What role did your time at the John Jay Institute play in leading you to pursue Law as a career?
Meredith Head: Truthfully, I applied to law school the fall before I started John Jay simply because I had no better ideas. Law seemed a stodgy, boring way to spend my time but I was a political science major in college so what else was there to do? It was JJI that showed me the importance of studying, upholding, and protecting the law, even in those legal careers that are not overtly public service oriented. JJI introduced and solidified the import of the law into my mind and instilled in me the desire to use the law responsibly for greater ends.
Karthik Venkatraj: JJI is one of the most formative experiences of my life. JJI’s focus on a faith-based approach to legal study was foundational to my desire to pursue legal studies. JJI also created a path for me to work on legislative items both as chief of staff for a state representative and state senator, which only furthered my interest to pursue a career in law. The fellowship was an incredible opportunity to connect with fellow believers and ask the time-honored question: What does the Bible teach us about a Christ-centered approach to the law? How does that look within the context of daily practice? As iron sharpens iron, these questions can only be answered by vigorous discussion and daily immersion in the Word. JJI was the premier forum for me to experience this critical discussion.
Anna Casey: On a basic level, JJI gave me the confidence to "dream big" about the law school application process. More, the academic component of JJI helped me appreciate how a legal education could be used as a tool to address complex social and political problems. There are no easy answers to the questions we discussed, but we did talk about responses, and a small devoted group of people can respond. JJI helped me appreciate my legal interest as a gift - to be used to the glory of God!
What is your sense of the import of your work? Why do you do what you do?
Anna Casey: I am a third-year law student at the University of Virginia School of Law, and, after graduation, I will serve as a judicial clerk for a year before returning to D.C. to practice law. As a law student, I believe I am called to be a good steward of all the opportunities I have been given. My "work" is studying hard, investing in my school's community, and soaking up insights provided by lectures, classes, and discussions. I am passionate about fostering relationships among fellow Christian law students. I invest in my legal education and in my legal community because I believe I still have so much to learn if I am going to be a good ambassador of the Church. I need the support of the Christian community as I enter the legal profession.
Meredith Head: There are hundreds of different directions a law degree can take you. The beautiful thing about law, however, is that even with its varied uses the law is truly the foundation of society - no ordered society can exist without it. In any area of law, working with integrity and intelligence reinforces the strength of the law and its place as the moderator of our civilization.
Karthik Venkatraj: At this point, my hope is to continue to serve our nation through the legal realm. I will be clerking for Judge Margaret Ryan on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C. after law school. My intent is to work in either the Department of Justice or within federal law enforcement after my clerkship. My parents’ narrative shaped my desire to serve. My parents came to our nation as penniless immigrants with a suitcase and a hundred dollars to their name. They settled in a one bedroom of a shared apartment in Brooklyn. My father carried x-rays and cleaned cages in a veterinary clinic, while my mother worked as a nurse’s aide. In ten years, they had worked from minimum wage jobs to graduate degrees. Through their struggle and sacrifice, I witnessed the meaning of hard work and dedication. Most powerful of all, I witnessed the meaning of the American dream. My parents communicated their narrative to my brothers and I, reminding us that their story could happen in no other nation. So, they told us: “Give back to the country that has given our family so much.” This simple but powerful statement has defined my life and the lives of my younger brothers. After the September 11th attacks on our nation, it became clear that this call would be manifested in both defending our nation and upholding our nation’s laws. After returning from a combat deployment to Iraq with my National Guard unit, my path has turned from a more traditional big law firm trajectory to continued service in defense of our nation, upholding the rule of law, and continuing to advocate for veterans’ issues.
What is the biggest threat to our legal system today and why? What can be improved?
Karthik Venkatraj: I think the biggest threat to the legal system is similar to the biggest threat to our nation — the loss of the family structure. If we do not have all facets of our society — including the judicial system — cognizant and working towards supporting families, we will quickly fall apart as a society and nation. Improvements can be made within criminal law in creating specialty courts like veteran trauma courts that seek to keep families united and work at rehabilitation for certain crimes.
Anna Casey: I am not sure I can describe the biggest threat to our legal system today, but I can say this: the future of religious liberty is at risk. I have studied the legal obstacles to protecting religious minorities, and I have experienced the "public sphere" obstacles. As a soon-to-be lawyer, I feel called to make the case to my peers that religious freedom is a social good. It leads to societal flourishing. I hope to make the case for not only an "entitlement" to religious freedom but also that religious liberty is good for all of us, regardless of our persuasion.
Meredith Head: I believe the biggest threat is distrust of the system. Law is the foundation of our civilization and distrust is the rot that slowly causes it to crumble. I wish I could pinpoint where it came from and how to fix it but the causes are too numerous and the supposed solutions always seem to pale in comparison. The only way I know to fix it is exactly what John Jay did for me: we must recognize and encourage people of principle and integrity to pursue careers as attorneys, judges, and even courtroom administrative staff. Lasting change will come slow and steady.
Karthik Venkatraj serves as the President of the Student Bar Association, and was selected as an Executive Editor for the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy Symposium Issue. He was selected as one of ten Veterans of Foreign Wars-Student Veterans of America Legislative Fellows, and his research proposal for an executive management fellowship with the VA was incorporated in a bill (HR 1367). This bill passed unanimously through the House Veteran Affairs Committee and will come for a vote with the entire House of Representatives within this session. Last semester, he was President of the Military Law Society and was Managing Editor of the University of Colorado Law Review. He has interned on the Colorado Supreme Court as well as for the Colorado Solicitor General. Karthik is serving in the Army National Guard and completed a combat tour in Iraq. Prior to law school, Karthik was Chief of Staff to a Colorado State Senator and Stat Representative. He is a proud member of the John Jay Institute Class of 2010. He will clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C. after law school.
After her time at the John Jay Institute, Meredith Head returned to her home state and graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law in 2015. During law school, she worked as an intern in the domestic violence and sexual assault unit of the DeKalb County District Attorney's Office and, after graduation, as an apprentice in the office's general trial unit. She then managed the successful campaign for a DeKalb County ADA, and former supervisor, running for Superior Court judge in Atlanta. She is currently working in civil litigation as an associate at the Breault Law Firm in Athens, Georgia.
Anna Casey is a third year student at the University of Virginia School of Law.