Reflections on my TCP Internship
  • Jan 7, 2014
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By Neel Lalchandani, former TCP intern

In January 2009, I took the Amtrak from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. to begin my “semester abroad.” As an eager college student who could barely tie a tie, I was excited to start my internship with The Constitution Project (TCP). As part of my program, I was supposed to intern three days week and take classes over the remaining two days. But early in the semester I decided to drop a class so that I could spend more time in the office. And I am glad that I did – almost five years later, my time at TCP remains one of the best work experiences I have ever had.

I was only an intern, but TCP respected my ideas and efforts. I became most involved with the organization’s work in combating torture: I remember obsessively tracking the constant stream of Guantanamo abuses and becoming outraged when I read the infamous Office of Legal Counsel memos. While some wanted to sweep past constitutional violations under the rug, TCP stayed vigilant, pushing for an independent commission to examine detainee treatment. I was entrusted with writing the first draft of Senate testimony on this issue, and I made my first (and only) C-SPAN appearance. I also engaged in criminal justice work, observing the Right to Counsel Committee compile Justice Denied, the most comprehensive report on indigent defense to date. Through this work, I saw the beauty of TCP’s mission: to fiercely advocate for our constitutional principles, regardless of political party or pressure.

More than simply enjoying the work, I came across incredible people. At the office, passionate attorneys and staff members served as mentors. Through the larger network, I met courageous people of all political leanings: individuals ranging from lawyers who represented detainees in habeas proceedings to officials who exposed wrongdoing. After seeing so many amazing advocates and realizing how much more there was to be done, I became committed to joining these individuals.

Now a second-year law student, I feel fortunate to have stayed connected.  TCP remains vigilant; this past April, I was thrilled to see the release of the Task Force on Detainee Treatment report. Recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Gideon decision this year, the organization remains one of the leading defenders of the constitutional right to an attorney. And it has been inspiring to see TCP proactively tackle new injustices, whether by advocating against indiscriminate wiretapping or forming a new committee on DNA collection.

These efforts remind me why I chose to pursue a legal career. As an attorney, I plan to pursue the values that underlie TCP’s work. Since my internship, I have been fortunate enough to study human rights in France, conduct research on police surveillance in the post-9/11 era, and will soon have the chance to work on hate crimes prosecutions. I am grateful for all of these opportunities. And I know that they are rooted in my experience with TCP five years ago.

The views expressed in this blog post are not necessarily those of TCP, its committees, or boards. 

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