UAlberta Faculty of Law would like to congratulate recent graduate John Devlin (Class of 2011) on being awarded a prestigious Fulbright Canada Award scholarship to support graduate work at Harvard University

Katherine Thompson - 07 August 2013

University of Alberta Faculty of Law is proud to announce that one of its alumnus, John Devlin (Class of 2011), has been honoured with a Fulbright Canada Award scholarship to support his graduate work at Harvard University. John Devlin's proposed research at Harvard, will explore the differing approaches of various common law jurisdictions (but especially Canada and the United States) to the question of when judges may properly hear and dispose of constitutional questions outside the normal context of a live dispute between parties.

His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, was named the inaugural winner of the Fulbright Canada Award for Outstanding Public Service at a special celebration in Calgary on May 1, 2013. The Fulbright Canada Selection Committee chose Governor General Johnston as the first recipient of the award to honour his lifetime of tireless devotion and a commitment to excellence. While the award carries no cash value, the Foundation for Educational Exchange between Canada and the USA, awards a special Fulbright scholarship to an extraordinary graduate student in the name of the Fulbright Award recipient. In honour of His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada; Fulbright Canada awarded the special Fulbright Scholarship to John Devlin, an Alberta graduate student whose aspirations reflect the deeds of the 2013 Fulbright Canada Award winner, Governor General Johnston. Devlin, a graduate of the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary, will use the scholarship to pursue a LLM in Constitutional Law at Harvard University.

"Right from the beginning, John seemed like someone who could make a real contribution to Canadian law," recalled Peter Carver, a former professor of John Devlin's, who teaches Canadian constitutional, administrative, immigration, and mental health law at U of A Faculty of Law. "It's wonderful that he's received the Fulbright in recognition of what he's already achieved, and as encouragement to continue on."

A born and raised Albertan, John Devlin earned a BA History at the University of Calgary in 2006, and an LLB at the University of Alberta in 2011, both with distinction. At the University of Alberta Faculty of Law, John was the 2011 recipient of the Judges' Bronze Medal, and made the Dean's List in 2009, 2010, and 2011. After law school, John served for a year as law clerk to the Honourable Madam Justice Dolores Hansen of the Federal Court in Ottawa, and was called to the Bar of Ontario in June, 2012. He then returned home to Calgary to enter private practice at Burnet, Duckworth & Palmer LLP pending his commencement of graduate legal studies.

"John has an outstanding intellect and critical mind," commented Steven Penney, professor of criminal procedure, evidence, substantive criminal law, privacy, and law and technology at U of A Faculty of Law, when asked about his memories of his former student, John Devlin. "He will undoubtedly represent the U of A Law School well during his graduate studies at Harvard."

Having begun his post-secondary studies as an American historian, John is excited to continue his formal legal training in the United States, and to continue to develop his understanding of Canadian constitutionalism by reference to its American counterpart.

"One of the delights of law teaching is the opportunity to come into contact with some exceptionally bright students," commented David Percy, U of A professor of contracts, construction law and natural resources law, including oil and gas law. "Without a doubt, John Devlin falls into this category, as I learned during the two years when he acted as my research assistant. He combines an excellent record in Law with a deep and abiding interest in American History. I am certain that he will be able to combine these talents in his graduate work comparing the different approaches of the highest courts in Canada and the United States to giving advisory opinions. He is bound to make a superb contribution."

Interview with John Devlin, Fulbright Canada Medal Award Recipient at Harvard University

1. What does winning the Fulbright Scholarship award mean to you?

Try as I might to answer this question without resort to cliché, I find that all I can do is state the obvious: it's a tremendous honour, and not one that I could have earned alone. I'm very grateful to Fulbright Canada; to my law school professors (particularly David Percy, Peter Carver, and Steven Penney); to Justice Dolores Hansen of the Federal Court (the best boss I've ever had); to my undergrad mentor Dr. Frank Towers, whose lectures on Martin Van Buren and the second American party system were honestly life-changing experiences; and, of course, to my parents, friends, and family, who, in addition to providing financial, intellectual, and emotional support, have tolerated far more pedantic lecturing from me than I had any right to expect.

2. What made you choose Harvard?

Well, the school has an excellent reputation, to say the least, and it's hard for a law and history geek like me not to be excited at the prospect of sharing an alma mater with the likes of Bora Laskin, Stephen Breyer, and Charles Sumner. Also, having harboured an obsessive fascination with American history and constitutionalism since I first learned about the electoral college on the night Bill Clinton won the White House in 1992, I'm thrilled to finally have the opportunity to pursue that interest in the United States-especially at a school that's exerted such a profound influence on the country's constitutional law over the years. I also have a non-academic reason for favouring Harvard over other schools I could have attended: I really like New England. Born-and-raised Prairie guy that I am, I think I might really be a North-easterner at heart. I spent some time there before I started law school, and I've been looking for a way back ever since. This seems as good a way as any.

3. Describe your prospective project, and how the project will work within the context of the Fulbright scholarship opportunity that you have been awarded?

I want to expand on a paper I wrote for my 2L "Advanced Problems in Constitutional Law" class concerning judicial advisory opinions. Like I said, I've always been very interested in American constitutionalism. One of the fundamental norms of American constitutional law is the separation of powers, one upshot of which is that courts in that system must exercise an exclusively judicial function. This entails, among other things, that American Federal judges will only answer legal questions presented in the context of a "case or controversy", and that reference cases are unconstitutional in the United States. Of course, as every Canadian law student knows, the rules are quite different here. Some of our Supreme Court's most important decisions, after all (the Secession Reference and the Patriation Reference come to mind), were essentially advisory opinions based on hypothetical facts. My paper will explore and hopefully account for the differences between the two regimes. Fulbright, of course, is an international exchange program, so I think a comparative project like this fits nicely into the mission. More broadly, I also think there are genuinely interesting things to be said about the links between societal attitudes and constitutional rules, even in an area as superficially esoteric as this. I'm looking forward to getting started!

4. Is this what you had envisaged for your "life's direction" when you were younger?

People have been telling me that I'd make a good lawyer since I was a kid, but, honestly, I wasn't the least bit interested before I actually started law school--and that wasn't a step I took entirely of my own volition. I knew I wanted to continue my education past undergrad, but I assumed law school would be essentially a trade program. How wrong I was! Obviously, there's a practical side to the law, but at the same time it's a far more structured, intellectual, and in some respects multidisciplinary pursuit than I expected. Anyway, I have a convert's zeal now; there isn't much about the law that I don't find at least somewhat engaging, and I'm thrilled to be making a career of it. Unless the Canadian Space Agency decides it needs a mathematically inept astronaut who's prone to motion sickness, I'm planning to stick with this for quite a while.

John Devlin, 2013-14 Fulbright Scholar (left) and Naheed Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, AB