W&L Spring Term Course to Host Former Federal Appellate Judge The Honorable J. Michael Luttig ’76 will visit campus May 8-9 to reflect on his career and discuss his views on recent challenges to democracy and the rule of law.
Washington and Lee University’s Spring Term courses provide students with innovative, one-of-a-kind educational experiences. This year, students taking Future of Democracy, co-instructed by Robert Strong, William Lyne Wilson Professor in Political Economy, and Ken Ruscio ’76, President Emeritus of W&L, will have the chance to meet and hear from the Honorable J. Michael Luttig ’76, former federal appellate judge.
The thematic framework for Strong and Ruscio’s course is threats to democracy, and the class will explore broad topics such as the state of democracy in the world today, the foundations of American democracy, the consequences of Jan. 6, 2021, and issues of accountability and reform.
“In many ways, Judge Luttig is going to be the centerpiece for what we’re doing,” Strong said. “We’ll hear from an important and thoughtful participant in the events leading up to and surrounding Jan. 6 — and a participant in those events who has a direct and important connection to W&L.”
Luttig will visit the Future of Democracy class on May 8, and the following day, he will be interviewed by classmate and friend, Ken Ruscio as part of a public talk. “January 6 and American Democracy: A Conversation with The Honorable J. Michael Luttig ’76,” will take place on May 9 at 5 p.m. in the University Chapel. The event is open to the public and will be streamed online at livestream.com/wlu.
During his talk, Luttig will reflect on his career and discuss his views on recent challenges to democracy and the rule of law.
“In recent years, we’ve tried hard to have guests on campus meet with individual classes or groups of students in addition to doing a public presentation,” Strong said. “That makes it possible for that core group of students who visit with a guest more than once to get the most out of these kinds of speaker events. If it’s just the one public talk and a couple of student questions at the end, it doesn’t have the same impact as when the guest also joins a class.”
Luttig is a distinguished jurist and constitutional scholar who spent the majority of his career serving under conservative presidents and justices before entering the private sector in 2006. After earning his law degree from the University of Virginia, Luttig served as assistant counsel to the White House under Ronald Reagan’s administration and clerked for then-judge Antonin Scalia and for Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger. He was also the assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice under President George H.W. Bush. Bush appointed Luttig to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in 1991, and at age 37, Luttig became the youngest federal appellate judge in the country. Luttig continued to serve in this role until 2006, when he resigned his federal judgeship and entered the private sector where he worked for Boeing and Coca-Cola before retiring.
Most recently, Luttig advised Vice President Mike Pence on his constitutional responsibility certifying the electoral college votes on January 6, 2021, and later testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Pence’s team reached out to Luttig in the days before Jan. 6 to ask his opinion on the legality of challenging the vote count for the presidential race, and Luttig counseled Pence that he had no legal basis to block Congress from certifying then President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Luttig also made his legal opinion publicly known via Twitter, and later, in his testimony to the House Select Committee, Luttig asserted that stopping Congress from certifying the election would have provoked a “constitutional crisis.”
Strong joined W&L’s faculty in 1989. He received his bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College and his doctorate from the University of Virginia. His research focuses on American foreign policy, the presidency, and national security issues, and he has authored several books and published essays in a variety of journals and national newspapers.
Ruscio served as the 26th president of W&L from 2006 to 2016, having previously held several faculty and staff positions at the university from 1987 to 2002, including professor of politics, associate dean of the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics, and dean of freshmen. A notable leader in higher education, Ruscio is also considered an expert on democratic theory and public policy and is the author of “The Leadership Dilemma in Modern Democracy.” Ruscio received his bachelor’s degree from W&L and his master’s degree and doctorate from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.