David Super, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, is a leading expert on public benefits law, especially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). His current research focuses on constitutional law, legislation (including the federal budget), local government law, and public welfare law. He teaches these subjects as well as civil procedure, contracts, evidence, property, torts, and administrative law. Before entering academia, he was the general counsel for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and worked for the National Health Law Program and Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. And, before attending Harvard Law School, he was a community organizer. (Sound familiar?) Peter Edelman once described David as having “a burning commitment to social justice … (and) a profound intellectual depth” (Abrar Qadir, New Professor, Poverty Law Expert, a “Super” Addition, Georgetown Law Weekly, Oct. 18, 2011). A frequent Clearinghouse Review contributor and constant source of advice and support for the editorial team, David wrote two articles for the Review’s 2012 special issue on hunger and food insecurity: Preventing Terminations of SNAP When States Fail to Recertify Households on Time and Protecting Households as States Stagger SNAP Issuance.
What’s a case or client or piece of advocacy that comes to mind as giving you particular personal satisfaction? Why?
Rebuilding the Food Stamp Program from the brink of elimination after 1996. At that point, quality-control pressures were causing states to attack the program and throw insurmountable barriers in the way of working families and even eligible immigrants. Taming the quality-control beast had more to do with statistics than law, but it changed states’ incentives completely. That opened the door to simplifying reporting rules, getting rid of obsolete vehicle resource limits, granting transitional food stamps, and other measures to make the program friendly to low-wage workers. And having the program become a work support made it much ber politically.
I think my proudest moment in legal services was winning Morgan v. Cohen (665 F. Supp. 1164 (E.D. Pa. 1987)). Morgan preserved the transportation services that were essential to allowing thousands of severely mentally ill Pennsylvanians attend psychiatric partial hospitalization programs. For many, the alternative to these programs was being medicated into a stupor, ending up on the street, or even death. Yet, despite their extreme need and vulnerability, this is a group of low-income people who do not typically approach legal services offices. Fighting for those that would otherwise be invisible is our highest calling.
What’s a case or client or piece of advocacy that comes to mind as causing you particular anxiety? Why?
David Super and others at a United Foodworkers rally in Detroit in 1975. Photo credit: Maria Catalfio
The battle against what became the 1996 welfare law. The fight went on for so long: almost two years between the release of the Contract with America and the signing of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. Working on the food stamp, child nutrition, SSI (Supplemental Security Income), and immigrants’ titles, I had to be on top of hundreds of issues at once. And the political atmosphere was so poisonous that no attack on these programs or their recipients could be dismissed as too extreme to be a threat. (Lots of bizarre, ridiculous ideas in fact made it into the final law.) All of us at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities had the sense that any little slip could have devastating, irreversible consequences. The final law was horrendous. In some specific areas, we headed off things that could have been even worse, but it is hard not to wonder if you had done this or that differently might you have been able to blunt some other bad provisions.
If you were in charge, what’s one way (other than having more funding!) that public interest legal work would be different?
More public benefits work—it’s so important to people, and legal skills can make such a difference—and more training. Speaking of which, I am always happy to travel to legal services meetings to do SNAP training.
Was the transition from advocate to law professor smooth? Have you found the roles similar? Any surprises?
It is not as different as it seems. I still write for Clearinghouse Review. I still do lots of work on SNAP, health care, and other issues with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. I still work closely with legal services advocates in California, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and other states (and am always happy to answer SNAP questions for others). The distance between a policy paper and a law journal article is less than it might seem.
What’s one of your guilty pleasures?
I have come to adore Eurogames: board and card games like Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Stone Age, Citadels, Carcassonne, Resistance, and Ingenious. I could play them for hours—and sometimes do.
You can reach David Super at firstname.lastname@example.org.