Students Win Prizes for Law School Papers


Student Experience After Law School Students

Earlier this year, Michael P. Bellis (JD ’23) and Kathleen Naccarato (JD ’24), two Northwestern Pritzker School of Law students, won awards for submitting the best papers in their respective Law School programs.

 Michael P. Bellis (JD ’23)

“Structural Direct Democracy”

In the wake of Dobbs, states have increasingly turned to direct democracy—namely, the ballot initiative and referendum—to safeguard individual rights. This dynamic, however, has played out before: As a wealth of primary source material from the Progressive Era confirms, many states first enacted their direct democracy regimes in response to popular dissatisfaction with the courts. Bellis’ paper is the first to uncover the relationship between the counter majoritarian courts of the Lochner era and states’ initial adoption of direct democracy in all its rich historical depth.

“Giving the people a direct voice on matters of critical importance is, as a historical matter, a natural extension of the checks and balances baked into the American system,” Bellis says. “What’s more, direct democracy can work to resolve clear and growing misallocations of the separation of powers by returning them to where that power originates in the first place — with the people.”

Professor Xiao Wang was the senior research supervisor for Bellis’ paper, which won the Raoul Berger Prize. The award was established in 1990 through the generosity of Raoul Berger (JD ’35), providing an annual monetary prize to a Northwestern Pritzker Law student who submits the best paper in the Senior Research Program.

Kathleen Naccarato (JD ’24)

“Private Patrolling at the Boundaries of Public Duty”

In the shadow of contemporary debates over police functions, funding, and accountability, a new form of preventative policing has proliferated. Improvement districts, most commonly associated with downtown revitalization efforts, increasingly serve a new purpose — crime control. Communities dissatisfied with public police services have found that they may leverage improvement district tax revenues to hire off-duty police officers to patrol their neighborhoods.

This trend has been controversial. Critics argue that these semi-private, semi-public police patrols create a two-tier public safety system, allowing wealthy residents to purchase powers privately that belong to the public.

Naccarato’s paper critically examines improvement district-sponsored policing through the lens of anti-corruption law. She notes that while American law prohibits officials from privately profiting from their public powers, the historically blurry line between public and private policing has frustrated attempts to categorize the actions of off-duty officers as pursuant to public power. Yet, many distinctions courts rely upon when classifying off-duty officers as private actors do not exist when those officers work for an improvement district. Naccarato’s paper contends that improvement district-sponsored policing violates state anti-corruption laws by enabling off-duty officers and security companies to profit privately from their public powers.

“This project was particularly meaningful to me as a native St. Louisan,” she says. “St. Louis plays a large role in the piece and is, in many ways, ground zero nationally for thinking about the policing we have and the policing we want. I really cherished the opportunity to participate in that conversation.”

Naccarato received the Barnet & Scott Hodes Prize, established in 1962 through the generosity of Barnet Hodes (JD ’21). This annual monetary prize is awarded to the Northwestern Pritzker Law student who writes the best paper on an aspect of the law of local government.

“I am extremely grateful to Professor [Nadav] Shoked,” says Naccarato. “This paper is a culmination of conversations we’ve been having for nearly two years about the public/private dichotomy, policing, and local government law. Those conversations transformed how I see my hometown. They also accelerated my growth as a student and a soon-to-be lawyer.”