By the time James P. Rogers ’08 completed his undergraduate degree at Connecticut College, he had a private pilot’s license, had founded an academic journal that is still thriving, had spent a semester in Prague, and was preparing to bicycle across the United States.
“I’ve always loved history, exploring the past and seeing where things come from,” explains Mr. Rogers. “There’s something really amazing about this country and its ideals.” Growing up in Bronxville, New York, he hadn’t seen much of the rest of the United States, so, he continues, “I biked from San Diego to Florida, which was one of the best things I’ve ever done in terms of understanding the country.” He usually stayed in older motels on U.S. Route 90, but, he says, “I had a rule to make the trip more interactive—if someone wanted to give me a ride up a hill or asked me to stay the night, I’d do it. There were wonderful people out there.”
His semester in Prague came from a similar openness to experience. “I was convinced to do it over a slice of pizza with my friends,” he quips. It must have been quite a talk because Mr. Rogers changed majors from chemistry to American studies, then took a semester to learn about Czech language and literature. “Prague is a very haunting city because it’s been through several hundred years of oppression by various conquerors,” he says.
Mr. Rogers’s adventurous spirit appeared early. He learned to fl y as a senior in high school, earning a private pilot’s license just after his eighteenth birthday and his commercial license three years later. “People can pay me to fl y, dust crops, or fl y banners,” he explains. The summer before his senior year of college, he served as education coordinator at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. “While I was there, I started to form the idea of my honors thesis.” The thesis, “Enduring the Dream: The Social History of Flight in America,” looks at the way flight has changed America. “From about the 1850s through today, you see articles in magazines talking about the future when everyone will be flying their own plane to work—or their own hot air balloon, dirigible, or helicopter. It’s the American dream, the eternal hope that we will reach this success, despite our failures.”
Along with his adventurous spirit and openness to experience, Mr. Rogers has a great interest in community building and managing projects. For example, in college, he and some friends realized that, while students in the sciences could publish papers with their professors, no such opportunities existed for students in the humanities at Connecticut College. They founded Expose: The Journal of Interdisciplinary Inquiry at Connecticut College, which is still going strong. “When I became executive editor of the Cornell Law Review, I’d already dealt with a lot of the same nuts and bolts of producing a journal.”
Given all his interests, law school “seemed like it would open a lot of doors,” explains Mr. Rogers. His father is a lawyer, he continues, “and my dad and I sort of think alike.” Mr. Rogers chose Cornell for its small community environment and its opportunities to get involved. His community involvement at Cornell began with organizing service trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, which happened during his first year in law school. He and a friend organized a spring break service trip to New Orleans, the first service trip the Law School had ever done. They placed law students with nonprofit organizations and government offices to do legal aid work and physical labor. During the summer between his first and second years at Cornell, Mr. Rogers worked for the City Attorney’s office in New Orleans.
"New Orleans is rife with problems, but the city has a good soul," says Mr. Rogers. "I've been there every break. Going back has given me peace."
Based on his experience in the city, he wrote "Third Amendment Protections in Domestic Disasters," which was selected for publication in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy. "It's the most unknown amendment," he explains. "It says that soldiers shall not be quartered in private buildings without the consent of the owner." In New Orleans after the hurricane, it was hard to find people who could give that consent to the thousands of National Guard soldiers from every state that came to help. Mr. Rogers's article argues that Third Amendment violations in such a scenario are likely. But only one Third Amendment case has ever been litigated, and this lack of case law may deter potential litigants from bringing claims. "Even though our military is relatively well-disciplined, it's important to be aware of this law," says Mr. Rogers.
Mr. Rogers also served as senior vice president for the Cornell Law Student Association and as co-chair for the Public Interest Law Union's fundraising auction in 2007, which raised a record $45,000. His awards include the Fredric Weisberg Prize for great distinction in Constitutional Law. "I like the academic intellectual aspects of the law," says Mr. Rogers. He also likes advocacy and was the winner of the 2008 Winter Cup moot court competition.
Perhaps his most satisfying experience in community involvement has been as one of the three judicial codes counselors for Cornell University. "We are the public defenders for the university adjudication system," Mr. Rogers explains. When a student is charged with a violation of the Code of Conduct or the Code of Integrity, the judicial codes counselors are available to represent them. "We go before a hearing board, very much like a trial," says Mr. Rogers. "The prosecutors are full-time lawyers who work for Cornell. It was very front-line legal work, like working in one of the Law School clinics, but without a supervisor."
The judicial counselors also serve as ex officio members of the University Assembly's Codes and Judicial Committee, which reviews and revises Cornell University's Campus Code of Conduct. This involves interacting with some high-level executives: current proposed changes have been put forward by Cornell's legal counsel, the vice presidents of communications and student services for Cornell, and Cornell's president. "It's the most rewarding thing I've done," Mr. Rogers concludes.
In the summer of 2007, Mr. Rogers served as a summer associate with Sullivan & Cromwell in New York City. "I was able to work in every area that interested me—pro bono work, securities transactions, contracts, and litigation," says Mr. Rogers. "I learned how a large law firm works. It was a great learning experience working with good people."
After completing the New York Bar Examination, Mr. Rogers will clerk for Judge Richard C. Wesley '74 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. "He's a very dynamic person, with an energy level that exceeds my own," Mr. Rogers says enthusiastically.
Mr. Rogers is not sure what will be next. "I like everything about litigation and advocacy, but ultimately I prefer to work collaboratively with different types of people to make someone's life better," he explains. With his skills and interests, one can imagine him flying and cycling to remote areas, bringing legal information and community spirit.