Mar 15, 2005 — Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman spent two-days immersed in law school life, sharing his invaluable experience by discussing his recent Supreme Court victory, leading a Moot Court master class, teaching Constitutional Law, and delivering a public lecture at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law on March 7 and 8.
In a glowing introduction before the opening lecture, Prof. Susan Crawford described Waxman as “extraordinarily generous.” “Seth makes us all proud of our profession,” Crawford said.
Known for his “teaching, leading, and helping,” Waxman, a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP and one of the country’s premier Supreme Court and appellate advocates, lived up to the reputation by graciously inviting the audience to interrupt with questions and injecting a bit of humor into his speech. “I could listen to that forever,” Waxman said of Crawford’s introduction. “It’s really my pleasure to be here.
Waxman’s lecture “Who (or What) is the Solicitor General’s Client?”, part of Cardozo’s Bauer Distinguished Visitor Program, covered the role and responsibilities of a solicitor general, which includes arguing in front of the United States Supreme Court and insuring that the government speaks in one voice on questions of law. “It probably was a job whose aspirations could never be filled,” Waxman said. Admitting he was unsure where to begin in the role, his response was to “show up for work everyday and figure out how it’s done,” he said, adding that arguing in front of the United States Supreme Court is “great, wonderful fun.”
Continuing the visit, Waxman, who has delivered more than 40 oral arguments in the Supreme Court, began his second day at Cardozo by teaching a Constitutional Law class. Jokingly promising a higher grade to anyone who asked a question, including the Hon. Olivier Dutheillet de Lamothe, Justice at the French Constitutional Council who was in attendance, Waxman led up to a discussion of his recent Supreme Court win in the juvenile death penalty case Roper v. Simmons.
He discussed the eighth Amendment and various cases involving the death penalty, before talking about the preparation for Roper v. Simmons, in which the court ruled on March 1, 2005, that the death penalty is unconstitutional for anyone who commits a crime when they are under the age of 18. “We needed to write the perfect brief,” Waxman said. Representing Christopher Simmons, who murdered a neighbor when he was 17-years-old and was sentenced to death, Waxman looked to “evolving standards of decency” and social science research that suggests personalities and moral character are too unreliable in someone under 18, to make his case.
After leading the class and having lunch with a group of students, Waxman served as the judge during a Moot Court master class. Second-year students Rachel Lubert and Rebecca Hagenson, national Moot Court champions, presented oral arguments in front of Waxman and fellow students.
“This was really a pleasure,” Waxman said. “It’s quite obvious why you won.” He also offered practical advice from his first-hand experience, encouraging the students to prepare and recite their most important one or two points right off the bat. Admitting that justices probably don’t want to be considered pupils, he nonetheless encouraged everyone to think of judges as students when answering their questions. “This is all about teaching,” Waxman said. “It’s about trying to explain something.”