On Tuesday, November 28, William & Mary Law School’s Institute of Bill of Rights Law (IBRL), with funding generously provided by the Virginia Law Foundation, welcomed two members of Congress, Joyce Beatty (D-OH) and Mike Carey (R-OH), to the Law School for the inaugural “Citizen Lawyers in Action” program.
The event seeks to train students in the tools of democracy to produce lawyers who serve the public good and fortify the Republic.
“We regularly teach our students how to debate, but too often we neglect to teach and model an equally important skill—the ability to govern a community, particularly a community packed with divergent views,” said Professor Allison Orr Larsen, Director of the IBRL, in introductory remarks.
Citizen Lawyers in Action was inspired by the belief held by George Wythe, William & Mary’s—and the nation’s—first law professor, that law students ought to be properly introduced to the process of good governance during their legal education. Wythe remarked that the urgent mission of William & Mary Law School was to “form such characters as will be useful in the National Councils of our country.”
Reps. Beatty and Carey spoke in a morning lecture moderated by William & Mary President Katherine Rowe. In a wide-ranging discussion of modern political events, such as the recent House speaker battle, and long-standing divides, each Congress member emphasized practical strategies they use to overcome polarized politics in an effort to seek bipartisan collaboration.
They recalled important behavior, not just bi-partisan talk, as when Rep. Carey walked over to the Congressional Black Caucus, sat with them, and discussed the merits of a bill. Rep. Beatty then followed suit by walking over to a group of Republicans.
In breaking the harsh division of physical space, Beatty and Carey were able to form bonds more easily across the aisle.
Following the presentation, William & Mary Law students put their legislative negotiation skills to the test in a congressional simulation, inspired by mock legislatures that George Wythe ran with his eighteenth-century students.
Students assumed roles ranging from the senate majority leader to the president of an automatic car manufacturers’ association and debated the funding mechanism of a much-needed infrastructure bill. Within the hour, there was full consensus on all issues raised in the simulation’s scenario and the mock infrastructure bill was fully funded.
The event concluded with a reception during which students, faculty, staff, and honored guests from the Virginia Law Foundation relaxed and reflected on the day’s festivities.
The success of the first Citizen Lawyers in Action event builds upon the democracy pillar of William & Mary’s “Vision 2026” strategic plan. It promises to be the start of William & Mary Law School programming aimed to create “citizen lawyers in action.”