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Legislative Reform Projects Needing Student Participation

The Talsky Center is conducting, a continuing basis, two separate legislative reform projects in which MSU Law students are given opportunities to gain lawyering experience in and to contribute to the furtherance of human rights in the United States.

Students who are interested in taking advantage of either of these unique opportunities should contact Professor Susan Bitensky, director of the Talsky Center, at bitensky@law.msu.edu or 517-432-6898.

The projects are as follows:

  1. Project to Promote Enactment of State Legislation Requiring Schools to Teach Students About Genocide

    This project involves students, under the direct supervision of the Talsky Center’s director, in research for and drafting of proposed statutes requiring schools to teach students about genocide. The strategic plan is for the Center, on behalf of its clients, to submit proposed statutes seriatim in each legislature of the 45 states which do not presently require this type of education.

    The project got off the ground in 2014 when the Talsky Center undertook to represent an organization, Genocide and Holocaust Education Now, with respect to the latter’s quest to achieve this legislative reform in Michigan. If enacted as originally drafted, the statute would provide, among other things, that:

    1. During each of grades 6 through 12, the public and private schools of Michigan, will teach their students about genocide. The substance of this education will cover, but not be limited to, genocide’s causes; the course and conduct of some past genocides (including the Holocaust); the effects of genocide; and the international and American laws banning genocide; and
    2. There will be established a Michigan Commission on genocide (including the Holocaust). Its purpose will mainly be to provide assistance to the schools in fulfilling the education requirement described above.
  2. Project to Make It Feasible to Sue Corporations in State Court for Their Human Rights Abuses

    The Talsky Center has undertaken this project in collaboration with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) and EarthRights International. In so doing, MSU Law College has joined 14 other American law schools which are also participating, such as Harvard Law School, UCLA School of Law, and University of Virginia School of Law.

    The project is, in part, an attempt to undo some of the damage done by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, 133 S. Ct. 1659 (2013), which drastically limited the availability of actions under the Alien Tort Statute in federal court. Specifically, the decision made it close to impossible for victims of human rights violations perpetrated by corporations and occurring outside the United States, to seek redress against the corporations in federal court.

    The project is designed to identify and, if needed, create alternative causes of action in state court against corporations which engage in such extraterritorial human rights violations. The idea is to enable victims to obtain relief in state court for, say, assault and battery or wrongful death (as opposed to litigating torture, genocide, or war crimes in federal court).

    In light of our law school’s geographic location, the project at MSU Law will focus exclusively on accomplishing this legislative reform in Michigan. The project will enlist students in three successive phases of work:

    Phase 1: Students will research pertinent Michigan-law litigation issues, and will draft research memoranda and proposed legislation.

    Phase 2: Students will try to assess Michigan state legislators’ attitudes of receptivity or antipathy toward the proposed legislation, and will approach potential allies to introduce and support the bill.

    Phase 3: Students will participate in the effort to build a movement around the bill, and will work with other organizations to help garner support.

    In carrying out these phases, which will occur over the course of more than one semester, students will work under the direct supervision of Michelle Oliel, a United Nations attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, in the Hague, Netherlands. Thus, the immediate supervision of students will be conducted long-distance via skype, email, and telephone. Ms. Oliel will report to Professor Susan Bitensky, director of the Talsky Center.


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