Questions about recent law school hires

Posted: March 27, 2019 at 9:53 am, Last Updated: March 27, 2019 at 10:23 am

Over the last few days I have received a number of complaints about our law school’s decision to recruit U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh who will co-teach a class in England this summer. While I don’t intend to change anybody’s views about this public figure, I do hope I can bring some clarity as to how and why these types of decisions are made.

Indeed, this summer, two members of the U.S. Supreme Court are scheduled to teach overseas classes in partnership with our faculty. Justice Neil Gorsuch and Professor Jamil Jaffer will team up for the second time to teach a class in Padua, Italy about the historical roots and the modern application of the separation of powers in the national security context. And Justice Kavanaugh and Professor Jennifer Mascott will team teach a course on the origins and creation of the U.S. Constitution in Runnymede, England, the location of the sealing of the Magna Carta.

These two courses are part of the law school’s on-going efforts to provide opportunities for students to learn from some of the most influential legal experts in the nation. The faculty (in this case the law school’s) approves these types of appointments based on their assessment of the qualifications of the individuals and the value they can bring to students. Justice Kavanaugh’s appointment was approved by the law school faculty in January. The class was announced to law school students soon thereafter and an information session was held in early February (for additional information, I’m pasting the announcement to students below). At this time, the class, which is elective, is oversubscribed.

I respect the views of people who disagreed with Justice Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation due to questions raised about his sexual conduct in high school. But he was confirmed and is now a sitting Justice. The law school has determined that the involvement of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice contributes to making our law program uniquely valuable for our students. And I accept their judgment.

This decision, controversial as it may be, in no way affects the university’s ongoing efforts to eradicate sexual violence from our campuses.  We remain firmly committed to this goal, and I want to encourage students who feel strongly about sexual assault prevention at Mason to continue to raise their voices and help us move forward.  We have made significant progress but have much more to do and we need the involvement of our entire community to continue to move forward. I’m encouraged that reports of sexual and interpersonal violence to both the Student Support and Advocacy Center and the Title IX office are up, which indicates survivors feel safer to speak up. The increased reports are putting pressure on our existing resources in both investigating cases and providing support to survivors, and we need to accelerate investments in these areas. In the next couple of days you should be receiving an update from University Life and Compliance, Diversity, and Ethics on what has been accomplished so far and the additional efforts underway.

 

CREATION OF THE CONSTITUTION

       SUMMER COURSE in Runnymede, England co-taught by

       U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh & Professor Jennifer L. Mascott

       July 22 to August 2, 2019

       Brief information session will be held from 5:00 – 5:45 pm on Tuesday, February 5th, in Room 221.

       CALL FOR APPLICATIONS

       This summer George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School will introduce a new overseas course on the origins and creation of the Constitution. United States Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Professor Jennifer Mascott will team teach the course just outside of London in Runnymede, England, the location of the sealing of the Magna Carta.

       In this two-credit course, titled Creation of the Constitution, students will study the historical origins of the Constitution and read Founding-era documents and debates shaping the content of the document. Students will be graded on their in-class participation and a 15-20 page paper that will be due a few weeks after the conclusion of the course. In addition to classroom instruction, the course will include several day trips to sites associated with the formation of principles influencing the content and structure of the Constitution.

       The course will begin with a brief examination of British constitutional heritage and Founding-era political philosophies such as republicanism and classical liberalism. Students will next study late eighteenth-century American documents and debates such as the Articles of Confederation, portions of Madison’s notes from the constitutional drafting debates, and early drafts of the Constitution. Finally, in addition to examining the development of structural constitutional principles such as federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances, the course will cover debates over contested issues such as the proper scope of military and foreign affairs powers and the inclusion of a Bill of Rights. The class will also discuss how those constitutional principles apply to modern controversies and current events.

       During the spring 2019 semester, students enrolled in the course will have an opportunity to attend an oral argument at the Supreme Court along with a post-argument information session and discussion at the Court hosted by Justice Kavanaugh and Professor Mascott.

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Write to Ángel Cabrera at president@gmu.edu

5 Comments

Gravatar Image for Sarah Ahn Sarah Ahn writes:

“He was appointed Justice, so student concerns aren’t valid.”
-Cabrera

Gravatar Image for Felicia Baez Felicia Baez writes:

Just because he is confirmed and now a sitting justice does not excuse him. I am disappointed with your decision to accept the law schools judgement. Students who are survivors of sexual assault on campus are more important than influential legal experts in the nation. There are so many other people that could have been chosen.

Gravatar Image for Justin Maddox Justin Maddox writes:

“This decision, controversial as it may be, in no way affects the university’s ongoing efforts to eradicate sexual violence from our campuses.”

I’m sorry to say but this is false. This is just as much actual actions as it is student’s feelings of safety and security on campus, and this decision harms those feelings immensely.

Gravatar Image for A Law Student A Law Student writes:

The arguments against his hiring are, frankly, incoherent.
 
There are exactly 8 other people on the planet in his position, two of whom are already teaching at the law school; so no, actually, there aren’t “so many other people that could have been chosen.”
 
For those who claim they’re “re-traumatized” by his hiring, even if you take this somewhat ridiculous assertion at face value, if a hiring decision and a press release are sufficient to traumatize you, then so is the news on a daily basis; the effect of hiring can only be marginal. He’s now on the court and will be there for life. If you can’t cope with that, nothing is really going to make a difference.
 
It’s not like an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court is going to be hanging around campus; the only students who will ever run into him are those that chose to and get accepted into his class (which is over the summer, and in another country).
 
Further, the presumption of innocence is one of the foundational principles of the republic. There’s a good reason the court of public opinion can’t actually convict anyone; because it lacks any semblance of due process protections. Innocent until proven guilty.
 
If you reduce them down to their most basic form, all the objections to his hiring amount to are “I disagree with him politically, therefore he should be banished.” This flies in the face of the free and open dialog crucial to an institution of higher learning.
 
I’m sensitive to the concerns of survivors, but there’s no rational basis that follows from that for denying law students the opportunity to directly interact with a Supreme Court Justice.  

Gravatar Image for Justin Tryon Justin Tryon writes:

I think it’s unreasonable to say that President Cabrera and the University aren’t taking concerns seriously, the fact that this brief was published, discussions are being held at GMU, and that the school administration is actively looking to hear expressed concerns and create dialouge shows that the concerns some have with Justice Kavanaugh will be heard.

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