The Association of American Law School's (AALS) Annual Meeting held in January brought together five solicitors general for a historic Pepperdine event.
During the School of Law's "Reflections from the Office of the Solicitor General" panel, the discussants expressed a common belief: that the role of a solicitor general is to argue a nonpartisan case that is absent from politics and present of ethics.The monumental gathering challenged and inspired faculty and students alike to the practices of lawyers known for their courage and integrity.
The panel included former Pepperdine School of Law dean Ken Starr, who held the role of solicitor general from 1989 to 1993; Walter Dellinger, who served as acting solicitor general from 1996 to 1997; former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal, who served from May 2010 to June 2011; Sri Srinivasan, who was selected as principal deputy solicitor general in August 2011; and Theodore Olson, solicitor general from 2001 to 2004.
Deanell Reece Tacha, the Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean of Pepperdine Law, introduced the panel to the standing-room only audience that welcomed law students and professors from throughout the country.
"They represent one thing that I hope all of us in legal education aspire to," she says. "And it is being the very best that we can be as advocates for our clients and our causes."
For an hour, the group discussed the history of the solicitor general, often referred to as the "tenth justice", and the complicated role of advisor to the attorney general. The Supreme Court's faith in the solicitor general, noted Olson, is crucial. Of the approximately 9,000 most recent petitions to the Supreme Court, only about 75 have been granted. It is an example, he says, of the heavy reliance on the solicitor general to determine which petitions are of greatest importance.
Reflecting on litigation that most affected him during his stint as solicitor general, Starr referenced Nancy Beth Cruzan and the right to die movement.
"The dignity of life is extremely important to me," he said. "But you have to be guided by rule of law values and not your deeply held moral principals. In no other case did I feel that I needed to learn so much."
Katyal noted his experience in working with Ed Kneedler, former deputy solicitor general.
"Watching the way he conducted himself under enormous pressure from high level people in government to do something else and to take a different position, and him constantly standing up for what he thought was right," Katyal said. "I think about that and think that's what the American government should be all about."
Olson addressed the students in attendance stating, "For me, law school was loving the law and loving the intellectual challenge of the law."
Derek Muller, associate professor of law, also attended the panel discussion.
"Pepperdine was the only law school to hold a substantive discussion Thursday evening, with a panel of extraordinary advocates," he said. "Fellow professors from a wide variety of schools noted that the impressive discussion, and the exceptional work of Dean Tacha, were a model for all schools. It was a rewarding evening, and the words of wisdom from the solicitors general will remain with me for years to come."
Formed in 1900, the AALS is a nonprofit academic association comprised of 176 law schools representing more than 10,000 law faculty in the United States. This year's weeklong Annual Meeting included a variety of networking opportunities, including an Urban Redevelopment presentation, and a panel and luncheon for the Section on Minority Groups, both attended by Pepperdine faculty.
"While the AALS conference was an extremely valuable opportunity to reconnect with former classmates and colleagues from around the nation, its greatest value for me is to spend several days present in the community of law faculty of color," says Christine Goodman, professor of law.
"I always enjoy the AALS Annual meeting because it is a wonderful place to network with other law professors, particularly those in your area of scholarship," says Shelley Saxer, professor of law and director of the Byrne Judicial Clerkship Institute. "I had the opportunity to refresh friendships with professors from schools across the country and make some new friendships as well."