Quill Winners Explore Visa Adjudications and Limits of Public Trust Doctrine

Congratulations to 3Ls Cain Oulahan and Gabe Johnson-Karp, the winners of this year’s Gold and Silver Quill Awards, respectively.  The Quill Awards recognize the top two student comments published in the Marquette Law Review.

Cain’s comment is “The American Dream Deferred: Family Separation and Immigrant Visa Adjudications at U.S. Consulates Abroad.”  He explores the tension between the general preference in American law in favor of keeping families together and some specific requirements of immigration law that can break families apart for many years while a parent or spouse seeks to obtain a visa from an American consulate abroad.  As Cain puts its,

This problem arose with the creation by Congress in 1996 of what are known as the unlawful presence bars to admission.  After more than ten years since the passage of the unlawful presence bars, it is now appropriate to look closely at their impact and examine whether they constitute sound public policy. This Comment argues that they do not. This Comment explains how the system puts families through unnecessary and unjustifiable hardship by imposing a punishment that is disproportionate to the seriousness of the immigration violation. This Comment points to the lack of evidence that the unlawful presence bars significantly deter illegal immigration, and the fact that they tear families apart or force them to move abroad. For these reasons, this Comment recommends that Congress make sensible changes that will promote family unity while imposing penalties that are more proportionate to the seriousness of the immigration violation.

Gabe’s comments is “That the Waters Shall Be Forever Free: Navigating Wisconsin’s Obligations Under the Public Trust Doctrine and the Great Lakes Compact.”  Gabe grapples with a local issue that may set an important precedent with national and even international significance: Waukesha’s efforts to obtain access to drinking water from Lake Michigan.  More specifically, Gabe considers how Wisconsin’s public trust doctrine might be applied to the issue.  Here is his abstract:

The implementation of the Great Lakes Compact stands to be a true “watershed” event in the protection of water resources in and around the Great Lakes. Nowhere is the administration of the Compact and its narrow exceptions more relevant now than in Wisconsin, where the city of Waukesha is preparing to submit the first request for an out-of-basin diversion under the Compact. The contentiousness of Waukesha’s diversion request is amplified by Wisconsin’s long tradition of strong natural resource protections, particularly by the operation of the public trust doctrine. That doctrine has been liberally construed, and extends protections to the public’s right to use waters of the state for numerous purposes, including navigation, recreation, fishing, and even for the enjoyment of natural beauty.

Given the broad scope of the public trust, however, officials and residents of water-poor Waukesha could assert that the doctrine guarantees access to the waters of the state for the purpose of securing safe drinking water. If the public trust doctrine is construed to ensure access for drinking water, then, under the Compact, a denial of a diversion for Waukesha would be in derogation of those state-based water rights; the Compact, however, explicitly disavows any such interference with state water rights. Thus, as the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources prepares to address Waukesha’s pending application and Wisconsin courts continue to define the scope of the public trust, interested parties await resolution of this potential conflict, which stands to address whether, and how, Wisconsin’s waters will remain “forever free.”

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