BY AMY GARRIGUES
Thirty-five students traveled to Washington, D.C., last week as part of an annual HLS Republicans tradition. The group met with various political, judicial and policy leaders, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ’60, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales ’82, congressmen, journalists, Republican attorneys and think tank leaders.
HLS Republicans President Katie Biber, a 3L, explained the objective of the trip: “We aim to create a meaningful forum for students to connect with conservative leaders and learn about politics, public service and policy issues. Of course, we would not be able to do this without the many generous speakers who were willing to give us their time.”
Matt Cooper, a 1L, was thrilled with the personal attention and tremendous learning experience. “Personal small group meetings with the highest officials in the nation’s executive, legislative and judicial branches of government – what could provide law students a better exposure to the practicalities of how the law we study is made, enforced and adjudicated?”
Many of the students who attended were enthusiastic about the nation’s leaders and the overall direction of the country. 2L Lee Rudofsky stated, “It is so reassuring and invigorating to hear our national leaders talking about issues with such passion and sincerity. Whether we were discussing post-war Iraq with Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, Lawrence v. Texas with Justice Scalia, or judicial nominations with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, I was floored by both the level of engagement and degree of understanding these policy-makers exhibited.”
The program began Thursday when students met with Roger Pilon, founder of the Center for Constitutional Studies at The Cato Institute, to discuss constitutional law. Jordan Abshire, a 3L, found the discussion with Pilon to be particularly enlightening. “It was really refreshing to have the opportunity to refine my views using a conservative framework.”
One of 2L Eric Soskin’s highlights of the trip was the discussion with Walter Berns and Michael Greve of the American Enterprise Institute. “We were lucky to hear from a giant of constitutional scholarship, Walter Berns, and learn the reasons for his surprising support for a constitutional amendment on the subject of marriage.”
On Thursday afternoon, students met with Justice Antonin Scalia to hear his viewpoints on constitutional interpretation and the role of the judiciary.
Nick Degani, a 1L, simply described Justice Scalia as “awesome” and “inspiring.” Adam Budesheim, a 3L, noted, “Never having seen Justice Scalia speak before, I was very impressed by his friendliness towards this group of, to him, total strangers. He seemed very happy to be speaking with us and sharing his thoughts on the current state of the judiciary. He clearly has a great sense of humor, interspersing jokes into his discussion of otherwise weighty legal topics to keep the mood light and enjoyable. If we had done nothing else for the two days of our trip, just seeing Justice Scalia would have made the traveling to D.C. worth it.”
Biber remarked on the excitement stirred by Justice Scalia. “For me, the best part of the trip was seeing the excitement of our members as they met Justice Scalia, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, and all of our other terrific speakers. I am happy we could offer students such tremendous opportunities.”
Also on Thursday, Texas Representative Henry Bonilla invited students into his office and shared his thoughts on a wide range of topics, including diversity, the upcoming election and the importance of being involved in politics.
Students also met with Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and roamed the galleries of the Senate and House courtesy of Iowa Senator Charles Grassley and Texas Senator John Cornyn. On Thursday evening, students had dinner with Benjamin Ginsberg, chief outside counsel to Bush-Cheney 2004, and Jill Holtzman Vogel, chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. Ginsberg and Vogel discussed the upcoming election and the role of attorneys in political campaigns.
As part of a tour of the Pentagon on Friday morning, students paused to reflect on the tragedy of 9/11 at the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 hit the building. The group then engaged in a candid conversation with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz about the war on terrorism.
One-L Jesse Panuccio found Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz’s speech to be the most enjoyable part of the trip. “He met our questions head on and gave well-reasoned answers that suggested a vast amount of political, military, and historical knowledge, a deep appreciation for history, and vision for the future security of this country.”
Tessa Platt, a 2L, remarked, “For me, one of the highlights of the trip was meeting with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is encouraging to see an HLS alum with such a clear record of service to his country, both in the military and in the state and federal government.”
Following Gonzales, Dina Habib Powell, Director of the Presidential Personnel Office, discussed the process of obtaining a job in the executive branch and offered general career advice. The rest of Friday included such notable speakers as Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, Senate Judiciary Committee Chief Counsel Bruce Artim, House Judiciary Committee Chief Counsel Bill Kiko, and various Department of Justice officials.
The trip was organized by 3L Adam White and 1L Erin Sheley.