Chris Murray '07

April 30, 2007Duke Law News

Chris Murray ’07 claimed a piece of Duke Law history on Jan. 30, as the first student to argue a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. A student in the School’s new Appellate Litigation Clinic, Murray presented oral arguments before a three-judge panel on behalf of North Carolina inmate Carl Lyons, arguing that the 30-year sentence Lyons received for kidnapping and forcible rape was unconstitutional and that the case should be reheard.

Murray delivered what Professor James Coleman described as a brilliant performance. Coleman attended the argument in Richmond along with a Duke cheering section that included the students who worked with Murray to write the appellate brief and prepare and hone his arguments through moot practice sessions.

“Chris fielded some difficult questions and was clear, direct, and persuasive in his responses,” said Coleman, who leads the Clinic along with Professors Catherine Fisk and Erwin Chemerinsky. But Murray says it was often difficult to tell how well the argument was proceeding.

“Facing a panel of federal circuit court judges is an intimidating and humbling experience,” Murray said, “It is hard to tell how well you are doing when you are up there. You are just trying to answer the judge’s questions as directly and persuasively as possible.”

Yet, he says, “from the questions, I could tell that the panel was engaged in the legal issues of the case. Hopefully that will bode well for our client.” In addition to learning from the students on the litigation team and the professors leading the Clinic, Murray says “the most rewarding aspect of the case was having the opportunity to help a real-life client. Here our client received a sentence that was unconstitutional; it is really something to fight to fix an injustice like that.”

Murray says his interest in the Appellate Litigation Clinic stemmed from his involvement as a 2L with the Law School’s Guantanamo Defense Clinic, which cemented an interest in civil liberties. A member of the Clinic’s inaugural class, Murray calls the protection of detainees’ rights one of the “most significant constitutional issues of our time. It implicates so many things: how much authority does the president have, are court’s able to check that power, to what extent do non-citizens have civil rights when detained by the government? Those are extremely important questions.”

After graduating with degrees in finance and international studies from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000, Murray worked at an investment banking firm in Santiago, Chile and later studied the post-NAFTA business environment in Mexico City on a Fulbright Fellowship. A JD/LLM student, Murray says he has seen through his study of international subjects the impact the rule of law can have on society.

“You see that the real difference between countries that are successful – that respect minority rights and civil rights – and countries with dictatorships and that are in peril is that the successful countries have a strong rule of law in place. Lawyers play a critical role in upholding that and I’ve always had a goal of contributing to society in that way.”

Continuing his involvement with the Guantanamo Defense Clinic, now as a teaching assistant, gives Murray the opportunity to do just that -- assisting the military defense team and their non-military counterparts to prepare briefs and craft legal arguments.

“The legitimacy of the military commissions that will try detainees depends on it being run by law, and the legitimacy of the war on terror depends on how other countries perceive how we’re are doing that. An essential part of upholding the rule of law and an essential part of our criminal justice system is having faith that the legal system and the courts will reach the right outcome. I feel strongly that when we participate in the process, our role is to emphasize the importance of the Constitution and make the sort of arguments that demonstrate why the system is flawed.”

As learning experiences, Murray calls the Appellate Litigation and Guantanamo Defense Clinics exceptional. “There are few chances as a law student to jump into a case that is actually going on, that’s live, where the work you’re doing has direct impact. In that sense it’s extremely rewarding and given what’s at stake, I feel very proud to be a part of it.”

After graduation Murray will work as an associate at Covington and Burling in Washington D.C., and hopes to eventually clerk. “I am excited about the prospect of practicing law, and if I can do that in a way that is challenging and interesting, but also contributes to society that will be the goal. That’s why I came to law school.”