Students' efforts bring prestigious national conference to ASU Law

Man leaning against a rail

Go West, young attorney.

For only the fourth time in the 38-year history of the Federalist Society National Student Symposium, it was held in the former territories and not the colonies.

Lured by the Valley’s mild spring climate, an enticing theme and a hungry group of law students, the 2019 symposium came to Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law on March 15-16 at the Beus Center for Law and Society on the Downtown Phoenix campus.

The symposium featured two keynote speeches — a Friday night opening keynote by prominent law and economics Professor Richard Epstein, and a Saturday evening "fireside chat" by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jon Kyl.

The event was expected to draw more than 600 participants, thanks largely to the efforts of a few dedicated law students who labored behind the scenes for an entire year to make it happen.

“One of the things we are proud of at ASU Law is providing our students with the opportunities that help them not only receive the best legal education, but also extend their legal experiences," said ASU Law Dean Douglas Sylvester. "It is a testament to our students that the Federalist Society chose ASU Law to host the society’s annual event. It has been amazing to see this talented and active student chapter work tirelessly to put together this national event. This is also one of the many reasons we built our new law school building in downtown Phoenix — to host events that help foster debate among students, academics, legal practitioners and public policy experts.”  

The yearlong journey started last March, said Grant Frazier (pictured above), who served as president of ASU’s Federalist Society during 2017-18 and who served as symposium chair. He said ASU Law lost out to Yale Law School for James Madison Chapter of the Year at last year’s symposium at Georgetown University. That loss didn’t sit so well with Frazier.

“I’m a natural competitor and took losing Chapter of the Year as motivation to further improve the ASU Law chapter,” said Frazier, who is a third-year law student. “I figured the best way to do this was by winning the bid to host the 2019 symposium and showing the rest of the country how far our chapter has come.”

Easier said than done. ASU as a host site had many hurdles to overcome: never having hosted the symposium before, a truncated symposium bid timeline, the Southwestern location far from the majority of East Coast law schools and competition from much older and more established law schools and student chapters. However, Frazier and fellow ASU Law students Stacy Skankey, Maddalena Savary and John Thorpe were willing to put in the necessary time and effort.

The process started when ASU Law formulated a comprehensive 75-page proposal from scratch in the span of five weeks. Not only did this proposal have to be completed, it had to be enticing. 

The proposal included two fully built-out programs — each with its own theme, 10 panel descriptions and a host of potential panelists across each panel’s respective viewpoint spectrum. Additionally, the proposal included details relating to the law school’s state-of-the-art facilities; proposed event spaces; information on local hotel room rates, restaurants and houses of worship; a list of law schools within a 400-mile radius; average airline tickets from law school hubs; a comprehensive budget; support staff capabilities; and attractions throughout Arizona, if attendees wanted to turn their symposium travel into a longer vacation.

ASU Law’s student leaders also secured letters of support from many eminent members of the Arizona political and legal communities, including judges from the Arizona Supreme Court, the Arizona Court of Appeals and attorneys from prominent local law firms.

But the real lure was the theme of the conference. Frazier said ASU Law was going to have a difficult time competing with the prestige and legal firepower of fellow symposium contender Yale Law School and thus had to come up with a unique theme that made decision-makers forget all that.

Frazier said that this year’s theme, “The Resurgence of Economic Liberty,” was inspired by Frederic Bastiat’s maxim: “Life, liberty and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”

“It seemed fitting to do this topic in Arizona because we have a strong historical and state constitutional tradition of cherishing economic liberty,” Frazier said. “As part of the West, Arizona played a key role in American history where ordinary people have crossed the frontier at huge personal risk for, in large part, the sake of economic freedom and opportunity for themselves and their families. I think the idea of risking everything for individual economic liberty is a uniquely American trait, and one that is still most alive in the West.”

It was the bait needed to draw the event to Phoenix.

“How big of a deal is this? It’s a huge coup to get this honor,” said Ilan Wurman, a visiting assistant professor at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, where he teaches administrative law and constitutional law. “I think it shows how ASU’s reputation as a law school has significantly increased over the past few years and is a testament to the work and efforts of ASU’s chapter of the Federalist Society.”

Beyond the victory, said third-year law student and chapter Vice President Stacy Skankey, was the invaluable experience of putting together a large-scale event like this and creating networking opportunities.

“I’ve already been able to talk to many federal circuit court judges who (were) going to be in attendance,” said Skankey, who will clerk for the South Dakota Supreme Court starting in August. “It will be nice to show on my resume that I have worked on a project of this size and sophistication. It has been a great opportunity.”

In conjunction with the symposium, Frazier has been leading an effort to endow the James Madison Scholarship at ASU Law. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a second- or third-year law student member of the Federalist Society who promotes awareness of the society’s founding principles and actions. So far he has raised $23,190 of the $25,000 needed to endow the scholarship.

Top photo: Grant Frazier poses for a portrait on the third-floor balcony of the Beus Center for Law and Society in downtown Phoenix on March 11. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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