As Seen By The Dean
GW Law Briefs

International Update
Public Interest Corner

Today's Leaders
New Faculty
Faculty File

Alumni Events
Law Newsmakers


Contact Us
Alumni Association
Law Alumni Association
GW News Center

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is escorted to Renee Lettow Lerner's class by Senior Associate Dean Steven Schooner.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales lecture at GW Law

By Laura Ewald
All photos by Claire Duggan

At law schools nationwide, when students miss classes, they miss out on important information, lively lectures, and the opportunity to ask pointed questions. At GW Law, if students miss class, they risk forfeiting face time with some of the most influential legal minds in the world. This fall, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia visited the Law School to make a direct connection with tomorrow’s legal leaders—to teach as guest lecturers.

Dean Frederick M. Lawrence and Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia

Both visitors brought unique, real-world perspectives to the classrooms, and both were in their element: Gonzales previously served as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law Center, and Scalia served as a professor at institutions including the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago Law School. Both also have connections to GW Law—professor Brad Clark formerly served as clerk to Scalia, as did professor John Duffy; and Gonzales has worked with several GW Law faculty members and students through both the White House Counsel’s Office and in his role as attorney general.

Scalia visited Professor Amanda Tyler’s seminar on statutory interpretations in mid-October, discussing different theoretical approaches to the discipline as well as the role of legislative history.

“It was an honor to have Justice Scalia visit our school and the class, not only because he is such an important jurist, but also because he is a prolific scholar in the field,” Tyler says. “My students have read a lot of his work and studied his decisions for this course, and he engaged them in conversation, answered questions, and generally brought the work they are doing to life in the classroom.”

Mark Knights, a 3L who will clerk on the 10th Circuit following graduation and who hopes to practice criminal law, appreciates the “rare opportunity” afforded by Scalia’s visit. Knights says the interaction deepened his understanding of a complex subject.

“A classroom discussion about statutory interpretation can tend to become an abstract intellectual exercise,” Knights says. “Whether one agrees with Justice Scalia’s methodology, speaking with him underscored that problems of statutory interpretation cannot be divorced from either the contexts in which they arise or their larger implications. It was fantastic to have the opportunity to question Justice Scalia about the finer points of his approach.”

Both guest lecturers engaged students in lively class discussions.

Classmate Jonathan Bond, a 2L who hopes to practice appellate litigation in Washington, says he gained insight not available to many students of the law through Scalia’s discussion. “When you read a Supreme Court case, the only dialogue is between the majority and the concurring or dissenting opinions; you are often left wondering how the justices would respond to other arguments or how they see the decision interacting with other doctrines and principles,” Bond says, noting that during the class, “many of these limitations were absent,” allowing for a more thorough understanding of the subject.

Scalia visited at the request of Tyler. Clark says Scalia enjoyed the visit immensely.

In the case of Gonzales’ visit, it was the attorney general who took the initiative to contact GW Law. Interested in the chance to teach in the classroom, Gonzales asked his staff to look into local possibilities. His staff recommended he contact Clark, who is currently on sabbatical. Clark in turn suggested Renee Lettow Lerner’s class, as Lerner met Gonzales while he was White House counsel and she was deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice.

“I had told my students that a ‘speaker from the DOJ’ was going to visit, and that they would very much like to hear him talk,” Lerner says. “There was a definite gasp when he walked in the room. But after that initial surprise, they got into the swing of it and were very interested to listen to him and ask him questions.

“He was candid with them, and it is obvious that he very much likes to teach. He was engaging and warm.”

Lerner says the visit was remarkable in that it gave the students access to the behind-the-scenes thought processes that lead to policies and practices affecting the United States in interesting and important ways.

“The students got to hear what was at the center of some very important events, including recent policies on Guantanamo detainees and matters of national security,” Lerner says. “They got to hear from a major decision-maker what was at the heart of some hard choices.”

GW Law’s ability to attract and facilitate such notable guest teachers speaks to its location, strength, and reputation. In addition, Clark says, students benefit from their ability to secure internships, clerkships, and other opportunities with the help of GW Law’s many connections to Washington and beyond.

“We have so many visitors all the time who add so much to our classroom experience; visitors from the Pentagon, the DOJ, the EPA,” Clark says. “And we also send students out to them, through internships, clinics, clerkships, and other ways. These visitors are excited that they have the chance to work directly with our students, who represent the future of the law.

“There is no ‘filter’ of the media, of casebooks, or even of professors’ teaching styles. It is a direct connection that benefits everyone involved.”