A New Era For Constitutional Law and Theory
If 1987 marked the downfall of originalism, then 2017 might be known as the comeback, thanks to Judge Gorsuch, an originalist who has testified to his adherence to the “original public meaning.”
Twenty years ago Robert Bork, a self-professed originalist, failed to earn enough votes to make it to the Nation’s highest court. And originalism ventured into an isolated wilderness. Now, Judge Gorsuch, who has brought originalism out of obscurity, is also bringing originalism squarely into the mainstream. Given an impending confirmation vote for him in late spring, Judge Gorsuch’s ascension to the bench will likely normalize originalism in many academic and political circles.
This is important for two of many reasons. First, state-of-the-art originalism, as a method of constitutional interpretation, is arguably the best-suited for the task. Second, originalism has the ability to appeal to individuals of all stripes, from left to right on the political spectrum.
Rachel Hitchins, left, and Leigh Ainsworth, right, recently helped their client Sasha win asylum.
This story was written by Center for Applied Legal Studies staff. The Law Weekly was not involved in writing the content of this article, but edited it and deemed it necessary to publish.
Sasha (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) fled her home country of Burundi after a powerful Hutu general threatened, raped, and left her for dead because she is a Tutsi woman. When she first came to the United States in 2012, Sasha’s application for asylum was rejected by an immigration official. Sasha, unrepresented at the time, was then placed into deportation proceedings. While that case was pending, Sasha found the Center for Applied Legal Studies, the Law Center’s asylum law clinic. Over the course of their semester in CALS, Sasha’s student representatives, Leigh Ainsworth and Rachel Hitchins, worked intensely with Sasha to develop an evidentiary record and write a legal brief to convince the immigration judge that Sasha should be allowed to remain in the United States. Ultimately, the hard work paid off – the judge granted Sasha asylum, putting her on a pathway to U.S. citizenship.
Ainsworth and Hitchins had enrolled in CALS hoping to learn about immigration law, develop practice skills, and serve a vulnerable client. “I wanted to learn firsthand what it meant to represent a client in immigration court and to help a client navigate a complicated—and at times, frustrating—legal system,” Ainsworth said. In the students’ first meeting with their client, Sasha broke down in tears. She revealed that when she was only fifteen years old, the general began harassing and threatening her. He made sexual advances toward her, using his position of authority to stalk and threaten her when she refused him. Sasha’s family hid her by sending her to boarding school, and while she was there, her mother died under suspicious circumstances. Not long after, the General found her again. He then kidnapped and brutally raped her, and left her for dead in a forest. Sasha was rescued by a kind woman who found her there.
Of all the labels swirling around to describe Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch before his confirmation hearings beginning March 20th, patriotic is likely among them, according to Tara Helfman, who is on loan from Syracuse Law School while she works as a Georgetown Center for the Constitution Visiting Scholar.
Helfman’s recent slate of articles reflect her ongoing scholarship that includes executive powers, the Constitution and originalism. While at Georgetown for the 2017 spring semester, Professor Helfman hosts GULC students in her “Freedom and the Framers” reading group, where she guides students through an exploration of the ideas and events that helped shape the American Constitution.
The purpose of the group, Professor Helfman says, is to allow students to enrich their understanding of constitutional doctrine and thereby become “useful and effective lawyers. [The reading group] is a lot more free-wheeling than a normal Socratic-oriented course. We read interesting things, and everyone is motivated to be there because they’ve chosen to be there. It’s not for credit.”
At their February 15 meeting, Georgetown University’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution regarding the January Executive Order on Immigration issued by President Donald Trump. The Faculty Senate “is a university-wide faculty governance body that advises the University President on academic, administrative, and financial issues that affect all three campuses.” The resolution labels the Executive Order “an affront to human decency” and a threat to the “basic values we stand for as a university.” The resolution follows a January statement by Georgetown University President John DeGioia that was critical of the Trump Administration’s policy and cautioned students affected by the ban to consult an immigration attorney.
Law Center Professor Laura Donohue, who also serves the law campus’ Faculty Senate Vice President, shared her personal thoughts on the resolution as it relates to the original Executive Order. Donohue stressed the importance of Georgetown as an “institution that was built on the exchange of views,” both differing and alike. She communicated that the sharing of ideas with those different from oneself allows for “intellectual growth” and a fuller discussion in the classroom and in the world beyond us. Donohue reflected on the original executive order as “contrary to the history and legacy of Georgetown as a Jesuit institution,” and the subsequent Faculty Senate resolution as a symbol of Georgetown’s commitment to social justice for all. Georgetown’s commitment was further demonstrated as faculty immediately mobilized and headed to Dulles Airport to provide legal support for those directly affected by the order.
While there are two months of classes remaining in the semester, Georgetown’s student government is already preparing to turn over power to a fresh set of leaders. With the elections coming up on March 7-8, candidates have just a week left to make their case. Voting is conducted online, but staffed polling stations will be available in McDonough Hall.
The Student Bar Association (SBA)’s meeting on February 28th, the penultimate meeting of the current class of delegates and executive board members, featured a town-hall style forum where candidates for various executive board positions, including President, both Day and Evening Vice Presidents, Secretary, and Treasurer, were able to articulate their platform and answer questions from attendees.
Half of the 45 minutes allotted for the forum was occupied by the two candidates for SBA President. 2L Delegate Joshua Branch and 1L Delegate Ryan Shymansky both introduced themselves and their platforms in a one minute speech before they were asked questions by the attendees. Shymansky drew attention to his relative inexperience, characterizing his run as something he had not been planning for long. Noting that it was unusual for first-year students to run for SBA President, he leaned on his experience and prior connections during his undergraduate years at Georgetown’s main campus. Branch, who heads the Community Enrichment committee that has organized the speakership series, spoke about his ability to take a middle ground and his level-headed nature as beneficial to his candidacy.