Graduate Scholar Talk - May 26, 2020

The Constitutional Tort System

Speaker: Noah Smith-Drelich, JD, Columbia Law School

The 2016 construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline galvanized the largest gathering of North American tribes in at least a century. The police response to this movement was severe, resulting in hundreds of injuries, over 800 arrests, and the closure of the primary road into and out of the Standing Rock Reservation. To date, three federal civil rights cases have been filed seeking redress. In this talk, Noah Smith-Drelich, an academic fellow at Columbia Law School and lead counsel in one of these cases, Thunderhawk v. County of Morton, used the Standing Rock litigation to illustrate a number of questions and challenges raised by constitutional litigation. What do we seek to accomplish by allowing private actors to sue the government for constitutional wrongdoing? In what ways do these suits succeed and in what ways do they fail when it comes to protecting speech, religious exercise, and other constitutional rights and liberties?

Noah Smith-Drelich is an Academic Fellow at Columbia Law School. He writes primarily at the intersection of tort law, civil procedure, and health law, examining the influences of substantive and procedural law on individual behavior.