High-Profile Speakers Visit Stanford Law in Run Up to Alumni Weekend

Stanford Law School (SLS) hosted several special events leading up to Alumni Weekend. Along with the fun, family-oriented events where alumni got together with classmates to reminisce and make new memories, alumni and the campus community were treated to several engaging discussions featuring high-profile speakers on pressing current legal topics. The impressive list of speakers who visited SLS included General H.R. McMaster, former Solicitor General of the United States Ken Starr, and Slate Supreme Court Reporter and SLS alum Dahlia Lithwick. A Stanford invitation-only event with retired Justice Anthony Kennedy in conversation with Stanford Law School Dean M. Elizabeth Magill capped off the week.

No greater place to learn who you are — Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Kennedy, Stanford Class of ‘58, spoke to hundreds of his fellow alumni and current students at the Stanford Memorial Auditorium at the start of alumni weekend. Interviewed by Magill, Justice Kennedy talked about the current Supreme Court, the fact that the Court is the only branch of government that has to give reasons for its actions and civility between justices.

High-Profile Speakers Visit Stanford Law in Run Up to Alumni Weekend

Justice Kennedy also shared his concern about the divisive climate in current political and public dialogue and warned the audience that “the verdict on freedom is out” and the rest of the world is watching. He entreated the students in the packed audience to remember that liberty is a responsibility and hard work is required of citizens who are the trustees of freedom.

Justice Kennedy also reminisced about his time at Stanford and advised the students in the audience that “college is the place to learn about your last job, the job of learning who you are, and there is no greater place to begin that journey than at Stanford.”

The system worked — Ken Starr

With Robert Mueller’s investigation in full swing, controversy over investigating the U.S. President is back in the news. Ken Starr, former U.S. Solicitor General who also led the team at the Office of the Independent Counsel that investigated Bill Clinton during his presidency, spoke at SLS about how investigating the president has changed over the course of American history. Starr focused on his experience 20 years ago this autumn when he appeared before the House Judiciary Committee with the 453-page “Starr Report” that outlined the investigation of Clinton’s activities. The report triggered the first presidential impeachment in 130 years and the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton in December 1998. The Senate acquitted Clinton the following year.

High-Profile Speakers Visit Stanford in Run Up to Alumni Weekend

In an SLS lecture hall, Starr talked to students and others in the SLS community about the Special Counsel role and discussed his book “Contempt: A Memoir of the Clinton Investigation.” When asked about any potential regrets about his treatment of Monica Lewinsky in light of the current me-too consciousness, Starr said the process brought to account a president abusing his powers, along with 14 other people convicted in the probe. He also said that, whatever regrets he may have, his investigations resulted in a better and stronger mechanism for accountability for both the president and special investigator and have put Mueller in a better position to conduct his investigation.

“The system worked,” said Starr.

Ken Starr served as a judge and as Solicitor General of the United States, and as special counsel during the Clinton impeachment investigation. He is the author of numerous books, and most recently served as the president of Baylor University from 2010-2016. To view Ken Starr’s full bio, click here.

A contest between two visions — General H.R. McMaster

General H.R. McMaster and former Afghan Ambassador Janan Mosazai spent time at SLS to discuss the future of U.S./Afghanistan relations in a panel led by SLS Professor Erik Jensen and Mehdi Hakimi, Executive Director, Rule of Law Program at SLS. At the beginning of the session, the speakers discussed two different visions of Afghanistan: one of an Afghanistan that is supported by its people to be a country of peace, cooperation and understanding and the other darker vision of the country, one that is pursued by extremists and views Afghanistan as a springboard for terrorism. McMaster and Mosazai spent the rest of the discussion session refuting the second vision of Afghanistan and presented ideas for a way forward that embraced the first vision of the country.

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McMaster and the SLS Rule of Law team talked about how rule of law separates a successful society from those that fail and that it is the most important way to stabilize a post-conflict society. McMaster lamented that from 2003-2010, U.S. efforts languished in Afghanistan but that today, the U.S. has removed artificial timelines and working more effectively.”

McMaster went on to discuss four ways the U.S. can help Afghanistan reach the goal of becoming a peaceful, cooperative nation:

  1. Afghanistan has to be hardened and strengthened against the Taliban, with the rule of law and security enforced.
  2. All internal groups need to be politically accommodated into the vision for the country’s future.
  3. The U.S. needs to get regional countries to play a more helpful and less destructive role in establishing a peaceful Afghanistan.
  4. Most importantly, the U.S needs to support sustained international commitment or Afghanistan will become a ward of the international community.

McMaster said that now is the best chance bring the war to an end because it is now the official U.S. policy to pursue peace with the Taliban and major regional powers all support a resolution to the war which can bring the necessary pressure on Pakistan to abandon its support of the Taliban.

“We are finally at a point where the U.S. and Afghan relationship can move from military to economic, and that is the best outcome for all involved.”

McMaster will be serving as the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Stanford Hoover Institute. Read about his work at the institute here.

The barbarian at the gate — Dahlia Lithwick

And, for the pièce de résistance event, SLS’s very own Dahlia Lithwick, JD ‘96, senior editor for Slate, joined a live edition of the Stanford Legal on SiriusXM radio and SLS podcast, co-hosted by SLS Professors’ Pam Karlan and Joe Bankman. This special discussion looked at covering the Court, many of the current cases in front of the Court, and the post-Kennedy court. Lithwick has been writing about the U.S. Supreme Court for twenty years and was the first online reporter to join the SCOTUS-reporting ranks.

At the front of the podcast, Karlan asked Lithwick about how she honed her skills in writing clearly about complicated legal topics.

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“I practiced law and wrote about other topics for a long time before I started covering the Supreme Court. I really had no idea what was going on in there and, in addition, I was the very first reporter from this new medium of online journalism to cover SCOTUS. Years later, one of the press officers told me I was called “the barbarian at the gate” by the other reporters. I’m not a con law professor so I could either pretend to know things or I could just imagine that I had to explain this stuff to my dad who is an econ professor. I made myself comfortable with not being all-knowing and if something struck me as difficult or tricky, I would just be the person who asked those questions,” she told the capacity crowd.

Karlan and Bankman went on discuss Lithwick’s coverage of different cases and complimented her on her ability to convey important concepts in a very palatable way, likening it to sneaking meds into a pet’s meal.

To view or listen to the podcast, click here. To listen to other Stanford Legal podcasts, click here.