When LSU Law Center alum Michael deBarros’ wife, Jenna, returned from a trip to South Africa in 2008, she couldn’t stop telling Michael about the wonderful people, beautiful scenery and diverse cultures she encountered. Jenna couldn’t wait to go back. A Baton Rouge native, Michael, who had never traveled beyond North America, began searching for legal opportunities in South Africa while still a law student at the state’s flagship law school.
“My research led me to the Constitutional Court of South Africa’s website,” said deBarros. “I was instantly awed by the history of the Court, the number and scope of landmark decisions issued since its inception, and the broad socio-economic rights explicitly protected by their Constitution. I was also thrilled to learn that the Constitutional Court accepted foreign law clerks!”
deBarros received his J.D. in 2009 and worked as a law clerk for the late Judge Ralph Tyson at the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana for two years. Through his clerkship, deBarros became close friends with Judge Tyson, gained new insights into the United States federal judicial system, and acquired a firm understanding of federal litigation and procedure.
“I applied to the Constitutional Court during my clerkship with Judge Tyson in hopes that I would share a similar experience with one of the judges at the Constitutional Court,” deBarros said. Michael received notice in October 2011 that Justice Bess Nkabinde selected him to serve as her foreign law clerk. He began his six-month clerkship in January 2012 at the Constitutional Court of South Africa in Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
The Court employs 26 law clerks and, of those, the Court accepts a maximum of five foreign clerks per term. This year, four foreign clerks were hired; two from the United States, one from Nigeria and another from Canada.
During deBarros’ time with the Court, the Justices have grappled with a number of interesting issues such as whether South Africa is entitled to deport or extradite a person who is charged with a capital offence in Botswana, without first securing an assurance from Botswana that the death penalty will not be imposed or executed; whether forfeiture of a residence, in which minor children reside, is constitutionally permissible where the owners of the residence unlawfully operated a liquor-selling business in the residence; and whether a mortgagee must actually receive notice under the National Credit Act before a mortgagor forecloses on the property, or whether it is sufficient that the notice is simply sent to the mortgagee, just to name a few.
deBarros has found the education he received at LSU Law Center invaluable during his clerkship. South Africa has a mixed legal system based on civil law, common law, and customary law. “As a result of the training I received in Professor Baier’s Constitutional Law course, I am able to offer my knowledge of the United States Constitution as well as the various methods of constitutional construction used in the United States,” said deBarros. “Professor Diamond’s Antitrust course has proven especially useful at the Court, as the Court has recently taken on a large load of competition cases. When tasked with interpreting the Competition Act, I was extremely comfortable.”
Although he enjoys his time in South Africa, deBarros misses his friends and family, Louisiana cuisine, and of course, LSU Football. When deBarros returns from South Africa, he will begin work in the Labor and Employment Group of Kean Miller LLP.