A Conversation with David A. Carrillo

David A. Carrillo
May 31, 2016

David A. Carrillo joined the Berkeley Law faculty as the founding Executive Director of the California Constitution Center in 2012. He also serves on the National Advisory Council at the Institute of Governmental Studies.  Here, David introduces the California Constitution Center, its activities, and his forthcoming projects.

Please introduce the California Constitution Center.

It is the only academic center exclusively devoted to studying the California constitution and the state’s high court. The center’s primary purpose is to generate scholarship on the California constitution; to that end, we teach classes, organize events and conferences, and publish. The center has an internal focus at Berkeley Law, in that we provide study, fellowship, and publishing opportunities for students. It also has an external focus: to increase awareness of the state constitution and to inspire others to study it.

What is your role as Executive Director? 

I sometimes describe my role as “circus ringmaster” to capture the reality that the center is a loose fellowship of interested parties, with me as coordinator. I think this project only succeeds as a group effort.

As a center director I personally do a number of things in any given week: teaching, writing, and the nebulous “center directing” tasks. The center has several moving parts, and my success metric is maintaining all of them at a constant low boil.

I prefer to work with a team, so generally I teach and write with one or more colleagues. Center events always involve other entity partners. The more people that get involved, the more ambassadors the state constitution gains. 

Do you have any notable conferences or projects coming up?

The next big event is a conference on the California Supreme Court in January 2017. The center has presented this conference in the past, and it is all hands on deck. Student involvement is important to me and to the court. I’m planning for 300 in the audience, and a third of them will be students. Hastings Law and a number of student groups are lined up as event partners. The conference will be combined with a California constitutional law seminar in the spring semester.

Can you talk a bit about your classes?

Spring semester 2016 the center held a seminar on California government, and ran a special project with teams of students from Berkeley Law and Davis Law. The project was to prepare a revised draft of the Political Reform Act for the California Fair Political Practices Commission. 

Over the last few semesters several of the center’s fellows presented a practitioner-style writing class. By that I don’t mean teaching first-years how to write like a lawyer. It’s advanced, practitioner-level writing, not a typical law school writing class. The class was a tough sell because it’s not the typical law school writing course, but the fact that it’s been waitlisted every semester proves there’s high demand for realistic skills instruction. 

What led you to pursue an LL.M and J.S.D? 

I came across a California constitutional issue one day and started researching it. I had trouble finding anything useful, which would not have been true if it were the federal constitution. A bit later I was in a career position to take some time to become a better lawyer. I wanted to be smarter, so I went back to school to try to think big thoughts.

I needed a topic for the LL.M thesis and came back to that California constitutional issue. The scope of work expanded for the J.S.D. dissertation, a few things got published, a few classes were taught. Somewhere in that process my advisors and I thought that we might make more of this. Maybe it needed a research center.

What do you enjoy the most about the work that you do?

The brilliant colleagues I get to work with, no contest. The center only succeeds as a team effort, and the center fellows are simply the best people. Law school can be very isolating: academics tend to work alone, students study alone. But practice nearly always involves working with others, it’s more collaborative than combative. Turns out that’s something I like and miss about practice, so teams are the center’s method. It’s been very successful. The students working on the FPPC project felt that the team collaboration dynamic was one of the best things about the experience.

What are some of the challenges you face?

There’s a critical mass issue: those who think about the California constitution care about it passionately, but they are few in number. My idea for the center was to shine a light on the state constitution and inspire more people to think about it. And that has happened. But the center and the ongoing effort to understand our state charter will only succeed with more involvement. No one person can know everything about the California constitution. It needs a deep bench of thinkers all working to paint in the canvas.

Another challenge is the divide between academia, the bench, and the bar. Without all three elements working in concert to advance our thinking, the law is missing something essential. The profession was more closely integrated in the past, but that hasn’t been true for many years. So an important center function is to unite all three elements in concerted study, at least in this one area. 

What have done with, or with the assistance, of IGS?

IGS has been instrumental to the center’s success in several important ways. The center is partly modeled on IGS, and the success both have shown with their group effort models is proof of the concept. On the operational side IGS has been involved in a number of center projects, and IGS has been an excellent working partner. Jack, Ethan, and I have written things together. IGS has partnered in events. And the FPPC project came about because of an IGS board member. If I could identify one key institutional partner it would be IGS, because the center has done more and better things with IGS than with anyone else.