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Fulbright prof heading north

Barry Sullivan, JD, Cooney & Conway Chair in Advocacy and professor of law at Loyola’s School of Law, has been named a Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair in Legal Studies at the University of Alberta, and he will be abroad for this semester, instructing a course and conducting research.

Sullivan says the appointment is an honor, and that it is a “tremendous opportunity” as he has developed an interest in Canadian law. He says there is a misconception that the United States and Canada have a similar legal system, mostly stemming from the fact that they share a language.

“I think it was Churchill that said ‘We are two nations divided by a common language,'” he says. “I think this is very true between common-law countries. We don’t see the differences.”

Sullivan’s course and research will both center around comparative aspects of legal systems in English-speaking countries.  His course, titled “Reading Constitutions,” will first look at the different theories of constitutional interpretation in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom (UK) and then will look at case studies in how these theories have affected rulings on terrorism cases in all three countries.

His research project, titled “Access to Government Information in Democratic Societies,” will look at how the role of access to government information plays in the democratic process.  By studying and comparing case decisions in Ireland, Canada, the U.S., and UK, he hopes to find out whether access to government information is a constitutional right and how difficult it may be to gain that access. His research touches on important questions being faced today.

“One of the responses to terrorism has been to shut down the flow of information,” he says. “To what extent is that really necessary? What do we need to strike the appropriate balance between secrecy and what citizens really need to know?”

Sullivan says his interest in the subject stemmed from work he has been doing since he was in law school. Sullivan, who received his JD from the University of Chicago in 1974, started by assisting a law professor with research on freedom of information and worked on a Supreme Court case in the mid-1980s involving the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act.

More recently, he wrote the Amicus curiae brief for Hamdi vs. Rumsfeld on behalf of the American Bar Association.  The case granted habeus corpus (release from wrongful imprisonment) to Yaser Esam Hamdi, a U.S. and Saudi citizen, who was captured in Afghanistan and then detained in a South Carolina brig indefinitely for allegedly fighting for the Taliban, though there was little evidence against him. For Sullivan, writing this brief created a base of knowledge and interest in the cross-section of terrorism and law.

“I think that really this comes out of my interest in the pressure points put on our democratic system by the threat of terrorism and the response of governments to terrorism,” he says.

This isn’t Sullivan’s first time abroad. His resume spans far across the globe with a prior Fulbright position at the University of Warsaw, a position as visiting law fellow at the University of London, and a lecture engagement at Trinity College of Dublin. He says his international experience has helped him take a more objective look at the American legal system.

“I think particularly to teach students that are trained in a different legal tradition is really challenging and rewarding,” he says. “It really makes you think in a very fundamental way about things that American lawyers take for granted. Students ask you questions that go to some very fundamental things.”

To find out more about the Fulbright Canada program, click here to visit their website.

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