We at Americans United were sad to say goodbye to Legal Fellows Bradley Girard and Carmen Green at the beginning of August when their two-year fellowship with AU came to an end. Both brought a wealth of legal knowledge and enthusiasm for church-state separation to our Legal Department.
Thankfully, two new legal fellows have joined us and are eager to support AU’s mission of advancing the constitutional principle of church-state separation as the only way to ensure freedom of religion, including the right to believe or not, for all Americans.
Alison Tanner and Claire L. Hillan are welcome additions to our team. They agreed to participate in this question-and-answer session so we can get to know them a little better. One thing I learned: They’d host great dinner parties, and I hope to score an invitation!
Hometown: San Jose, Calif.
Background: I received my B.A. in women’s studies and political science-public service, with a minor in writing, from the University of California, Davis. As an undergraduate I served as a student senator and advocated for the rights of pregnant and parenting students. Before law school, I spent about three years working as a legal assistant for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. I then went on the receive my J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, where I was a Public Interest Law Scholar and the editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law.
Why did you want to work at Americans United?: While working on reproductive rights issues, I tracked the contraception coverage cases very closely. When AU intervened on behalf of a group of female students in Notre Dame University’s challenge, I knew this was the type of creative impact litigation organization that I would love to work for.
What church-state separation issues particularly interest you?: I’m interested in the rising conflict between civil rights and claims of religious liberty – there is no justification for discrimination.
What guests would you invite to your dream dinner party and why?: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, French feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. A feminist party is my kind of party.
Claire Hillan (left) and Alison Tanner are the newest members of AU's legal team.
Claire L. Hillan
Hometown: East Village, New York City, N.Y.
Background: I earned an M.S. in government organization and leadership and my J.D. summa cum laude from Creighton University School of Law in 2015. I did my B.A. in political science-international relations magna cum laude at Queens College. During law school, I served as executive editor of the Creighton International and Comparative Law Journal, interned for a federal judge, worked full-time one semester at the Department of Justice Human Rights and Special Prosecutions section and participated in trial team. I passed the bar in Nebraska and went on to clerk for Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican of the Nebraska Supreme Court and then for Senior Judge Joseph F. Bataillon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.
Stuff you won’t find on my resume: I backpacked alone in Italy, I spent a year as a competitive weightlifter, I was featured on a Dutch reality TV program and my favorite place in NYC is in front of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Why did you want to work at Americans United?: After years of serving the public interest through neutral roles in government, I was eager to become an advocate. I wanted to use and improve the litigation and political skills I’ve gained to make a real impact in people’s lives and in our legal history. I’ve always had a strong drive to defend civil rights, and church-state law is very important to that end in our current political and judicial climate. I knew Americans United was where I belonged.
What church-state separation issues particularly interest you? I’m most interested in our Protect Thy Neighbor work. I want to advance policies that respect religion without allowing its adherents to subvert the tolerance and equality required under our laws and the Constitution.
What guests would you invite to your dream dinner party and why?: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Thomas Jefferson, Kurt Vonnegut, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami and all the central characters from “The West Wing” because I’m a huge nerd. Also, my dad’s parents and my mother’s grandparents so that I can ask them about their lives in Northern Ireland during The Troubles and in Russia during pogroms, respectively. Maybe that’s two different dinner parties, though.
If you’d like to hear more from Alison and Claire, they’ve already joined our senior legal fellows in Facebook Live videos that explain recent legal victories for AU. Claire and Andrew Nellis talked about the decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that affirmed a Washington public high school had the right to stop its football coach from leading students in prayer. And just this week, Alison and Kelly Percival outlined the settlement reached on behalf of a same-sex couple in West Virginia who was harassed by a county clerk when they applied for a wedding license.
Editor’s Note: The Wall of Separation blog will be on hiatus on Monday, Sept. 4, in observance of Labor Day. We’ll be back on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Enjoy the holiday!