BY RICHARD EISENBERG
About 20 members of the HLS Democrats traveled to Washington, D.C. last week, as the group made its third annual trip to the nation’s capitol. The trip took place from February 28 through March 2. “The annual trip to D.C. is a unique way to expose students to different career paths in government and politics,” HLS Democrats Co-President and 2L Dan Geldon said. “This year we had more participants and a more interesting mix of speakers than ever, so the trip was a big success.”
The group met with Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights; Cassandra Butts, Senior Vice President for Domestic Policy at the Center for American Progress; Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold; Peter Kovar, Chief of Staff to Rep. Barney Frank; Eric Holder, former Deputy Attorney General and U.S. Attorney under President Clinton; Mickey Kantor, former Secretary of Commerce and Chair of the 1992 Clinton-Gore Presidential Campaign; and Ezra Reese, an attorney specializing in political law at the Washington office of Perkins Coie.
Students noted the variety and experience of the speakers they met with on the trip. “We had the opportunity to learn about the diverse careers and roles that lawyers can have in politics, such as writing legislation, campaign management, advocacy and impact litigation,” said Alina Zagaytova, a 3L.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Feingold answered students’ questions about his thoughts about the War in Iraq, his opposition to the PATRIOT ACT, and his call for a censure of President Bush last year in response to revelations about warrantless wiretaps. Although Rep. Frank was unable to meet with the group due to a series of votes on the House floor, Kovar stepped in and led an interesting discussion about the logistics of business in the House. The group also sat in on a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, where students witnessed a contentious conversation about the controversy regarding the Justice Department’s dismissal of United States Attorneys for allegedly partisan purposes.
Arnwine and Butts provided students with insight into the careers of accomplished lawyers in the non-profit sector and in a progressive think tank, respectively. Each provided insight into their personal career paths in addition to explaining the work their organizations are doing to advance their causes. Similarly, Reese described life as a young lawyer in one of the only firms in the nation specializing in campaign finance law.
Holder and Kantor took time out of their days at major Washington law firms to discuss their careers and their work for the Executive Branch during the Clinton Administration. Kantor also offered war stories from the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and offered some hypothetical suggestions for the candidates in the current presidential race.
Participants stressed their appreciation for the willingness of the impressive speakers to spend significant lengths of time with a group of students. For example, Kantor met with the group for close to an hour and a half. “I was amazed that so many people who are kind of a big deal were willing to take substantial amounts of time to meet with us,” said Tyler Rosen, the 1L Representative for the HLS Democrats.
Participants also made a visit to the Supreme Court, where the group arranged for a private, behind-the-scenes tour led by two clerks to Justice Steven Breyer. The clerks also led a short information session about what it is like to work at the highest Court in the land.
In addition to the more rigorous parts of the trip, participants were joined by about eight HLS alumni for a private happy hour. “The alumni event gave us the opportunity to talk about the intersection of law and politics with a talented group of alumni, including former elected officials, public interest attorneys, and government lawyers,” said HLS Democrats Alumni Director Jon Berkon, a 2L.
Participants also enjoyed the time away from campus, hanging out with friends and meeting new people they did not know from within the group. “It was a really fun trip,” said Rosen. “In addition to meeting fascinating and accomplished political stars like Mickey Kantor and Russ Feingold, I had a blast hanging out with my fellow Harvard Democrats.”