January 7, 2024 marked truly a historic moment for the James Wilson Institute, as we traded summer sandals and walking shoes for boots and heavy coats to convene our first ever James Wilson Fellowship in Winter. Having gathered together a one-of-a-kind class, an esteemed group of faculty, and some erudite guest speakers, we are happy to report that this Fellowship set a high standard for our Winter program. We are therefore excited to share this report with you as a way of celebrating our 2024 Winter class.
This past November, we selected a group of up-and-coming lawyers and law students to form our class of 2024 Winter Fellows. The Fellowship is an intensive week of close study on how to understand and articulate a jurisprudence of Natural Law. As in past years, we hosted the Fellowship at the Morrison House in Historic Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.
Any instance in which you do something for the first time, you’re never quite sure how it will transpire. While we had hosted ten previous Fellowship classes, this was the first class in which we featured an accelerated application period, relatively short notice of adding a Winter Program for the first time, and furnished reading materials to accepted candidates only one month in advance (rather than our usual custom of two and a half months in advance). Despite these unique circumstances, our 2024 Inaugural Winter Fellowship class shone as brightly as past classes if not more so.
We were also so privileged to have our seasoned team of Faculty together again. JWI Co-Directors Hadley Arkes and Gerry Bradley led the majority of the seminars across the week. Other sessions were led by Professor David Forte (Cleveland State Law), Professor Justin Dyer (University of Texas at Austin), and Dr. Ryan Anderson (EPPC). We are proud of our faculty’s dedication to teaching a new generation of lawyers about the first principles that underlie our jurisprudence.
Special events and guest speakers (both new and returning to JWI) enlivened the week as well. We were grateful that Daniel Shapiro, a JWI Alumnus from the Fellowship of 2021, was able to come in and speak to our Fellows about his experience as a clerk for Justice Thomas at the Supreme Court and as a young attorney for leading boutique law firm, Consovoy McCarthy.
We were also privileged have Kerri Kupec Urbahn the current Legal Editor from Fox News come in and speak to the Fellows about the challenges facing a young conservative attorney. She shared her unique perspective and experience having served as the Director of Public Affairs for the Department of Justice under Attorney General William P. Barr, recipient of JWI’s inaugural Leadership & the Law Award in 2021, as well as serving as Communications Director for Alliance Defending Freedom.
Finally, perhaps our most esteemed highlight of the week was our visit to the U.S. Supreme Court for an exclusive opportunity to meet with Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Our Fellows were immensely grateful to share an hour-long discussion with the Justice, peppering her with a wide range of questions about her perspective on the law, and several questions on legal philosophy and practice at the highest level. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and our Winter Fellows were a bit starstruck when we left the Highest Court.
Overall, it was a week packed with intellectual discussion, exclusive speakers, and close connection with a community of like-minded lawyers. By the time Friday rolled around, our Fellows had a deep impression of the importance of natural law in modern jurisprudence. One Fellow said of the experience:
“This program is unique because it gives you the ‘why.’ Once the conversation is rested on first principles, you can start a real conversation about what’s at stake and what matters. And if we’re thinking about reforming the republic, our law, our culture, whatever, we have to start at those principles before we can go anywhere else. The James Wilson Fellowship answers the ‘why.'”
Of course, none of this week would have been possible without our sponsors. We would like to express our gratitude to the generous supporters who made this program possible. In particular, it was a grant from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation that enabled us to add a Winter Fellowship to our schedule. Without their generous support, this additional Fellowship would have been impossible. We would like to thank them again for their investment in the future of these young attorneys and the restoration of our legal culture.
In conclusion, we are truly amazed by the 2024 Winter Fellows. At our closing dinner, their gratitude and enjoyment of the week was palpable as they stood to give toasts to their classmates and professors. We were taken by one toast, offered by a Fellow with we hope only a touch of hyerbole, “I will long look back on this week as one of the best of my life.”
During the week, the Fellows had been drawn together into a flourishing community, centered around the promise and practice of Natural Law jurisprudence. It is our pleasure now to begin introducing them to the 150 previous Fellowship alumni that have gone before them and engaging with our future JWI Alumni programs as part of this larger network of “Natural Law Lawyers.”