Excitement was in the air at the Lewis Katz Building as Dean Kenneth W. Starr's visit approached on Tuesday, February 3, 2009. In December of 2008, Dean Starr filed a complaint in California to address the legal question whether Proposition 8 is a revision or amendment to the California State Constitution. Members of the LGBT community called upon ralliers from Altoona to Harrisburg to peacefully protest his involvement in Proposition 8. The great tradition of free speech in America was on full display at the law school through Dean Starr's speech and the protesters' rally.
Dean Starr was hosted by the Federalist Society, a national legal student organization that is committed to the principles that: (1) the state exists to preserve freedom, (2) the separation of powers is central to our Constitution, and (3) it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. More importantly, the Society is committed to attracting intellectually stimulating speakers to campus. Being provoked to think critically about a diversity of viewpoints is important for the next generation of emerging lawyers. The event was co-sponsored by the Young America's Foundation, Speaker's Trust, and the Dean's Office.
Since the law school's University Park location opened its doors in the fall of 2006, the Federalist Society has hosted debates and speeches addressing topics ranging from: immigration and the environment, to the International Criminal Court, gay marriage, and homeland security.
Dean Starr added to that fine tradition when he specifically addressed "The Supreme Court in American Life" to an audience of around 200. He believes that Americans currently either do not understand or misunderstand the role that the Supreme Court plays in our daily lives. He believes that to say that the Court is merely a political court is a misconception.
Dean Starr offered as an example a recent case where university funding was threatened if military recruiters were not allowed on campus due to the exclusion of openly gay and lesbian people in the military. In a unanimous decision on a topic that can be politically charged, the Supreme Court held 9-0 that the military has the right to recruit on campus.
Following his address, Dean Starr answered questions on topics ranging from Guantanamo Bay to the Second Amendment right at issue in D.C. v. Heller. Questions were submitted by those in the Katz Building Auditorium, in addition to students attending the event via simulcast from the Advantica Building in Carlisle.
Reflecting on the event, as one student said, "This was a Grand Slam for the law school." It was the first public event held in the Katz Building Auditorium, and I hope that Dean Starr's speech represents the first of many events that law students at Penn State will attend for generations to come.