Law Students Witness Their Professors Face Off in the Supreme Court

Gun Rights

March 21, 2024



L-R: SCI Director Debbie Shrager with student research assistants Blake Phillips, L’24, Hasala Ariyaratne, L’25, Jordan Dyer, L’25, Zenia Grzebin, L’25, and SCI Assistant Director Maddie Sloat, L’27

For most law students, a chance to see a Supreme Court argument live and in person is thrilling. But the chance to see two professors from your own school argue opposing sides of a case is an even rarer treat.

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A group of students, shown from the back, walking toward the U.S. Capitol Building

The U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court, just beyond it, are a brisk walk away from the Georgetown Law campus.

On March 18, five Georgetown Law students who work with the Law Center’s Supreme Court Institute (SCI): Assistant Director Maddie Sloat, L’27, and research assistants Hasala Ariyaratne, L’25, Jordan Dyer, L’25, Zenia Grzebin, L’25 and Blake Phillips, L’24, were able to see Professors David Cole and Neal Katyal in action. All five have seen Supreme Court advocates rehearsing their oral arguments during the SCI’s moot court sessions, but this was a day Georgetown Law history was being made: the first time two faculty members faced off before the high court.

“It was really cool to see the arguments in the briefs come off the page.” – Zenia Grzebin, L’25

After hearing this case today I will be able to go back to class, debrief, talk about it more… this is incredible.” – Jordan Dyer, L’25

A composite photo of two images taken in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, on the left, a man in a dark suit and on the right, a man in a dark suit and a woman in a gray suit.

After the arguments, the Georgetown Law professor-advocates paused for photos. L: Prof. David Cole, R: Prof. Neal Katyal and colleague

The case, National Rifle Association v. Vullo, centered on whether a New York State financial industry regulator had violated the First Amendment in cautioning insurers about the “reputational risks” of working with the gun industry. Cole, in his capacity as National Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), represented the NRA, while Katyal, a partner at Hogan Lovells and former acting U.S. Solicitor General, represented former superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services Maria Vullo.

A group of students standing on campus under a blooming cherry tree

After walking back to campus, the students took a moment to reflect on what they’d seen at the Court.

First Amendment cases are some of my favorite cases, and I think it presents a quite difficult issue.” – Hasala Ariyaratne, L’25

“There’s something really special about hearing a Supreme Court oral argument in the exact same voice that teaches you Con Law. I think that’s something you don’t get anywhere else.” – Blake Phillips, L’24

We won’t know for some time which professor’s argument was more convincing to the nine justices on the bench, but the law students were unanimous in judging the experience to have been one of the most exciting opportunities they’d had so far at the Law Center.

“David Cole is my professor for constitutional law this semester… I’m so excited to get to go to class tomorrow and discuss his argument!” – Maddie Sloat, L’27 and SCI Assistant Director

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