Since its founding two years ago, the Robertson Center for Constitutional Law has played a key role in landmark Supreme Court decisions.
When Regent University’s School of Law established the Robertson Center for Constitutional Law in 2020, the goal was to advance America’s first principles, including limited government, originalism, separation of powers, and religious liberty. Fast forward two years, and this academic center—that pairs scholarship and advocacy—is already making a historical impact on landmark Supreme Court cases.
“There has never been a better time to be a conservative, constitutional litigator. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunities,” says Brad Lingo, dean of Regent University School of Law and the first executive director of the Robertson Center for Constitutional Law. “We launched the Center to do three things. One, train the next generation of advocates. Two, be a beacon of light to the legal academy. Three, influence the broader culture. The way we do that is by pairing scholarship and advocacy from a conservative Christian perspective. That’s really what makes our Center unique.”
Lingo adds that students can receive real-life experience and training by working on cutting-edge matters of constitutional law. Since its founding, the Robertson Center has already represented former members of Congress, Christian ministries, and others in seven briefs before the United States Supreme Court and federal appellate courts.
On July 28, 2021, the Center partnered with the Christian Legal Society and the late Judge Kenneth Starr to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Dobbs was the most significant abortion-related case since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalized the procedure nationwide in 1973.
The Robertson Center’s second of four amicus briefs before the Supreme Court argued that states should be allowed to craft abortion policy through the democratic process rather than through the courts. In the Dobbs decision, the justices ruled 6-3 that a Mississippi law prohibiting most abortions after 15 weeks was constitutional, overturning Roe v. Wade.
“This was a generational victory for the pro-life movement and the rule of law,” Lingo insists. “In the Dobbs case, we wrote the amicus brief and then wrote a scholarly article on some of the same topics. Our academic work helps reinforce and give credibility to our advocacy, and our advocacy work feeds into our scholarship. In all of that, a really important, underlying thing we’re trying to do is train students. They’re getting an up-close look working with us.”
The Center is named in honor of Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson, Regent University’s founder, chancellor and CEO. For more than half a century, the Yale Law School graduate has served as a strong, vocal advocate for religious freedom and the rule of law around the world.
“Regent University School of Law was established to train leaders to defend our Constitution and the principles upon which our nation was founded,” Robertson said in 2020. “The creation of the Center is one more step toward fulfilling that mission.”
In addition to serving as the Center’s executive director for the past two years, Lingo is a Regent Law faculty member and was named the 2022 Professor of the Year by the university’s student bar association. In June, the Harvard Law School graduate was appointed dean of the School of Law. This fall, new Regent Law Professor Erin Morrow Hawley joined the Robertson Center as a senior fellow.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for Regent students to contribute to the legal and academic debate,” Hawley told Impact. “I think there’s a huge need for law schools like Regent that focus, not only on academic excellence but also on equipping Christians to live out their calling as attorneys, lawyers and policymakers.”
In addition to her new roles at Regent, Hawley serves as senior counsel to the appellate team at Alliance Defending Freedom and as senior legal fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. She also holds impressive academic credentials and has litigated extensively before the Supreme Court.
“It’s fantastic to be able to teach students and especially to be invested in the Center, where they get hands-on experience in crafting and making arguments and making an impact on the legal system and on court cases,” Hawley said.
In addition to submitting four amicus briefs to the Supreme Court and three to lower federal appellate courts since its founding, the Robertson Center also has published five scholarly articles in respected law journals. And, through the Center’s internship program, Lingo, Hawley, and others are mentoring the next generation of attorneys who will defend the rights and principles enshrined in the Constitution.
“It has been an incredible learning experience to observe leading Christian constitutional lawyers strategize and craft a Supreme Court brief,” says Gabrielle Bruno (LAW ’23), a third-year student at Regent Law and Center intern. “My experience with the Center has deepened my understanding of appellate advocacy and sparked a passion for getting more involved in this work.”
Bruno adds, “The Center works tremendously hard to impact our country and influence our culture while simultaneously providing unique educational opportunities for the students at Regent’s School of Law.”
“This kind of academic environment—working on important constitutional issues and writing amicus briefs before courts of appeals and the Supreme Court—was really exciting to me,” says Alex Touchet (LAW ’22), a former intern who will serve as a fellow for the Robertson Center this fall.
The Robertson Center for Constitutional Law is providing opportunities for Regent Law students like Bruno and Touchet to get real-world, firsthand experience working on Supreme Court and appellate court briefs.
“I think the Robertson Center is just going to be able to build upon the success it has enjoyed in a short time period under Lingo’s leadership,” Hawley predicts. “We’re going to continue to present the courts with really strong arguments on why religious liberty, in particular, is one of the core, and fundamental, promises of the First Amendment. That amendment—and its protection of both free speech and religious liberty—allow us to have all of the other freedoms and protections in the Bill of Rights.”
Lingo, who litigated pro bono and religious-liberty cases while in private practice, acknowledges that additional financial support is needed to continue university-led scholarship and advocacy to preserve, protect and uphold the Constitution.
“We’ve earned the respect of many in the religious-liberties bar. That’s been a successful phase one,” he explains. “For phase two, I would like to see us grow. What we’ve learned over the past two years is that there’s a tremendous need for this sort of work. There are not many people or organizations that are willing and able to participate in high-profile, religious-liberties matters. Our Center has demonstrated that we can do it right.”