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Law 624 Brings State Attorneys General to Mason Law

By Arushi Sharma, JD Candidate (2011)

Rising 2Ls and 3Ls at Mason Law have a new and attractive addition to their course selections—Law 624, a class focusing on the "duties, powers, and responsibilities of the State Attorneys General." The course was highlighted in March by a debate event,  Perspectives on Preemption: Federalism and the State Attorneys General.

Law 624, "The Office of the State Attorney General," debuted in spring 2008. The course commences with introductory lectures on attorney generals' (or AGs') roles in the legal and political system, narrowing in subsequent weeks to specific issues like consumer product safety, environmental law, and antitrust. Each week, state AGs or other high-ranking officials affiliated with the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) visit the class. Students recently have heard from AGs of Rhode Island, Maryland, and Utah. The course is a 2 CU writing seminar that counts toward the Mason Law writing requirement.

3L student Kimberly White Fedinatz notes that the course gives students "direct and unfiltered access to high-ranking officials on a weekly basis."  She also points out the benefits of the class for students interested in litigation, noting that in making an argument, it is "very persuasive to have an understanding of a state AG's view as support to your case." Fedinatz also explains that the class gives students exposure to real-world application of the law. She makes a case in point, referring to a recent memorandum the class wrote to advise Utah's Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on antitrust issues in the Bowl Championship Series. Shurtleff subsequently visited the class, discussed the students' work, and graded their memoranda.

Adjunct Professors Rob Raffety, Lynne Ross, and Hal Stratton teach this course. Professor Raffety is the associate director of the Regulatory Studies Program and the Government Accountability Project at the Mercatus Center, Professor Stratton is the former attorney general for the State of New Mexico and former chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Professor Ross is the former executive director of NAAG.

Ross credits Law 624's success to the state AGs' interest in informing students about the value of a career in public practice. She also said that Mason Law's location has been a great incentive for speakers to "come out and share their experiences." Ross herself can be credited for the exceptional guest lecturers, having established a strong relationship with NAAG over 27 years of experience in the field.

The debate event on March 16, sponsored by the American Constitution Society, was a fitting example of the distinct nature of Law 624 classroom instruction. Moderated by Professor Stratton, the debate featured Michael Greve, director of the Federalism Project at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and Doug Kendall, founder and president of the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC). The debate focused on preemption, namely whether the states or the federal government are in a better position to protect the American public.

Greve brought an important economic perspective to the debate, observing that "the central regulatory problem we're having is not ‘too few regulators' or ‘inadequate regulation', but the proliferation of uncoordinated regulatory agencies. So to the extent that preemption can curb that tendency—because it takes at least fifty and potentially a hundred or so players out of the process—it's all to the good" of the public welfare to have preemption. Kendall focused on the need for states' discretion in regulating important aspects of citizens' welfare, noting that "Congress has the power to displace states if it chooses to do so, but it should only do so where it has a very good reason to do so, and does so explicitly. Courts should not be activists in striking down state and local protections for the health and welfare of their citizens." Kendall pointed to a 2009 Supreme Court decision, Wyeth v. Levine (affirming a Vermont decision to reject federal preemption of state drug labeling regulation), as "very good news for our notions of democracy."

Law 624 looks forward to more fascinating guest lecturers this semester, including NAAG Supreme Court Counsel Dan Schweitzer. Mason Law students should give a special thanks to Dean Polsby, who was integral to setting up the course program with Professor Stratton in 2008.