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Leading Supreme Court Advocates Lend a Hand in Welcoming Admitted Students

January 31, 2017 —

 When Georgetown Law Professor Neal Katyal was preparing to argue Hamdan v. Rumsfeld before the Supreme Court more than a decade ago, he knew that Paul Clement — then the 43rd solicitor general of the United States — would be arguing on the other side. It would be no easy task: Katyal was challenging then-President George W. Bush’s military commissions set up to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay. It would be Katyal’s first oral argument before the Court; it would be Clement’s 35th. 

So to prepare, Katyal turned to a team of 20 law students to help him practice day and night for six months. He also turned to his colleagues at Georgetown Law’s Supreme Court Institute — taking advantage of its program that moots advocates about to appear before the Court. 

When all was said and done, Katyal practiced his argument at least 15 times. And in June 2006, he won his first Supreme Court case.   

“If I was going to argue against this guy, I had to do everything possible to be ready, because he was going to know everything,” said Katyal, who appeared onstage with Clement in Hart Auditorium on January 26 at an “Open House” for newly admitted J.D. students. Katyal and Clement spoke about their careers in a discussion moderated by Professor Eloise Pasachoff, who once clerked for Justice Sonia Sotomayor. 

Katyal, who once clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer and who served as acting solicitor general from 2010 to 2011, has now argued more cases — 32, at last count — than any other lawyer of color with the exception of Thurgood Marshall (who was the 32nd U.S. solicitor general becoming a Supreme Court justice). 

Clement, meanwhile, has argued more than 80. Now a Distinguished Lecturer in Law at Georgetown, Clement had his own Georgetown-related story to tell.  While mooting cases as solicitor general, he would frequently enlist the advice of a talented assistant to the solicitor general, Irv Gornstein. Gornstein would later become the executive director of Georgetown Law’s Supreme Court Institute and a Law Center visiting professor.

“He is now taken his game to Georgetown, and he is integrally involved in the moot court process,” said Clement — himself a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Clement was a clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, another Georgetown University graduate.

Katyal noted that those involved in the Supreme Court process work extremely hard. “[W]atching the Supreme Court…it’s not like other branches of government, it actually works,” he said. “[Everyone is] trying their hardest to get it right. There is something really majestic about that building.” 

Keys to the castle

The event, hosted by the Office of Admissions, included warm welcomes from Dean of Admissions Andy Cornblatt, Georgetown Law Dean William M. Treanor,  Vice Dean Jane Aiken, Dean of Students Mitch Bailin, Assistant Dean Barbara Moulton, and current students. 

Treanor and Aiken told admittees about the wealth of opportunities awaiting them at Georgetown Law — including clinics, practicums, simulations and externships in Washington, D.C. 

“Having the keys to the courthouse and knowing how to [use] lawyering skills is more important now than it was a year ago,” Aiken said. “So I think you’ve made a very good decision to come to law school… Because if you look at what’s happening on television, you see people talking to lawyers in ways they were never talking to lawyers before. It’s happening everywhere, and it’s happening here.”

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