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UF Law hosts Federalist Society national student symposium

Published: March 17th, 2014

Category: Feature


Judge Michael Mukasey, lawyer and former judge who served as 81st attorney general of the United States, gave the Federalist Society national student symposium banquet keynote address March 8 in the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom. (Photo by Kelly Logan)

By Jenna Box (4JM)

For 33 years the Federalist Society has held its national student symposium exclusively at law schools ranked in the top 15.

But that changed March 7-8, when law students, lawyers and professors from around the nation traveled to Gainesville for the 33rd National Federalist Society Student Symposium, hosted by UF Law’s Federalist Society’s chapter.

The conference focused on the balance between freedom and national security, with the help of myriad expert speakers. It received stellar reviews from attendees, said Devon Westhill (3L), president of UF Law’s Federalist Society, who noted how humbled he was by the turnout of nearly 500 people. “We had many guests who traveled thousands of miles to (get here),” Westhill added, “(and) we want to thank them for trusting in us to deliver.”

Perhaps the most anticipated event of the two-day symposium was a speech from keynote Judge Michael Mukasey, who served as 81st attorney general of the United States under George W. Bush. During a Saturday night dinner banquet, Mukasey addressed what he called a “crisis in U.S. intelligence gathering.”

“It’s a multifaceted crisis in which information about our electronic intelligence gathering capability has been leaked to the public — not only by Edward Snowden and (Chelsea) Bradley Manning, but also by government officials,” Mukasey said. “And the process, of course, has been disclosed also to those who mean us harm, including not only terrorist groups but also state actors like China and Iran.”

The cost of a “risk-averse” attitude toward intelligence gathering, he continued, was decided to be greater than risks to intrusions on freedom and privacy after 9/11 occurred. Now that is in question once more, thanks to “horn-tooters” Snowden and Manning, Mukasey said before the attentive crowd in the Reitz Union’s Grand Ballroom.

“There’s been a cascade of misinformation about the NSA’s intelligence-gathering capability that has generated pressure from both the left and the right of the political spectrum to severely restrict the gathering of intelligence that is this country’s first and in some cases its only line of defense,” Mukasey said.

Prior to Mukasey’s closing speech at the banquet, Friday kicked off with a roundtable discussion on “Balancing Privacy and Security.” Panelists discussed issues and solutions surrounding privacy and security in a technological world. A debate immediately followed the talk and addressed the question, “Should we better protect government secrets and punish leaks more severely?”

Some of the featured panelists included: Ted Ullyot, former general counsel of Facebook; Steven G. Bradbury, of Dechert LLP; Rachel L. Brand, of Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board; UF Law Professor John Stinneford; Julian Sanchez, of the Cato Institute; and moderator Judge Bill Pryor, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit; and debaters: New York Law School Professor Nadine Strossen and Roger Pilon, of the Cato Institute; and Judge Jerry Smith, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, as moderator.

Friday evening closed with a reception at the University of Florida President’s House, where Congressman Ted Yoho was present to greet participants, and Marco Rubio spoke via video.

On Saturday, attendees chose among panels and debates including “Cybersecurity and the NSA,” “Is the FISA court too secret,” “Detained suspected terrorists try in military courts or civilian courts,” and “Drones and presidential authority.”

Saturday’s speakers included Stewart Baker, of Steptoe & Johnson; Professor Randy Barnett, of Georgetown University Law Center; Professor Jeremy Rabkin, of George Mason University School of Law; Alex Abdo, of the American Civil Liberties Union; Gregory McNeal, of Pepperdine University School of Law; Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Canady; Professor Laura Donohue, of Georgetown University Law Center; and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston, among others.

“I am proud to announce that the Federalist Society national office considers this student symposium to be the very best in the history of the organization,” Westhill wrote in an email. “It is refreshing to know that we have now set the standard among an elite group of schools to have ever hosted this prestigious event in its 33 years. I think our success serves to demonstrate the University of Florida’s position as a preeminent national institution.”

To view more photos, view the album on UF Law’s Facebook page.




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