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TFAS Legal Studies Institute: In The Heart Of The Legal Policy World

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With more lawyers per capita in D.C. than any other city in the nation, the TFAS Legal Studies Institute helps law students immerse themselves in the heart of the thriving legal landscape in the nation’s capital.

Since its inception in 2007, hundreds of legal students have gained substantive experience taking classes taught by faculty from prestigious area law schools, worked in a variety of nonprofits, political offices, businesses and more, and attended lectures given by the top leaders in the legal field. The academic, internship and networking equates to a rare experience that immensely benefits students interested in policy work.

Some legal students also elect to have mentors, legal professionals who work in D.C. and advise students how to navigate the city and develop professionally. Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in Constitutional Studies and editor-in-chief of the Cato Supreme Court Review at the Cato Institute is a mentor this summer.

TFAS Professor Randy Barnett (far left) hosts a panel of legal thought leaders to talk about their experience and answer students' questions.
TFAS Professor Randy Barnett (far left) hosts a panel of legal thought leaders to talk about their experience and answer students’ questions.

“D.C. is the heart of the policy oriented legal world,” said Shapiro. “There are all types of legal practice for students to experience, and more diverse types of people practicing law than almost any other area of the country.”

Like all TFAS programs, constitutional values are at the core of every facet. This summer’s legal students are taking a course called Constitutional Interpretation: Originalism in Theory and Practice, taught by Randy E. Barnett, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory at the Georgetown University Law Center and the founding director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution. Professor Barnett recently won one of four prestigious 2014 Bradley Prizes, awarded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation in Milwaukee.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia signs a book for an LSI student following a briefing on Capitol Hill in May
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia signs a book for an LSI student following a briefing on Capitol Hill in May

Professor Barnett’s originalism course introduces students to critics of the theory, and the proper role of judges in enforcing the original meaning of the Constitution. As part of the course the students visited the Supreme Court to discuss originalism with Justice Antonin Scalia.

As a fan of originalism, LSI student Frank Garrison (LSI 14)  followed Professor Barnett’s work and heard about the TFAS program when Barnett posted about it on the The Volkh Conspiracy blog.

“I’ve read all of Professor Randy Barnett’s books. When I found out he was teaching the course it sealed the deal for me,” Garrison said.

Garrison and his classmates took Professor Barnett’s course on originalism earlier in the summer.

“I knew what originalism was before, but I didn’t know how to research originalism within the law,” Garrison said.

In addition to classes, attending briefings and hearing from leaders in the field, Garrison interns at the Committee for Justice (CFJ), a legal and legislative action organization dedicated to holding America’s political leaders accountable to the law and the Constitution. Garrison’s work includes researching congressional websites, aka “rabbit holes” to create legislative score cards for CFJ. The legislative score cards examine how political representatives vote and determine their alignment with constitutional principles.

“My internship at CFJ is showing me how the sausage is made as far as a nonprofit constitutional organization. You have to find out what Congress is doing before you can fight what they’re doing,” Garrison said. “It’s showing me the process of how to research the information necessary to litigate.”

After one more year of law school at St. Thomas University School of Law, Garrison hopes to move to Washington D.C. and work in constitutional litigation.

“Everything we’ve been learning in the classes, through our speakers, and at our internships is about how to restore principles of the founding which are in line with a free-market, capitalistic system,” Garrison said. “It’s been one of the better experiences I’ve ever had.”

For more information on the LSI program, visit www.DCInternships.org/LSI.

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