Critical Thinking: Mark R. Heilbrun 86C, Partner, Jenner and Block


Since he finished law school at the University of Texas, Mark Heilbrun 86C has lived and worked at the nexus of the vast U.S. government machine in Washington, D.C.--almost always working to protect individual citizens' rights in the face of governmental power.

From the National Security Council, where he helped develop post--Cold War policy, to the United States Senate Intelligence Committee, where he served as deputy general counsel and worked with Senator Arlen Specter on oversight of FBI intelligence, Heilbrun was navigating the borders between governmental authority and individual liberty a decade before the Patriot Act brought the tension to the forefront of American consciousness.

“This work has given me much greater appreciation for how important it is to ensure people have due process in order to establish whether their rights have been violated,” Heilbrun says. “The government is a very powerful, omnipresent institution. You want to trust them, but it's usually the civil rights of the under-represented that are most at risk.”

During independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation of President Bill Clinton, Heilbrun, while in private practice at a small, Atlanta-based firm, represented a Secret Service agent who was called to testify about something he might have overheard while standing guard outside the president's door. The case raised questions about privileged information, with Heilbrun contending that Secret Service privilege must be preserved in order to ensure the safety of the president.

“The privilege is never really absolute, but I was certainly an advocate for a stronger privilege in this case,” Heilbrun says. “However, we were also able to maintain the ability in such cases for agents to testify, and to provide appropriate information to their representatives in Congress.”  

Heilbrun continued to work in private practice for a time, but after the September 11 attacks, Specter brought him back as legislative director and counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee to work on drafting what would eventually become the Homeland Security Act of 2002. He then served as deputy staff director and general counsel for the Judiciary Committee.

When an opportunity presented itself to join the D.C. firm Jenner and Block as a partner in its Appellate and Supreme Court and Public Policy Practices, Heilbrun says, Specter encouraged him to take it.

“It was an opportunity to do litigation work at a much higher level, but also continue to work in the areas of public policy I am interested in,” Heilbrun says.

Among his Supreme Court work, Heilbrun has helped write an amicus brief in a case involving prisoners who are disabled. At issue is how the Americans with Disabilities Act should be applied to prisoners by the state; Heilbrun argued that they should be protected by federal law.   This year, he also will represent media interests in asking the Court to recognize--and ultimately Congress to codify--a “reporter's privilege” to protect certain communications between the press and their sources.

“One of the greatest things about this firm is that they work on cases like this,” Heilbrun says. “A lot of states' rights issues, like integration of schools, were being played out when I was growing up near Decatur, and that really set the tone for my law career. I think growing up in the South helped shape the way I think by making me sensitive to the treatment of those under-represented in our society.”

Heilbrun says his Emory experience was a “brutal wake-up call” academically, and challenged him to think through his own response to broad social issues. “Emory allowed me to branch out in so many ways,” he says. “I became far stronger and better at analyzing facts and drawing my own conclusions.”



© 2006 Emory University