Balancing civil liberties and national security in a new Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic


“The cases that we take are the texts that we teach from.” - Jonathan Manes

As a student at Yale Law School, Jonathan Manes worked and studied in two legal services clinics: a Community Lawyering Clinic that provided general legal services in an immigrant neighborhood in New Haven, and a National Security and Civil Liberties Clinic.

The experience, he says, has stayed with him.

“That was where I first learned how to practice law,” says Manes, who came to the School of Law to establish the new Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic. “I learned about the judgment a lawyer must exercise, the strategy that goes into any representation, the complex dynamics between lawyer and client. I learned that cases don’t arrive on a silver platter – you have to investigate facts and craft a strategy that serves the clients’ objectives. All of this became vivid working in the clinics. The experience of representing a client for the first time was both empowering and humbling.”

Manes has research interests in the eternal tension between civil liberties and national security. He worked for two years in New York City with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, litigating cases challenging post-9/11 national security policies, including aspects of military detention, targeted killings, and airport security. He also spent two-years as a public interest fellow at Gibbons P.C., a large Newark, N.J. firm, litigating civil rights cases, including an appeal establishing the public’s constitutional right to record police officers. Following those experiences, he returned to Yale Law, where he helped run the school’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic for three years and supervised students in the Veterans Legal Services Clinic.

At UB, Manes direct the Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic, with a portfolio that includes civil liberties and government transparency issues, especially involving national security, veterans’ issues, and technology and privacy concerns.

He talks with grassroots groups, journalists, as well as regional and national advocacy organizations about the issues the clinic might work on most profitably from its home base in Western New York.

He hopes that clinic students can give nonprofits and journalists the legal support they need to do government accountability work. That might mean representing reporters or advocacy organizations in Freedom of Information Act filings or other transparency litigation. “Many reporters can no longer persuade their editors or managers to cover the costs of litigation,” he says, “so they are less able to pry information loose and hold institutions accountable.” He hopes to build on the work of the Yale clinic he helped lead, which has won major victories challenging government secrecy on issues including electronic surveillance, federal prison practices, and international trade negotiations.

Manes also hopes the clinic will handle civil rights cases, particularly on national security and veterans issues. “I envision this clinic taking on systemic problems that veterans face dealing with the military and other bureaucracies,” he says. “That could include anything from problems accessing benefits through to data privacy concerns.”

The work could well have implications beyond Western New York. Manes notes that his students in the Yale veterans clinic took on the cause of veterans who received “bad paper” discharges from the military as a result of undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. The military boards with authority to upgrade these less-than-honorable discharges had been systematically turning away veterans with PTSD.

Clinic students filed a federal class action lawsuit and advocated in Washington D.C. on behalf of individual affected veterans, the Vietnam Veterans of America, and a local veterans organization. Ultimately, the military agreed to overhaul how it handles applications from veterans with PTSD.

A similar opportunity, he says, might present itself in Buffalo.

Teaching in a clinic, he says, means using a different kind of textbook. “The cases that we take are the texts that we teach from,” Manes says. “That’s the course material. We ask the students to take the lead on every aspect of their cases, and each step is closely supervised. It’s a very practical kind of teaching, and I find it extraordinarily rewarding.”