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Professor Katyal Makes Acting Debut on House of Cards

March 2, 2015 —

Professor Neal Katyal has had plenty of practice acting out a good Supreme Court oral argument: after all, he’s delivered at least 50 moot courts at Georgetown Law’s Supreme Court Institute in addition to arguing the real deal. And while the Institute is notable for creating a very realistic Supreme Court atmosphere for lawyers preparing to go before the Court — right down to the identical carpeting in the moot courtroom — Katyal has to admit that House of Cards can do a bang-up job as well.

“With my first-rate colleagues and the Supreme Court Institute, I always thought the moots were the next best thing to the real [Court],” says Katyal, who appears as a Supreme Court advocate in the newly released third season (fourth episode) of the television show. “But that set Netflix put together really gave it a run for its money.”

Katyal, the Paul and Patricia Saunders Professor of National Security Law, was originally approached in a consulting capacity — given his extensive experience arguing in front of the Court as a former acting solicitor general, as a partner at Hogan Lovells and of course, as a Georgetown Law professor. But he worked so closely with the writers that he soon found himself in front of the cameras in his acting debut. And like his colleague Professor Randy Barnett, who once played an assistant prosecutor in the independent film “InAlienable,” Katyal did such a convincing job that many people on the set just assumed he was an actor.

Plenty of Georgetown Law students, meanwhile, have been lucky enough to see Katyal perform on a regular basis, both in the classroom and in the moot courts. Dori Bernstein, director of the Supreme Court Institute, has noted that Katyal is one of the advocates whose moots will draw students, no matter what case he happens to be arguing. 

Katyal credits Elizabeth Marvel, who plays the incumbent solicitor general, with a stellar performance. “Her poise and delivery of a Supreme Court argument was pitch perfect right from the start," he says. "She understood the solemnity and nonrhetorical nature of Supreme Court arguments — particularly on a topic such as drone strikes — when you are the government’s top lawyer before the high Court.”  

And while the show is of course fictionalized drama, Katyal points out that “students at Georgetown get to see a real life version of it before their eyes” almost any time they like. “Being two blocks from the Capitol and Supreme Court, our students are fortunate to live the real drama of Washington, D.C.” 

Check out the full story in the National Law Journal, written by Mike Sacks (L'10), and in the Washington Post. 

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