Faculty Focus

Gillian E. Metzger ’95

Federalism

Professor Gillian E. Metzger ’95 examines how federalism issues can impact the success of high-stakes legislation

By Mary Johnson

Fall 2011

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Professor Gillian E. Metzger ’95 embodies the role of a heady academic. Widely known as one of the top young scholars specializing in constitutional law, she publishes extensively, speaks at myriad conferences, and crafts engaging lectures. Both in the hushed offices of Jerome Greene Hall, as well as in classrooms lively with student discussion, Metzger seems right at home. But she also has a keen eye focused on issues well beyond the borders of Morningside Heights, and her work examining controversial, of-the-moment issues being debated in Washington, D.C., has drawn a notable amount of attention.

Metzger’s most recent law review article, “Federalism Under Obama,” analyzes several mainstays of the president’s domestic policy initiatives, including the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Those two seemingly divergent laws share an element of administrative law that caught Metzger’s interest: Both sweeping federal measures left a great deal of implementation and enforcement responsibility to the states.

“These are federal measures, but a key is that they are federal measures in the service of progressive policy,” explains Metzger. “There was a lesson learned under the Bush administration that states and localities can be good mechanisms for progressive policy implementation.”

Metzger’s article, which will appear in the November 2011 issue of William and Mary Law Review, follows on the heels of numerous well-received scholarly works, including articles on federalism published in the January 2011 and March 2010 issues of the Columbia Law Review. And those pieces represent only a portion of Metzger’s extensive work on administrative and constitutional law.

This summer, she joined her Law School colleague and mentor Peter Strauss, along with co-authors Todd Rakoff and Cynthia Farina, to produce the upcoming 11th edition of Gellhorn and Byse’s Administrative Law casebook, a task that came with some unexpected perks.

“[Working on the casebook was] quite good for teaching,” she says, “because you really have to think about the material you cover and learn it in a different way.”

Teaching is a particularly important pursuit for the Columbia Law School alumna. As a student, Metzger gravitated to the field of public law—a nascent interest fueled by Professor Henry Paul Monaghan, who, she says, continues to challenge her legal acumen.

“He’s one of the rare and true mentors in academia,” Metzger says, pausing momentarily in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to quantify Monaghan’s contributions to her work. “I don’t know how many drafts of my articles he reads.”

Metzger, predictably, also holds her own as a mentor to her students. “The material I teach tends to be dense and difficult,” she admits. “Seeing students understand how the pieces fit together is really gratifying.” This fall, Metzger will draw from her experience as both student and teacher when she begins serving as the Law School’s vice dean for intellectual life. It is a new and exciting challenge for her, and she welcomes the chance to foster faculty-student interactions.

Whether organizing a faculty lunch series as vice dean, writing an amicus brief, or participating in a panel discussion, Metzger is always searching for the next important issue destined to shape the legal areas in which she specializes.

“One of the great things about what I teach is that the fields are constantly developing,” she says. “The one thing I don’t run out of are new issues to get intrigued by and to study, whether in the form of an article, book, or through practical governance projects.”

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