James Henseler ’17
For the Defendant-Appellee/Cross-Appellant
As part of his coursework in Columbia Law School’s Appellate Advocacy seminar, James Henseler ’17 had the chance to stand before Professors Debra A. Livingston and Gerard E. Lynch ’75 to argue a pending U.S. Supreme Court case. The matter was made more real because Livingston and Gerard are also judges on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
Henseler argued on behalf of the state of Colorado, which, in Nelson v. Colorado, is defending a law that requires people to prove their innocence in a civil case to recover money paid in criminal fines, even if their conviction has already been reversed in the criminal system. According to legal experts who wrote about the actual argument in the case (which Henseler was not allowed to watch or review), Colorado is likely to lose. But, regardless of the final outcome, he said appearing in front of Livingston and Lynch, whom he called “fantastic,” was a great opportunity.
Making a case before a panel of judges is something Henseler has sought out throughout his time at Columbia Law School. As a first- and second-year student, he participated in the International Criminal Court Moot Court (placing third in his category at one point in his second year). This year, he returned as an assistant coach. Henseler also took part in the Foundation Moot Court program.
As a finalist in the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition, Henseler, along with fellow finalist Jeremy C. Beutler ’17, is defending a hypothetical governor who signed a law decriminalizing certain misdemeanor charges, including domestic violence, battery, assault, public drunkenness, and disorderly conduct. On the opposing side are the plaintiffs, who are domestic violence survivors. Henseler said he’s learned a lot in earlier rounds about representing less sympathetic clients.
“The feedback I got pretty consistently was that you have to fully represent your client, despite what you may think of them,” he said. “You can’t, through your body language or your voice, allow it to come through that you’re not especially a fan of your client.”
In addition to moot court, Henseler has been active in other aspects of campus life, as well. He is managing editor of the Columbia Journal of Asian Law and online editor of the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. Through the Center for Chinese Legal Studies, he researched criminal law as an intern for Zhicheng Public Interest Lawyers in Beijing between his first and second years at the Law School. He’s also participating in the Criminal Appeals Externship, in which students, under the supervision of attorneys at the Center for Appellate Litigation, have the opportunity to represent someone who has been convicted of a crime in a state court appeal.
In all his experiences, Henseler see opportunities to improve his lawyering skills. He sees his work in moot courts as a way to work on his oral and written advocacy. “Appearing before judges is a tremendous learning experience,” Henseler said. “One of the things that makes oral argument interesting is that you’re pretty much having a conversation with some of the most knowledgeable people you’ll ever meet.”