Last fall, the Center for Civil & Human Rights began operation with a mission to further the impact the Gonzaga University School of Law could have on both GU and Spokane. 

Jason Gillmer is the director of the Center for Civil & Human Rights and has outlined three ways it can achieve that impact. 

“We focus on three pillars to further our mission of helping serve the common good and furthering the dialogue and conversation in areas relating to Civil & Human Rights: research, education and community collaboration,” Gillmer said. 

On Thursday from noon-1 p.m. it will host Harvard professor John Kroger for a lecture entitled “The Fourth Amendment in the Age of Trump” in the Gonzaga School of Law Barbieri Courtroom. The event is open to students, faculty, staff and community members.

“With Dr. Kroger coming it fits both the research and the education parts [of the Center’s mission],” Gillmer said. “Any time you’ve got a speaker who is discussing significant issues around our constitutional and our civil rights that is something that all of us should be conscious of. These are our rights, they are our individual rights as citizens.”

From 2012 until 2018 Kroger served as president of Reed College, a small private college in Portland, Oregon, and is now a visiting professor at Harvard University. Before Reed, Kroger was the attorney general of Oregon, a member of Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign and a member of the United States Marine Corps. 

Earlier this year Dean of Gonzaga School of Law Jacob Rooksby met Kroger at a conference and found his thoughts on the evolution of the Fourth Amendment could be relevant to the GU community. Over the past year, immigration raids by U.S. Border Patrol have sparked controversy in Spokane.

“I thought it would be great to have him come to campus and talk about some of the trends and shifts he’s noticed," he said. "Searches have been in the news lately because of immigrants subjected to searches at Greyhound Bus Stations in Spokane so he’s also going to talk about that when he’s here.”

The Fourth Amendment in the U.S. Constitution grants citizen’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. For much of the amendment’s history it was concerned with physical spaces. For example, search warrants or probable cause to enter someone’s home.

Recently, Fourth Amendment case law has been concerned with the government interfering with non-physical property, like in 2013 when it was revealed the NSA was collected metadata from individual phone records.

While the inclusion of Trump in the title and Rooksby’s connection to the Greyhound bus controversy points to the lecture being about immigration searches, the Fourth Amendment has a broad application so it’s hard to guess what exactly Kroger will be touching on in his lecture.

One way to find out what else Kroger will be talking about is by listening to him, GU law and political science professor Cheryl Beckett points out.

“The Fourth Amendment’s interpretation by the court has certainly not kept up with the changing technology,” Beckett said, “But I’m not sure. We’re in such strange times I don’t know exactly what the lecture could be about. That means I’ll have to go to the lecture.”

Beckett teaches a class for the political science department called Constitutional Law: Civil Liberties and Rights. In the class Beckett underscores the importance of understanding the constitution from actually reading the document and reading the actual opinions from the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Both Gillmer and Rooksby pushed the importance of students attending Kroger’s lecture. They underscored the importance of knowing the rights granted to you as a citizen of the U.S. 

Clare Wilmes is a sophomore biology major who had a difficult time remembering what the Fourth Amendment entailed. 

“I’ve studied the constitution before, like in high school, but I don’t know the Fourth Amendment off the top of my head,” Wilmes said. 

But that did not stop Wilmes from being interested in Kroger’s lecture.

“I know sort of what the amendments are, but I couldn’t tell you what order they’re in,” said Wilmes, “I would be interested in an event to learn more.”

In her class Beckett pushes students to research information they hear from other sources and to try to find the primary source. She explained that she will be advocating for her students to attend the lecture.

“Hearing the popular impression of what constitutional rights are from the uninformed perpetuates disinformation,” Beckett said, “They should hear as much verified information about the constitution that they can get.”

Rooksby agreed.

“The Bill of Rights are guiding lights to how we live our lives and give us individual protection from the government. It’s important for students to learn if there’s been a change in interpretation for one of those rights what that means for civil rights,” Rooksby said.

Making contemporary opinions on all aspects of the law more accessible is part of what has driven the Center for Civil & Human Rights in its first year. With Kroger’s lecture, Gillmer hopes that students, even undergraduate students like Wilmes, will attend even if they don’t know much about the constitution.

“This lecture is designed for everybody,” Gillmer said. “You don’t have to be a law student or a lawyer to appreciate it.”

This year the Center has sponsored events with UMEC to bring Kimberle Crenshaw to campus to speak on intersectionality and hosted a “Real Talk” panel for prospective law school students. It also had John Charles Thomas — the first African-American to serve as a State Supreme Court Justice in Virginia — teach a class for a week at the law school. 

“Our Center for Civil & Human rights is off to a great start,” Rooksby said. “This is sort of the capstone of the season before we regroup for the next academic year where we’re working on some great events for the fall as well. We’re really happy to have this center and have it play such a flagship role in what we’re doing here at the law school.”

As its inaugural year comes to a close, Gillmer acknowledged the Center’s initial achievements but seemed more excited about what the future might hold. When reflecting on the past year, Gillmer hoped to continue the momentum from the Center’s events for the next.

“It’s been a really busy year,” Gillmer said. “Whenever you’re creating something new it’s both exciting and challenging. Exciting because you have all this energy and new ideas and possibilities. But it’s also challenging because you’re doing something completely new.”

The Center for Civil & Human Rights will host its final event of the 2018-19 school year this Thursday and Gillmer hopes to see individuals with a variety of prior law and political knowledge. It’s part of what the Center is trying to accomplish, he said.

“Sometimes law schools can be — intimidating isn’t the right word — but it can seem like a world that is hard to understand but we’re trying to break those barriers down,” Gillmer said.

Sean Price is a staff writer.

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