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ASU law professor Gary Marchant takes Oath of Allegiance

February 02, 2011

Gary Marchant is an internationally renowned expert in biotechnology who has written hundreds of publications about the legal and ethical issues of emerging technologies. He’s a former partner at one of the most respected global law firms in Washington, D.C., and not only has a Ph.D. in genetics and a master’s degree in public policy, but also was first in his class at Harvard Law.

On Jan. 31, the 52-year-old professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University added another notch to his belt, that of American citizen. A 15-minute naturalization ceremony in an Armstrong Hall classroom, sandwiched between Marchant’s nanotechnology course and a constitutional law class, was attended by his wife Dawn, their children, Julie and Daniel, and about 75 law-school friends.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the U.S. political system, and the way that issues are heard and voted on here,” said Marchant, who grew up outside Vancouver, British Columbia. “As a teenager, the first time I had a job and got paid, I used the money to buy The New York Times, because I was so interested in how the government operates across the border. I wanted to come here and study, and I’m thrilled to become a United States citizen.”

While naturalization ceremonies are performed periodically for large groups of new citizens, such events for individuals are rare. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service approached Marchant late last year about delivering his oath at the law school.

“The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service works to take our immigration activities out to the community and to those who wouldn’t normally see the immigration process firsthand,” said Marie Thérèse Sebrects of the USCIS. “The naturalization ceremony of Professor Marchant presented a perfect occasion to provide members of the ASU community, in general, and the law school, in particular, an opportunity to see this important final step to U.S. citizenship.”

One of the earlier steps was a 10-question oral civics exam, which Marchant took in November. A passing grade is six out of 10 – Marchant missed just one question. (Asked to name a war that was fought in the 1900s, Marchant misinterpreted the question as 19th century and replied, “the Civil War.”)

At Monday’s ceremony, USCIS branch chief Charles Harrell administered the oath of office after affirming that the popular professor had “good moral character as required by law.” The room erupted in laughter and applause.

Said Harrell, “We liken it to a new birthday. Next year, you can ask for your birthday off. Whether they give it to you is not up to us.”

He encouraged Marchant to vote, become active in his community, even run for office. When Harrell emphasized that Marchant is not expected to leave behind his Canadian heritage or background, Marchant quipped, “So I can still watch hockey then?”

Amy Owen took her 11-year-old son, Duane Miller, out of school and brought him to the law school to witness the ceremony. “This is another way for my son to appreciate being a citizen of such a great country,” said Owen, a third-year law student. “This is not something we should take for granted. It’s definitely special.”

Duane, a fifth grader at Summit School of Ahwatukee, brought along a book in case things got long, but he didn’t have a chance to open it.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” said Duane, who watched President Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law in the class behind Marchant, deliver a videotaped message of congratulations. “I thought it would be a lot more formal and take a lot longer for someone to actually join a big community like the United States.”

Marchant, who played hockey as a child, said there is room in his heart, although perhaps not in his schedule, for his new country’s national pastime, baseball. In addition to teaching law and traveling the world to talk about the intersection of law with science, he is Executive Director of the College of Law’s Center for Law, Science & Innovation, the ASU Lincoln Professor of Emerging Technologies, Law and Ethics, a Senior Sustainability Scientist in ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, and Associate Director of the ASU Origins Institute.

Marchant said he will not press his children to consider dual citizenship.

“I told my son that, because I’m Canadian, he can become Canadian, too, and he cried,” he laughed.

And although his native land is known for its fine comedians –Eugene Levy, Norm Macdonald and Catherine O’Hara, among them – Marchant said his loyalties there won’t change. “I’m a John Cleese fan,” he noted.

Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law