24 students, a Supreme Court Justice, and national security experts walk into a piazza…

In This Story

People Mentioned in This Story

Study-abroad trip features Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and national security experts

Over the summer, 24 students from George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School delved deep into issues of constitutional law, separation of powers, and national security in Padua, Italy—a place of inspiration for many of these ideals. The two-week study-abroad trip was co-taught by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and National Security Institute Founder and Executive Director Jamil Jaffer.

“You get a real opportunity to bond, interact and debate these hard issues,” said Jaffer, who has co-led this trip with Supreme Court justices for five years, three of which have been in Padua. “It creates a really unique experience for the students, but also for our guests who come to engage with the students—not just in a sort of panel discussion, but in a place where you really have nothing else to do but chat with the students and talk about these issues.”

A group shot including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Jamil Jaffer and the students who attended the study abroad trip.
A group photo from the last day of class with law students, program leadership and guest speakers. From left to right: Jamil Jaffer; Karen Gibson, Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate; Omario Kanji, NSI's Director of International Programs; and Justice Neil Gorsuch. Photo provided.

Learning from the Experts

The trip comprises of two classes: one with Justice Gorsuch on separation of powers, and the other with Jaffer on applied separation of powers, exploring conflicts between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government on issues of national security.

Patrick Madrid, a third-year student and active duty major in the U.S. Marine Corps, found both classes enlightening. Having been with the Marines for more than 12 years, he said he learned about inter-branch conflicts that affected operations he participated in.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Madrid said, “just to have the opportunity to take classes with Professor Jaffer, who’s awesome and has a great and extensive background, and of course with Justice Gorsuch, and have the opportunity to discuss cases he had written on and get a more in-depth understanding of his judicial philosophy.”

Students also engaged with a bipartisan group of federal judges and national security practitioners including Judge Jeffrey Sutton, Judge Joan Larsen, former National Security Agency Deputy Director Richard Ledgett and former Director of Intelligence for United States Central Command Karen Gibson.

“It was very enriching to hear how each of the speakers described their role in the government and what they believe the future holds for the nation,” said second-year law student Thyme Hawkins. “As I begin my legal career, it’s great to know that I can fit in somewhere and have a positive impact as long as I take the initiative to do so.”

“This trip has also helped encourage me to think critically about issues raised at the highest level of government or in our nation’s highest court,” Hawkins added. “I think being willing to consider our nation’s most important questions will help me professionally and personally deal with any questions that may come before me.”

Law student Kaitlin Groundwater listening to Professor Jaffer's class. She is taking notes on a laptop.
Student Kaitlin Groundwater listening and taking notes during Jamil Jaffer's class. Photo provided.

Inspiring Future Leaders

In addition to intensive course work and readings, building connections was paramount.

“What I liked the most… was how many chances we had to connect with our law school peers and with Justice Gorsuch and Professor Jaffer,” Hawkins said. “That aspect of the trip was quite refreshing since the legal field is ultimately a form of service for others, so fostering camaraderie and professional relationships are integral.”

Jaffer, who previously clerked for Justice Gorsuch, said the trip also allows students to talk with guest speakers about their careers and how they got where they are today. He said he hopes students take away that the opportunities they see in front of them are accessible.

“I’m living proof that you can be a law student who wants to get into national security and achieve it,” Jaffer said. “My parents grew up in Tanzania. I’m Muslim. But I worked in national security in the Bush administration.”

“Whether you’re a woman or a man, or you come from a minority background, or your parents didn’t come from this country,” Jaffer said, “I want [students] to walk away thinking, ‘I could do that, too.’”


To learn more about Mason’s National Security Institute and their future study-abroad opportunities, visit nationalsecurity.gmu.edu.