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Hilfiker Symposium to feature debate on free speech, campaign finance laws

| Emily Wermund

Editor's Note: Northwestern Law professor John O. McGinnis is unable to attend the Hilfiker Symposium due to illness.

In today’s political climate, the debate on free speech and the first amendment is particularly relevant. Two law professors will take the stage to debate the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the constitutionality of campaign finance laws.

The Mary L. Hilfiker Symposium will feature a discussion titled "Free Speech and Campaign Finance: Debating the First Amendment and Citizens United" at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, in Room 100 of Schneider Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a law professor at Stetson University, and John O. McGinnis, a law professor at Northwestern University, will lead the discussion, which will explore the constitutionality of campaign finance laws, particularly the law at issue in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC. The forum will be moderated by Dr. Eric Kasper, associate professor of political science and director of the UW-Eau Claire Center for Constitutional Studies. 

Torres-Spelliscy teaches courses in election law, corporate governance, business entities and constitutional law at the Stetson University College of Law. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a law degree from the Columbia School of Law. Prior to joining Stetson’s faculty, Torres-Spelliscy was counsel in the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. She was an associate at Arnold & Porter LLP and a staffer for Senator Richard Durbin. She is the author of the book "Corporate Citizen? An Argument for the Separation of Corporation and State," (Carolina Academic Press,  2016) as well as articles in numerous law reviews, including “Campaign Finance, Free Speech and Boycotts” in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (2018). Torres-Spelliscy was the editor of the 2010 edition of the Brennan Center’s campaign finance treatise, “Writing Reform: A Guide to Drafting State and Local Campaign Finance Laws.” She has testified before Congress and state and local legislative bodies as an expert on campaign finance reform and has helped draft legislation and U.S. Supreme Court briefs.

John O. McGinnis is the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, where he teaches courses in antitrust law, banking law, public law and constitutional law. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. McGinnis clerked on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. From 1987-91 he was deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel at the U.S. Department of Justice. McGinnis is the author of "Accelerating Democracy: Transforming Government Through Technology," (Princeton University Press, 2013) and "Originalism and the Good Constitution," (Harvard University Press, 2013) (with Michael B. Rappaport). He has written numerous law review articles, including “Neutral Principles and Some Campaign Finance Problems” in the William & Mary Law Review (2016). McGinnis is a past winner of the Paul Bator Award, presented by the Federalist Society to an outstanding academic under 40. He has been listed by the U.S. on the roster of panelists who may be called upon to decide World Trade Organization disputes.

The symposium, hosted by the Center for Constitutional Studies and Pre-Law Club, is funded through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. Free pocket copies of the Constitution will be available through the generosity of the UW-Stout Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation.

For details about the event or the Center for Constitutional Studies, contact Dr. Eric Kasper, associate professor of political science and director of the center, at 715-836-4802 or