A few years ago, Emily Howie ’12 LL.M. was working at a top commercial litigation firm in Australia when an intriguing pro bono case landed on her desk. A female prisoner was fighting for her right to vote in federal elections, despite a law banning inmates from casting ballots at the polls. Howie, a Melbourne native now ensconced in Morningside Heights while working toward an LL.M., joined the plaintiff’s legal team in arguing before the country’s highest court.
The case, which Howie refers to as one of the most intellectually stimulating undertakings of her career, resulted in Australia’s High Court ruling that the ban constituted a violation of prisoners’ rights. “It established a very important precedent,” Howie says.
The experience inspired Howie to transition from commercial litigation into public law. She joined the Human Rights Law Centre, a Melbourne-based NGO, as a staff attorney in January 2009, working on cases involving indefinite detention of immigrants, reproductive rights, and police brutality.
Currently on a leave of absence from the organization, Howie says her legal studies—including her participation in the Law School’s Human Rights Clinic—have provided a broader understanding of the human rights movement. She plans on returning to Australia to help the NGO community there build its capacity to produce salient research on human rights abuses.
Howie does not hide her passion for human rights issues, though she demurs at the suggestion that altruism alone precipitated her shift into public law. “It’s something that I really enjoy,” she says. “In some ways, I work for really selfish reasons, because I think my new job is the best job I could have.”