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Neal Katyal shares stories, insight, in law school lecture

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    Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal speaks during the 17th annual Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail Memorial Lecture at the University of Toledo MacQuade Law Center.

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    Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal speaks during the 17th Annual Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail Memorial Lecture at the University of Toledo MacQuade Law Center Auditorium in Toledo. THE BLADE/LORI KING

    The Blade/Lori King
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    Maumee resident Elizabeth Pollock asks Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal as question during the 17th Annual Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail Memorial Lecture at the University of Toledo MacQuade Law Center Auditorium in Toledo. THE BLADE/LORI KING

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Among the laundry list of reasons Neal Katyal would speak at the University of Toledo College of Law, the most newsworthy is his current work for Hawaii in its lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s executive orders prohibiting immigration from several majority-Muslim countries. 

Taking up the case brought Mr. Katyal threats and criticism, and scorn in the from of a syndicated column written by Ann Coulter.

CTY-KATYAL12-2

Former Acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal speaks during the 17th annual Maryse and Ramzy Mikhail Memorial Lecture at the University of Toledo MacQuade Law Center.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

“Arguing against Trump's exercise of his constitutional and statutory powers was first-generation American, Neal Katyal. (There are plenty of 10th-generation America-haters. You couldn't get one of them to argue that we should end our country through mass immigration?),” Ms. Coulter wrote in May, 2017

For Mr. Katyal, such words demonstrated why the case was worth pursuing.

“That statement, the idea that being a 1st generation American would disqualify me when the country has given me so much, the idea that mass immigration would end our country instead of, as this lecture series demonstrates, being what this country would be all about...that’s the answer,” he said Wednesday to conclude the 17th Mikhail Lecture at the UT Law School. 

Charlene Gilbert, the Dean of UT’s College of Arts and Letters, said, Mr. Katyal’s  “is one more opportunity to help all of us expand our understanding of our place in the global community.”

Mr. Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University, and former acting Solicitor General of the United States, discussed his successful work in challenging military trials at Guantanamo Bay, the history of the Japanese Internment Camp cases in during World War II, and his ongoing work in challenging the President’s travel bans.

He went looking for a good plaintiff to challenge President George W. Bush’s creation of a new military tribunal system for suspected terrorists, a tall task when searching through the cells of Guantanamo Bay.

“It wasn't like picking among the fine people in this room,” Mr. Katyal said. “It was people who had all been accused of doing something, or allegedly something, bad.”

He eventually settled on Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s former driver. Mr. Katyal won the ensuing case at the Supreme Court, showing him that, in America, the lowest of the low can successfully go against the most powerful men in the federal government and win, if they have a good argument. 

“In many other countries, Mr. Hamdan would have been shot for bringing this case, and me for being his lawyer would have been shot,” he said. “But this is what makes America special.”

That does not mean America is perfect, he said. Mr. Katyal issued a confession of error from the Solicitor General’s office admitting fault in two cases involving American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. 

President Franklin Roosevelt ordered anyone of Japanese ancestry, citizen or not, living on the West Coast be subject to a curfew, then internment in camps for the duration of the war. Several attorneys within the Solicitor General’s office poked holes in the justifications for the order, but those dissenting views were ignored. While the federal government formally apologized in the 1980s for its actions, but Mr. Katyal’s confession detailed the improper action’s taken by his office. 

“This is what makes the job so great,” he said. “Your job is to do justice, even if you lose the individual case.”

Contact Zack Lemon at zlemon@theblade.com419-724-6282 or on Twitter @zack_lemon.

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