UVA Law School relaunches First Amendment Clinic

Charlottesville, Va. – The Board of Trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression has decided to donate the Center’s assets of over $1 million to relaunch the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law. The clinic will be taught by attorneys at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a national non-profit based in Washington, D.C., that provides free legal services to journalists. The Thomas Jefferson Center’s other activities will be concluded.

The Thomas Jefferson Center is a non-profit, nonpartisan institution in Charlottesville. Its founding director was the late Robert M. O’Neil, former UVA President, Law School professor and longtime director of the First Amendment Clinic. The UVA First Amendment Clinic is one of the oldest of its kind in the country and had been on a brief hiatus.

Bruce W. Sanford, chair of the Thomas Jefferson Center’s Board and a prominent First Amendment lawyer at Baker Hostetler in Washington, D.C., said, “The relaunching of a well- funded First Amendment Clinic operated by UVA Law School and taught by the Reporters Committee continues the Thomas Jefferson Center’s longstanding relationship with both organizations and promises to provide a lasting legacy for the Center’s mission and work.”

“From its inception, the Thomas Jefferson Center’s mission was to advance First Amendment advocacy,” said Mr. Sanford. “Our Board believed that a growing engine of that advocacy is clinical education, and that it was time to focus the use of the Center’s assets on a revived First Amendment Clinic at UVA Law, powerfully strengthened by a partnership with the Reporters Committee.”

UVA Law School Dean Risa Goluboff said the school has long been an important center of First Amendment scholarship and clinical education.

“The First Amendment Clinic will teach the next generation of lawyers and advocates to advance these crucial values, and we are grateful to the Thomas Jefferson Center for its support,” she said.

Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee and co-director of the Clinic from 2010 to 2017, said, “We are excited to provide crucial needs-based legal help to journalists and documentarians throughout the region. At the same time, we are grateful to the board of the Thomas Jefferson Center for creating new opportunities for us around First Amendment scholarship and educational programming by tying us even more tightly to UVA Law School.”

Read UVA Law School’s release.

Founded in 1989 with endowing gifts from Thomas E. Worrell, Jr., his family and other donors, the Thomas Jefferson Center’s programmatic activities were devised by its founding director, Professor O’Neil. They included a wide range of initiatives aimed at deepening public understanding of First Amendment values. For instance, the Thomas Jefferson Center administered the annual Jefferson Muzzles awards, bestowed on government officials and others who had tried to stifle free expression; another award named after the late Justice William F. Brennan, Jr. for distinguished service to the First Amendment; and a partnership with the Ford Foundation called “Difficult Dialogues” about free speech on campus.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was founded by leading journalists and media lawyers in 1970 when the nation’s news media faced an unprecedented wave of government subpoenas forcing reporters to name confidential sources. Today, its attorneys provide pro bono legal representation, file “friend-of-the-court” briefs in major media law cases, and produce other legal resources to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists.