Professor Neal Katyal, Student Organizations Host a Conversation with Khizr Khan

October 11, 2016

In the words of Georgetown Law Professor Neal Katyal — the former acting U.S. solicitor general — it often takes an immigrant to teach us about America. That was true on October 6, when the Law Center community welcomed Pakistani-American lawyer Khizr Khan to campus for an event hosted by four student groups: the Student Bar Association, Georgetown Law Democrats, the Muslim Law Students Association and the Georgetown Student Chapter of the American Constitution Society.

Khan — the father of the late U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, killed in the Iraq War in 2004 — is the man who produced his pocket copy of the Constitution at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, his wife Ghazala at his side. “It takes a special act of bravery to stand up for the Constitution, because the Constitution, after all, isn’t political,” said Katyal.

In the days following his speech, Khan said, he received many messages of support from lawyers and scholars. But one stood out: an e-mail from Katyal, the son of Indian immigrants. “When you reach out to somebody, show that you care,” Khan said. “It makes a difference.”

Khan recalled how, in Chicago, he met a despondent refugee woman from Syria who needed help. Khan took her to a meeting of the Chicago Bar Association, where a roomful of lawyers immediately stood up to volunteer. “She said…, ‘at that moment, when they came forward…I arrived in the United States,’” Khan said. “‘This is the dream I have had of this country, this is the way I used to think of this country. These are great people that help the rest of the world.’”

He was compelled to wave the Constitution, he said, in response to the children of immigrant family and friends who are afraid of being deported and are bullied in schools because of their status. Because of Khan, children and many adults in America now want their own copies of the Constitution to read.

“You are the custodians [of the Constitution] who will move forward, who will stand firm, if ever there came a time that our values are challenged…” he told the audience. “This is the best place on earth, its laws, its legal system, its democratic institutions. This nation, we are a testament to that.”

Courage and patriotism

Dean William M. Treanor, a historian who teaches an Advanced Constitutional Law Seminar, thanked Khan for his courage, his patriotism and his vision. The convention speech, the dean noted, “has called us to remember what we care about most deeply in this country.”

And Treanor called Katyal “one of the most important lawyers of our time.” The Paul and Patricia Saunders Professor of National Security Law, Katyal has argued in the Supreme Court 28 times, more than any other minority lawyer save Thurgood Marshall. In 2006, Katyal argued Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. “It was a case that everyone told him he could never win, but in a 5-3 decision the Court found that military trials at Guantanamo Bay violated the constitutional separation of powers, domestic military law and international law,” Treanor said. “It was unquestionably one of the landmark decisions of our time.”