Solicitors General: Above the Fray?

Last week former Solicitor Generals Paul Clement and Walter Dellinger kicked off the annual Supreme Court Preview with a discussion, co-sponsored by ACS, about whether and how the Solicitor General can stay above the political fray.

Intro to the Solicitors General

Paul Clement began by explaining what the Solicitor General does. In addition to playing a crucial role in selecting cases for appeal on behalf of various government agencies, and choosing which theory of a case the United States should endorse, he is essentially the lawyer for the government in the Supreme Court, and as such. Clement gave the example of the conflicting position the Board of Prisons and the DOJ Civil Rights Division tend t to take on similar questions, and it is up to the SG (subject to direction by the White House) to decide which position best reflects the values of the federal government in general. Walter Dellinger offered a complicated series of tie-breaking rules to consider, including how long a particular agency had taken a particular position, and the principle that, whenever possible, the SG will defend congressional laws, even when the Executive branch may disagree with the policy preference therein made. Dellinger also offered an example from his experiences where he warned the executive branch that calling their legislation “the line item veto” was a bad idea and that they might as well call it the “unconstitutional line item veto”, or his personal recommendation “the discretionary budget authority act.”

A great deal of the discussion revolved around whether political neutrality was, for the SG, a means or an end. That is, does the SG generally maintain political neutrality in order to more effectively advocate for the position of the President (as in, choosing to pursue only the positions most likely to win in the Court even if that means forgoing more appealing ideological choices) or is political neutrality an independent ideal of the SG’s office (such as might be the case in the Department of Justice, which is officially an executive agency, but which the public expects to conduct itself with a great deal of independence from the White House).


Published in: on September 29, 2008 at 11:53 pm Comments Off on Solicitors General: Above the Fray?

Plea Bargains and the Role of Judges (ACS Conference Recap)

A guest post by Tom, a 3L ACS member:

I had the good fortune to attend the ACS 2008 Convention this summer and observe, among other things, a panel discussion on plea bargaining. (Yes, this posting is incredibly late.) Those who wish to view the discussion can find a video online. The panel was composed of three federal district judges and a district attorney from Texas. Interested readers can read about the panelists on ACS’s website (PDF), but Craig Watkins, the Dallas County DA, has an especially unique and noteworthy story. Not only is he the first African-American elected to his office, but one of Craig Watkins’s first official acts as DA was to partner with the Texas Innocence Project to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. (Three cheers for prosecutorial integrity.)

A few highlights:


Published in: on September 26, 2008 at 10:23 am Comments Off on Plea Bargains and the Role of Judges (ACS Conference Recap)

Welcome to the Class of 2011

As we begin the academic year at William & Mary School of Law, the local chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS) wishes to extends a warm welcome to all new students on campus.

Now– let us tell you a bit about what who we are and what we do on campus.

*Knock Knock* Who’s there? ACS. ACS who?

The ACS chapter at William & Mary supports and influences a progressive vision through an array of speakers, events, and legal projects that are aimed at provoking thought and debate about our Constitution in the 21st century.

Here’s what we’ve got brewing for this upcoming academic year:

  • Tom Goldstein, prominent SCOTUS lawyer and all-around awesome guy,  speaking in September.
  • Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger and Paul Clement in September.
  • Discussion with Federalist Society on post-Heller policies and gun control (maybe we’ll even visit a local shooting range with the Federalist Society).
  • Drive-In Movie screening of “Wall-E” and discussion.
  • Screening of “Gossip Girl” episode and discussion on privacy, technology, civil liberties and the First Amendment.
  • Got an idea? Plan your own event and let’s make it happen!


Published in: on August 22, 2008 at 8:39 am Comments Off on Welcome to the Class of 2011

The ACS Trip to Our Nation’s Capital

Recently, ten members of William & Mary’s chapter of the American Constitution Society drove up to Washington, D.C. to explore some of the capital’s most important landmarks.
Washington Monument Pt. ??

The first stop of the day – not counting Wawa on I-95 – was the Supreme Court of the United States. After inquisitively checking out the many busts of Chief Justices of the past (and wondering why the first, John Jay, was tucked away in a random stairwell), the group sat in on an informational question and answer session inside the very court where cases such as “The Bong Hits for Jesus Case” were decided. Ironically, the only other group at the Court on this particular day was composed of approximately sixty ten year-olds. When the tour guide invited the group to try to stump her on Supreme Court trivia, it was not one of the law schoolers who succeeded in doing so, but a small child from California who asked, “What was the fifth case argued in this Court?” The tour guide was stumped. She did know, however, the mythological significance of all of the sculpted figures decorating the upper walls, nearly all of whom were religious figures.

The second stop of the day, only a few feet from the SCOTUS itself, was the cafeteria of the Supreme Court of the United States (COTSCOTUS) where the group enjoyed a tasty meal in the same room where, as a plaque in the room explained, Antonin Scalia eats his breakfast every day, even when the court is not in session, “because that’s how the framers did it.” Highlights of the COTSCOTUS menu include the Burger and Frankfurter and the Blackmun and White milkshake. Hey-o!

After finishing the meal, the group headed to one of the Senate Office Buildings (SOBs) where they met with Kevin Landy, Chief Counsel to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, chaired by Senator Joseph I. Lieberman. Mr. Landy was kind enough to explain what his job involves and to answer the group’s questions about government in general. His charming mix of obvious intelligence and political savvy made him an immediate hit with the group.


Published in: on March 30, 2008 at 10:06 pm Comments Off on The ACS Trip to Our Nation’s Capital

Nothing about us without us

On Thursday, January 31, William & Mary’s chapter of the ACS hosted Professor Michael Stein in a lecture on international disabilities law. Professor Stein spoke about his participation in drafting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UN General Assembly adopted in December 2006. Professor Stein said this Convention was the culmination of several movements coming together, including an Italian proposal for a disability rights treaty, support from former Mexican President Vicente Fox for enhanced international disabilities agreements, and advocacy from many non-governmental organizations. The UN adopted this treaty in just three years, the fastest ever, according to Stein.

The Convention, the first human rights treaty of the 21st century, aims to address a broad spectrum of disabilities issues. For example, 80% of the world’s disabled people live in the developing world, and less than 1% of those people have access to education. UN members had to decide how best to reconcile cultural and governmental differences in participating countries. For example, the American system relies mainly on judicial remedies and the work of lawyers for disabled people, but such a system would not suit Japan well, because that country has a lower proportion of lawyers to lay-people than America. In addition to substantive disabilities issues, drafters of the Convention wrestled with some linguistic issues. National representatives at the committee meetings disagreed on using “sex” instead of “gender.” Professor Stein explained that this is important because “gender” implies a continuum of identities, whereas “sex” is binary, and more limiting.

Professor Stein also discussed the United States government’s role in creating this international agreement, or lack thereof. The United States has not signed and will not sign the Convention. The current American position is that the Americans with Disabilities Act is sufficient for Americans’ needs. The United States constantly changed its representatives at the meetings, if it sent representatives at all. Professor Stein summed up America’s position in four words: “We don’t do treaties.” Nevertheless, there are groups lobbying both the national government and state governments to ratify the Convention. One such group is RatifyNow. Professor Stein classified this as neither a “right wing” nor “left wing” issue, pointing out that despite the current administration’s failure to ratify the Convention, it was President George H. W. Bush who passed the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Published in: on February 4, 2008 at 11:27 am Comments Off on Nothing about us without us

Prof. Michael Stein: International Disability Rights Advocacy

W&M American Constitution Society


This Thursday, Jan. 31 at 1:00

Brown bag lunch with Professor Michael Stein: International Disability Rights Advocacy

Professor Stein is an internationally recognized expert in disabilities law and will discuss disabilities law in an international context.

Bring your lunch and stop by for the lecture and Q&A!

Dessert will be provided. (more…)

Published in: on January 30, 2008 at 9:11 pm Comments Off on Prof. Michael Stein: International Disability Rights Advocacy

John Payton Visits W&M ACS

On November 12, over fifty students crowded into room 124 to hear John Payton, a partner at the D.C. law firm of Wilmer Hale. Payton’s talk was on the new races cases and the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education, and he led of by stating that he intended to be provocative.

In the two races cases from Louisville and Seattle, the Court held that the voluntary public school integration plans were unconstitutional. But, according to Payton, these decisions were about something larger. In handing down the opinions, Chief Justice Roberts ended his opinion with a flourish, by invoking the heritage of Brown: “no matter what positives, no use of race should be tolerated.” Roberts referred distinctly to the arguments by plaintiffs’ counsel in Brown, but, posed Payton, would plaintiffs’ counsel from Brown have agreed with the new chief justice? (more…)

Published in: on November 26, 2007 at 7:02 pm Comments Off on John Payton Visits W&M ACS

ACS National Moot Court Competition

Register now to participate in ACS’ 2008 Constance Baker Motley National Moot Court Competition in Constitutional Law. Take advantage of this terrific opportunity to network with lawyer and law students from around the country. Gain valuable legal experience in brief writing and oral arguments by engaging on a topic of timely national import.

Register here. The registration fee is $50 per team and both team members must be ACS members. After completing the registration form, you will be automatically directed to the payment site. Registration will close on November 16, 2007. The official 2008 Problem and Rules can be accessed at

More Information


Published in: on November 9, 2007 at 10:22 pm Comments (1)

Race and the Roberts Court: The Battle Over the Legacy of Brown

John Payton, a partner at the D.C. law firm WilmerHale, will be the featured ACS speaker next Monday, Nov. 12 from 1-2 p.m. in Room 124. Mr. Payton was lead counsel for the University of Michigan affirmative action cases Gratz and Grutter.

Mr. Payton’s talk is titled, “Race and the Roberts Court: The Battle Over the Legacy of Brown.”

Mr. Payton will be discussing the Supreme Court’s ruling last term, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Community School District No. 1, which dealt with the voluntary desegregation of public schools in Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the desegregation plans were not narrowly tailored to achieve the intended goal of diversity in public schools, with “conservatives” Roberts, Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy prevailing over “liberals,” Souter, Stevens, Ginsberg, and Breyer.

Only four years ago, the Rehnquist Court heard the famous University of Michigan cases Gratz and Grutter, and upheld the consideration of race in university admissions, subject to certain limitations (such as consideration of the “whole student” and not only of the student’s race). In Grutter, Justice O’Connor, writing for the majority, stated that the Constitution “does not prohibit the law school’s narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body.”


Published in: on November 7, 2007 at 5:20 pm Comments (2)

Chasing Freedom

Film Screening tonight (10/17/07) at 5:00pm!!!

Chasing Freedom (inspired by a true story) starring Juliette Lewis involves a corporate lawyer who is forced to represent pro bono a woman who has fled the Taliban in her asylum case. The film humanizes some of the difficult hurdles of the American legal system faced by immigrants and refugees, in addition to the lawyer’s evolution in the process.

Free pizza and drinks will be provided.

After the movie, W&M Law Professor Angela Banks will lead a 30-minute discussion on immigration and asylum law. This should be really interesting, and it’ll be a great opportunity to ask questions about these very salient topics and issues of current events. (more…)

Published in: on October 17, 2007 at 1:03 pm Comments Off on Chasing Freedom