MFIA Welcomes 2023–24 Craig Newmark Fellow Tobin Raju
The Media Freedom and Information Access (MFIA) clinic at Yale Law School is excited to welcome Tobin Raju as its Craig Newmark fellow for 2023–24. Raju joins MFIA from the First Amendment clinic at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.
Raju’s first exposure to the First Amendment and media law issues came during college at the University of California San Diego, where the experience of taking a First Amendment course caused him to change his plans from pursuing a career in biochemistry to becoming a lawyer.
In the summer of 2014, Black teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St Louis. Raju started law school at WashU that fall, as the city came together in protest against the killing. The experience of taking part in those protests cemented his appreciation for the importance of the First Amendment in action.
“While taking part in the protests, I realized how the First Amendment really facilitates an engaged citizenry,” recalled Raju. “That’s when I really came to appreciate the importance of defending it across the country.”
After law school, Raju joined the law firm Cahill, Gordon & Reindell LLP, where he worked on First Amendment and media litigation issues. There, he defended The New York Times and the New York Post against defamation actions and had the opportunity to work with notable attorneys in media law.
When Raju heard that his alma mater was hiring a clinical fellow for its new First Amendment clinic, it was a natural next step. Raju loved the experience of being in a clinic in law school and was eager to return to the clinical setting.
“I think clinics are incredibly valuable to both the students and the community,” said Raju. “They bridge the gap between the institution and the community in which the institution sits and I think that’s important.”
In 2021, he began work on the First Amendment clinic’s wide-ranging docket, including on public access to court records, public records requests on behalf of journalists, representing individuals whose First Amendment rights have been violated and claims against civil rights violations under Section 1983.
In one notable case, the clinic represented protestors whose protests had been repeatedly shut down by a municipal police department as unlawful assemblies. The clinic argued that the protests didn’t meet the statutory definition of an unlawful assembly and the police department’s actions violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Ultimately, even though clinic was not successful on appeal, it was an important experience for Raju.
“It was important,” Raju reflected, “to push back on efforts by municipalities to shrink civil rights and not shy away from making arguments even though a court might be not entirely receptive to them. That’s what it often feels like to argue cases in certain jurisdictions, but it’s still critical to push forward and do what you can to advance your client’s interests and those coming after them too.”
Raju will join MFIA in July as the clinic’s Craig Newmark fellow, generously supported by Craig Newmark Philanthropies. Like previous Newmark fellows Rachel Davidson and Michael Linhorst, Raju will be a core team member in advancing the clinic’s mission of government transparency and accountability.
With its commitment to the First Amendment and media law issues, MFIA will be familiar territory for Raju but with its own unique docket that he is looking forward to immersing himself in.
Raju is particularly interested in the clinic’s ongoing work on algorithmic accountability. “Technology has had incredible impacts on our democracy and how the citizenry interacts with government institutions,” he said. “The First Amendment is a critical area in an era and time where technology is changing how we communicate, how we gather and collect information.”
He is also happy that this position will allow him to continue working as a clinical educator. “I really value clinical education and am interested in clinical pedagogy,” he reflected. “The dynamic between having students advance the interests of your clients and also help them develop as effective advocates is rewarding.”
Raju added that MFIA’s work is important because it advances interests for non-profit and journalistic clients who may not otherwise have access to that kind of representation. “I am very excited to be part of that mission,” he concluded.
The Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic (MFIA) is a law student clinic dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression by providing pro bono legal services, pursuing impact litigation and developing policy initiatives.