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Lowenstein Sandler LLP

Catherine Weiss

Catherine Weiss

Chair, Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest

Lowenstein Sandler LLP
New Jersey, U.S.A.

tel: 973.597.2438
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Local Time: Fri. 19:55


A lifelong public interest lawyer, Catherine is committed to maximizing the impact of Lowenstein Sandler's pro bono work. As Chair of the Lowenstein Center for Public Interest, she brings strategic focus to the firm's pro bono efforts and deepens its partnerships with leading nonprofit and community organizations across the country and within the firm's local communities.

Under Catherine's direction, the Center has expanded on the firm's historic commitment to public service by building an award-winning program that serves hundreds of low-income individuals and the nonprofit organizations that support them. The firm boasts extensive pro bono experience in areas such as immigration, education, and housing.

Catherine brings to her pro bono work at Lowenstein Sandler a significant background in public interest law. Before joining the firm, she served as Director of the Division of Public Interest Advocacy in the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and Director of the Reproductive Freedom Project in the national office of the ACLU.

As part of her role overseeing the firm's pro bono work, Catherine maintains a substantive practice as a litigator. She approaches matters with an appellate lawyer's eye, constructing challenges to unjust laws or policies and winning decisions that reform the law. When she isn't leading her own teams in appeals or impact litigation, she manages and participates in a number of Lowenstein Sandler's signature pro bono initiatives, including representation of children in immigration proceedings; victims of persecution in asylum proceedings; survivors of domestic violence seeking orders of protection and custody of their children; veterans in disability hearings; low-income individuals in bankruptcy proceedings; tenants trying to avoid eviction; low-income entrepreneurs who need business advice; low-income inventors who need assistance with patent applications; adults seeking to become legal guardians of children in their care; and nonprofit organizations seeking counsel and assistance in corporate and governance matters.

Bar Admissions

    New York
    New Jersey
    District of Columbia


Yale Law School (J.D. 1987)
Yale University (M.A. 1984), National Science Foundation Fellowship
Princeton University (A.B. 1981), summa cum laude; Phi Beta Kappa
Areas of Practice
Professional Career

Significant Accomplishments

Represented 25 church-state scholars in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that the Establishment Clause prevents religious nonprofits, colleges, and universities–as well as closely held for-profit companies–from shifting the burden of their religious objections to contraceptive coverage to their employees and students by declining to file paperwork they view as making them complicit in the provision of such coverage by other entities.

Leads the firm's representation of children in immigration proceedings, ensuring that many each year are placed with safe custodians, protected from persecution in their home countries, and defended from deportation.

Represented leading national immigration organizations as amici in the Supreme Court of New Jersey in a case that clarified the role of the state courts in cases involving Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and lifted barriers to this key form of immigration relief for children.

Partnered with Merck and Legal Services of Northwest Jersey to create and run the Veterans Justice Initiative, which was recognized as a model private-nonprofit partnership at the 2014 White House Access to Justice Forum. Enlisted corporate legal departments at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi in the initiative. Helped secure pro bono medical evaluations for veterans seeking disability benefits.

Partnered with Merck and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice to create and run a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Program and argued an appeal in the Supreme Court of New Jersey that successfully dispelled unfounded legal ethics concerns about the program, clearing the way for broader nationwide participation by the bankruptcy bar in pro bono practice.

Partnered with Prudential and Volunteer Lawyers for Justice to design and launch an ongoing, court-based pro bono clinic to provide legal advice and document-drafting to assist low-income tenants in defending themselves from eviction.

Represented twenty-one church-state scholars in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that the Establishment Clause prevents the government from allowing for-profit corporations to shift health care costs to their employees by claiming a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.

Represented leading national Latino and Asian organizations in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, demonstrating that an Arizona law requiring documentary proof of citizenship to vote impeded registration by naturalized citizens in violation of federal law. Helped persuade the Court to invalidate the law.

Represented legal academics in an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court arguing that a storefront bakery is a classic public accommodation which, like all other commercial businesses open to the public, cannot succeed in claiming a First Amendment exemption from its obligation to serve its customers without discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Ran voter hotlines for Election Protection in several national and state elections, creating materials that outlined the election laws of various states, training and managing hundreds of volunteers in responding to questions from voters, and working with election officials to solve problems as they arose on Election Day and in the surrounding weeks.

Represented legal New Jersey residents of Latino descent in a federal constitutional challenge to nonconsensual, warrantless, predawn raids of their homes by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as part of its "Operation Return to Sender." Withstood repeated motions to dismiss and defended an interlocutory appeal on qualified immunity in the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Ultimately settled on terms favorable for the clients.

Represented a wide range of national religious organizations in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that crisis-level overcrowding in the California prisons had resulted in inhumane, degrading, and unconstitutional conditions. Helped persuade the Court to affirm an order to reduce overcrowding.

Represented national and state child advocacy organizations in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of New Jersey that presented the legal framework on which the court decided that children in foster care have a legal right to visitation with their siblings and that this right survives even after adoption, and over the objection of an adoptive parent, if the children would be harmed by severing relationships with their siblings.

Speaking Engagements

John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, NY

Professional Associations

  • Huber Foundation, Board Member
  • Partners for Women and Justice, Board Member

  • N.J. Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Access and Fairness, Appointee

  • N.J. State Bar Association Pro Bono Committee, Member

Professional Activities and Experience

  • 2018 National Law Journal Immigration Trailblazer (Weiss)
  • Thurgood Marshall College Fund - Weiss harris eakley
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, New Jersey Law Journal - Weiss
  • Common Cause Voters' Rights - Weiss


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After being tortured in their home country, two men fled to the United States and were detained when they arrived, seeking refuge. An immigration official denied them release on the ground that Somalian detainees "present a paradigm of deceit."

This would be a highly suspect, not to mention inscrutable, basis on which to deny release to anyone. In these cases, however, it was simply ludicrous as the men were Ethiopian - not Somalian. No judicial review was available. 

And for now, it's staying that way.

The two Ethiopians were part of the plaintiff class in Jennings v. Rodriguez, a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court recently read the immigration statutes to authorize such arbitrary detention of thousands of immigrants - without without hearings on whether they pose a risk of flight or a danger to the community - while the courts decide whether they will be deported, a process that can take years.

Our country should not be a place where we lock people up for no particular reason, indeed without even asking whether there are particular reasons. After holding that our statutes permit this sort of thing, the Supreme Court punted on whether the Constitution prohibits prolonged, untested detention and sent the issue back to the lower courts. 

Three weeks before the Jennings decision, I joined Human Rights First on a tour of the Elizabeth Immigration Detention Center in New Jersey. The tour began, as these things do, with a meeting with an ICE representative and the warden, who works for CoreCivic, formerly Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison contractor in the country. "We are all focused on treating people like detainees, not prisoners," they told us. "These people aren't criminals."

Given what was on display at the detention center, one could be forgiven for finding it difficult to tell the difference.

There are no detainees with serious criminal histories at the facility, but those with low-level criminal histories wear bright orange scrubs. Detainees without criminal records wear dark blue scrubs. They all sleep and eat in dormitories, with bunks, showers, and toilets separated by hip-high cinder block dividers.  Pretty much everything is made of cinderblock, including the "outside" recreation yard, a small cement rectangle surrounded entirely by cinder block walls with roof grates to the outside. This is the only "outside" there is, and detainees are escorted by guards wherever they go.

When the tour ended, we gathered in a large visiting room to interview detainees who had agreed to talk to us. I met an older man who is married to an American and has lived in the United States as a green card holder for more than 20 years. A little over a year ago, he was hit by a drunk driver on the New Jersey Turnpike and sustained serious injuries to his back and leg. He had no health insurance in the U.S., so he flew back to his native country, in a wheelchair, and checked into a hospital and rehabilitation center there.

Over several months, he progressed from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane. Then he flew home - and was detained when he landed at JFK on the ground that he had "abandoned" his green card by staying out of the country for more than six months. He's been in detention ever since.

The center won't let him have his back brace, presumably because it has metal parts. Instead, the clinic put him on muscle relaxers three times a day. The drugs make him tired and loopy and he's still in pain. "Why don't they let me go home to my wife?" he asked. 

I also met a young woman who could not tell me what made her leave her country because she could not talk about it without crying, and she did not want to cry in front of so many others. She had passed a "credible fear" interview, meaning that an asylum officer had found a "significant possibility" that she could prove that she had been persecuted or tortured in her home country on account of her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. She has been in detention for six months. "If they let me out," she said, "I will show up for my asylum hearing. Of course, I will. I cannot go back. I have nowhere safe to be but here."

On a tour of another facility, a colleague of mine met a woman who was picked up at JFK when she returned from a funeral in her country of origin. Her green card was flagged because of a misdemeanor shoplifting conviction from when she was a teenager - nearly two decades ago. She's been in detention for five months, and she has not seen her three young daughters, who are all U.S. citizens. The guards told her that only the legal guardian can bring the girls to visit, and she is the legal guardian, so no visits.  "I have to see my children," she said. "Please get them to let me out."

ICE detains between 31,000 and 41,000 immigrants each day. It is looking for contractors to open five additional facilities so that it can increase that number to 51,000. Because the immense expenditure must appear to be justified ($2.7 billion in the 2018 budget), every additional bed will be filled. 

If the detainees we met are any example, the people caught in the dragnet will include many for whom detention is wholly unnecessary - and therefore nothing but cruel. They come, or come back, believing that America means home, safety, freedom. Even after months of meaningless lockup, many hold onto that view. Eventually, however, they begin to lose hope. "I am not really alive in here," the older, injured man said. "Maybe if I agree to give up my wife and my children and my life here, they will let me out.  Maybe it is better to lose everything than to stay in here."

It violates our international treaty obligations to detain immigrants for the purpose of wearing them down until they agree to leave. It is unconstitutional to lock people up awaiting even a criminal trial (which a deportation hearing is not) unless there is a good reason. Most of all, it is a betrayal of our values to do what we're doing to immigrants.

A collective, noisy rejection of arbitrary detention may be the only way to resist a vindictive president, unseat a paralyzed Congress, awaken the conscience of the courts, and hold to account the private corporations and county jails that contract with ICE to incarcerate immigrants. The message is simple and should be uncontroversial: stop locking people up for no reason.

This story first appeared in The Star-Ledger on May 6, 2018.

The 2018 Pro Bono Report details our firm’s pro bono and community service efforts last year. This year’s report also marks the 10th anniversary of the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest and its mission of providing access to justice for those most in need.

WSG's members are independent firms and are not affiliated in the joint practice of professional services. Each member exercises its own individual judgments on all client matters.

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