss will work to end mass incarceration as a legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Center for Justice, in Washington, D.C. He will work for the ACLU’s Stop Solitary Campaign, which seeks to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement through class-action litigation and policy advocacy. He will also assist the ACLU’s Center for Justice in its fight to reform extreme sentencing practices at the state level. Cooper will engage in litigation and advocacy to advance reproductive freedom both domestically and globally, as a legal fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Baake will be working as a legal fellow in the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate Center in Washington, DC. During his fellowship year, he will contribute to NRDC’s litigation and advocacy in support of the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, a major initiative to reduce the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The three fellows attended the first annual Ford Foundation Law School Interest Fellowship Dinner at Harvard Law School on April 1. Maya Harris, who completed her term as Vice President for Democracy, Rights, and Justice at the Ford Foundation in 2013, and who is serving as a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School in 2014, delivered the keynote address.

Harris gave brief remarks about her own trajectory as a public interest lawyer and the state of the field for social justice movements in the United States and around the world.  She identified the empowerment of women and girls as a key issue for many social justice movements. At the end of her remarks, Harris fielded questions from participating students, speaking to the skills she developed as a litigator at Jackson Tufts Cole and Black, and noted that many skills critical to her success as a public interest lawyer and advocate could only be developed outside a firm. More than 40 Ford Fellows from Harvard Law School attended the event, along with Office of Public Interest Advising staff.

“We are so glad to have welcomed Maya to HLS for this important event,” said Lisa Williams, Associate Director in the Office of Public Interest Advising. “Her range of experience and critical insights into the opportunities and challenges facing social justice movements makes Maya a great role model for the Ford Fellows from HLS. Bringing her to campus was an opportunity to build community among fellows.”

The Ford Foundation Law School Public Interest Fellowship supports first- and second-year law students and third-year students after graduation. Students from Harvard Law School, New York University School of Law, Stanford Law School, and Yale Law School particulate in the program. The Ford Foundation works with these schools to identify and help develop new leaders in social justice. Summer fellows participate in a 10-week summer internship at a Ford grantee organization whose work focuses broadly on legal analysis, litigation, and public policy advocacy. Post-graduate fellows join the staff of a Ford grantee organization for one year.

Samuel Weiss ’14

While in law school, Weiss interned at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of Michigan, the Southern Center for Human Rights, and the State Appellate Defender’s Office in Detroit. He has also been a member of the Capital Punishment Clinic and the Crimmigration Clinic. He is the author of “Into the Breach: The Case for Robust Noncapital Proportionality Review Under State Constitutions,” forthcoming in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, and the co-author (with Emma Kaufman) of “The Limits of Punishment,” a chapter in Palgrave Macmillan’s forthcoming book, “Extraordinary Punishment: An Empirical Look at Administrative Black Holes in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.” After his fellowship at the ACLU, Weiss will clerk for Judge Jacqueline Nguyen of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Pasadena, California.

Catherine B. Cooper ’14

Prior to law school, Cooper worked as an advocacy coordinator at a social justice non-profit, where she specialized in issues ranging from U.S. foreign aid to comprehensive immigration reform.  At HLS, she served on the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review and as the co-director of immigration services for the Harvard Immigration Project.   During her first-year summer, she worked in Greater Boston Legal Services’ Immigration Unit, where she prepared asylum claims for torture victims.  The following summer, she worked at both the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the Public International Law and Policy Group, where she served as a Chayes International Public Service Fellow.  In the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic, she engaged in Alien Tort Statute litigation and served as a primary drafter of a report on Myanmar military counterinsurgency policy.

David Baake ’14

Before attending law school, Baake attended Arizona State University, where obtained a B.S. in Biology and researched the effects of climate change on the timing and success of reproduction in birds of prey. At HLS, he served as a managing editor of the Harvard Environmental Law Review and worked extensively with the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic at HLS. He also completed internships with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Justice (through the Harvard Law School semester in Washington, D.C., program), and the Sierra Club. During his time at HLS, he has also authored two law review articles and one case comment. His most recent article, due to be published in the Environmental Law Reporter this summer, considers whether it would be legal for the President to bind the United States to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by sole executive agreement.

Maya Harris

Harris served as the executive director of the ACLU of Northern California and Vice President for Democracy, Rights, and Justice at the Ford Foundation. She currently serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and is a Visiting Scholar at Harvard Law School in 2014. Her husband, Tony West, is the associate attorney general of the United States. Their daughter, Meena, graduated from Harvard Law School in 2012.