Pillars of the supreme court building at an angle


The Mission

The State Law Research Initiative (SLRI) is a legal advocacy organization dedicated to reviving and strengthening state constitutional rights that prevent extremes in our criminal systems, with a focus on excessive prison terms and inhumane conditions of confinement. 

State courts are uniquely positioned to reduce over incarceration and the destructive excesses of our criminal legal systems. While America’s mass incarceration crisis is national in scope—directly impacting over 100 million people nationwide—it is largely driven by local policy, as 90% of people in U.S. prisons are confined pursuant to state and local laws. These laws are subject to state constitutions and the individual rights they provide—independent and powerful sources of law that constrain the state’s power to police, prosecute, and punish. 

In theory, the federal Bill of Rights imposes limits on state criminal legal systems. But the U.S. Supreme Court has weakened these rights through decades of rulings that empower police, prosecutors, prison officials, and legislatures at the expense of individual rights. While the Court has aggressively enforced certain rights (such as the Second Amendment), it has diluted fundamental liberty protections found in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. 

To some extent, state courts have been complicit in this federal failure. In the modern era, they have often deferred to and adopted federal law as their own while neglecting the unique text, history, and purpose of their own state constitutions. This is true despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s insistence that its hands-off approach is required, at least in part, by the federalism concerns that arise when a single federal court issues rulings that apply to 50 separate states—a dynamic that does not apply to state supreme courts applying their own state constitutions to state and local laws.  

More recently, state constitutionalism has assumed greater prominence in the fights for fair elections, voting rights, reproductive freedom, and a clean and healthy environment. Providing research, briefing, strategy, networking, and communications, SLRI is expanding this movement to criminal legal systems—strengthening state constitutional rights against excessive punishment, and removing them from the shadow of federal law. 

SLRI is a fiscally sponsored project of Proteus Fund.

Who We Are

Kyle C. Barry, Director.

Kyle Barry is the Director of the State Law Research Initiative. Kyle previously served as Senior Counsel at The Justice Collaborative, where he focused on reducing incarceration through local policy reforms to the criminal legal system, and as a Managing Editor at The Appeal. Before that, he was Senior Policy Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and the Director of Justice Programs at Alliance for Justice in Washington, DC, where his advocacy and research focused on judicial nominations, voting rights, and economic justice. Kyle has written extensively on the courts, judges, and civil rights, with reporting and commentary in The Appeal, Bolts Magazine, The New York Times, Slate, The Nation, and Politico, among other outlets. Kyle is a graduate of the University of Vermont and Yale Law School.

Dawn Milam, Consulting Attorney.

Dawn Milam is a consulting attorney who leads SLRI’s judicial selection advocacy. Dawn provides strategic policy, communications, and advocacy support for social justice initiatives. She received her J.D. with honors from the University of North Carolina School of Law and lives in Charlotte with her husband, three children, two cats, and Cavapoo.