Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Cause Greater Than Yourself

For much of my life, but no longer, I was very active in politics and frequently volunteered in campaigns, including presidential campaigns.

When I was still little more than a boy, I was the second youngest delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1980, where I proudly cast my vote for the nomination of Ronald Reagan.

More recently, now old enough to be a member of the AARP, I was proud to caucus in Minnesota in 2016 for the presidential candidacy of Senator Marco Rubio (who didn’t fare so well nationally, but carried Minnesota by a large margin). 

5C787332-61BA-4B3E-A0D9-11C3073190A8During my decades of political activism, I saw the Republican Party as the party of honor, optimism, freedom, and decency. For those same reasons, I am no longer a Republican. Without any political home, I have turned my attentions and devoted my passions more and more to family, students, and my wonderful prisoner clients in our pro bono Appellate Clinic. I admire those who remain in the political arena, but for me, this is the better course at present.

When I was politically active, of all the people I was lucky to meet and talk with at least briefly, Ronald Reagan and John McCain naturally stand out in my mind as legends and, especially in John McCain’s case, a true American hero.

President Reagan and Senator McCain stand as a reminder that there was a time, and not that long ago, when leaders put country first, maintained integrity, and never failed to uphold basic human decency.

John McCain wrote in his memoir, Faith of My Fathers: “Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself, something that encompasses you but is not defined by your existence alone.”

With Senator John McCain’s passing, we have suffered an unimaginable loss. I hope that our realization of loss might inspire us to seek something more, once again.

August 26, 2018 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Scholarly Impact and Catholic Legal Education (Part Three)

A few days ago, after reporting the 2018 update to the Scholarly Impact Ranking of law faculties (here), I began a short series of posts on why scholarly work and scholarly impact are especially important to Catholic legal education, which I conclude today.

The first point, made here, was that a meaningfully Catholic law school must be an intellectually engaged law school, which is not possible without a faculty also engaged in the quintessential intellectual activity of scholarly research and writing.

My second point, made here, was that through scholarly excellence and law school scholarly prominence, we witness to society the vibrancy of intellectual discourse by persons of faith and counter the anti-intellectual stereotype often assigned to religiously-affiliated law schools.

My third point today is that, as Catholic Christians, we have are called to share the Gospel, both directly and indirectly.  The central role of scholarly research in our academic vocation is affirmed by no less a Catholic authority than Saint John Paul II in the apostolic constitution for Catholic universities, Ex Code Ecclesiae:   “The basic mission of a University is a continuous quest for truth through its research, and the preservation and communication of knowledge for the good of society.”

For some of us on law school faculties, that directive means writing on Catholic legal theory and applying Christian-grounded principles to the legal and social issues of the day.  For all of us, it means conducting the search for the truth with integrity and dedication.  The search for the truth is hard work -– and for Catholic academics that hard work requires scholarly engagement.

Turning again to the words of Ex Corde, for a Catholic university “included among its research activities, therefore, will be a study of serious contemporary problems in areas such as the dignity of human life, the promotion of justice for all, the quality of personal and family life, the protection of nature, the search for peace and political stability, a more just sharing in the world's resources, and a new economic and political order that will better serve the human community at a national and international level. University research will seek to discover the roots and causes of the serious problems of our time, paying special attention to their ethical and religious dimensions.”

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Through our work –- through the excellent quality, regular production, and integrity of our work (comporting with the standards of our discipline) –- we may have a significant influence on the development of the law and of the legal culture.  As my Dean Rob Vischer wrote recently (here), “a fundamental mission of law schools is to advance knowledge and thereby contribute to human flourishing.”  For religiously-affiliated law schools, Vischer says, our mission includes “producing scholarship aimed at bringing a more just world into view.”  And this scholarly mission can resonate with and be integrated into our teaching and collaborative work with students.  To again quote Rob Vischer, we should not neglect “the formative potential of inviting students to be active participants in a law school's scholarly culture.”

On the call to challenge and inform the culture, Ex Corde speaks as well to the vital importance of scholarly work:  “By its very nature, a University develops culture through its research, helps to transmit the local culture to each succeeding generation through its teaching, and assists cultural activities through its educational services. It is open to all human experience and is ready to dialogue with and learn from any culture. A Catholic University shares in this, offering the rich experience of the Church's own culture. In addition, a Catholic University, aware that human culture is open to Revelation and transcendence, is also a primary and privileged place for a fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture.”

We cannot fully participate as academics in the search for the truth without also contributing to the scholarly literature, which reaches audiences both within and beyond the walls of our own institution and which is preserved in medium so that we can affect the scholarly discourse long after we have departed.

What a tremendous privilege – and a grave responsibility.

August 22, 2018 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Scholarly Impact and Catholic Legal Education (Part One)

Two days ago, I reported the 2018 update to the Scholarly Impact Ranking of law faculties that I and my team at the University of St. Thomas had just concluded: here.

Six years ago, I posted a series on the importance of scholarly activity and scholarly impact for Catholic legal education.  Over the next week, I'll repost slightly revised versions of those, as they remain just as salient today.

Whenever a report or study is published on the scholarly activities of law professors, it is likely to provoke some critical responses questioning whether legal scholarship has any practical value. Someone is likely to argue yet again that law professors spend too much time on scholarly writing at the expense of their teaching responsibilities (especially in an era in which law student debt is rising and job prospects are challenging).

In my view, this often (not always) reflects a false conflict between scholarship and teaching. We should not view scholarly work and teaching as competing with each other, rather than understanding that the intellectual preparation found in scholarly research and writing is complementary to greater depth in teaching.  As we've written in our most recent 2018 report:

Why would students want to learn from the law professor who arrives at the classroom podium only after abandoning rigorous written engagement with legal problems? How can we expect students to be inspired to professional leadership, masterful and dedicated client representation, and principled law reform if their professors do not exemplify the intellectual curiosity, the breadth of thought, and the conscientious inquiry of a legal scholar?

When I am asked, with respect to my own institution, the University of St. Thomas, whether we should continue to strive for scholarly excellence and national scholarly prominence or whether we should devote greater attention to teaching and enhancing professional formation, my answer is an unequivocal “yes!” Especially during these challenging times, we as tenured faculty members need to step up and work even harder to achieve excellence in both responsibilities.

Moreover, it bears reminding, even if the teaching duties of tenured faculty were increased substantially during the academic year, the long glorious months of summer would remain. At most law schools, few students are in school and few classes are being taught during the summer. Given that luxury of uninterrupted weeks of work time, most tenured faculty have been given more than ample opportunity to produce one or two major works of scholarship each year.

I want to address today a more pointed question: How important is scholarly impact to a Catholic law school?

For three reasons, I think the scholarly mission of the tenured (and tenure-track) law faculty takes on added importance for the Catholic law school: (1) an intellectually engaged law school culture requires scholarly-engaged law faculty; (2) a scholarly-prominent Catholic law school is a strong witness for the intellectual vibrancy of scholars of faith; and (3) a Catholic law school through the scholarly work of its faculty influences for good the culture in which it is situated.

I’ll say a little more about the first of points below and then follow up with the other two points in separate posts over the next week.

Continue reading

August 16, 2018 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Ranking the Scholarly Impact of Law Faculties

Every three years, I lead a team at the University of St. Thomas to study the scholarly citations of thousands of tenured law professors (involving more than half-a-million citations) to measure the scholarly impact of American law faculties, that is, whether other scholars are actually relying on their written works of scholarship.  Using the basic methodology pioneered by Professor Brian Leiter at the University of Chicago, we rank approximately the top third of law schools.

With the full study available here, I am pasting the Top 50 below.  Notably, three Catholic law schools appear in or near the Top 25 -- Georgetown, the University of St. Thomas, and Notre Dame.

 

Rank

Law School

1

Yale

2

Harvard

3

Chicago

4

NYU

5

Columbia

6

Stanford

7

Cal-Berkeley

8

Duke

9

Pennsylvania

10

Vanderbilt

11

UCLA

12

Cal-Irvine

13

Cornell

14

Michigan

14

Northwestern

16

George Washington

16

Virginia

16

Georgetown

19

Texas

19

George Mason

21

Minnesota

21

Washington University

23

Cal-Davis

23

U. St. Thomas (MN)

23

USC

26

Notre Dame

27

Boston University

28

William & Mary

29

Colorado

29

Florida State

29

Fordham

32

Cardozo

32

Emory

32

Case Western

32

Arizona

36

Indiana-Bloomington

36

Illinois

36

North Carolina

36

U. San Diego

36

Arizona State

41

Maryland

41

Utah

41

Ohio State

44

Wake Forest

44

Hastings

44

Chicago-Kent

44

Brooklyn

48

Kansas

49

Alabama

49

BYU

49

Hofstra

In the next couple of days, I'll post my triennial thoughts on why scholarly work and scholarly impact are especially important for professors at Catholic law schools.

August 14, 2018 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Living in a Full World But Being Empty

From the time that I first learned to read, I fell in love with science fiction and fantasy. Before I was out of elementary school, I had devoured the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, not even aware that it was the subject of literary studies in college. The greatest works of this genre are not merely an escape from the pedestrian real-world, but give us a new perspective on our human psychology and culture from a completely alien (sometimes truly, alien) perspective.

I’ve been watching the conclusion to the multi-year series, “12 Monkeys” on television over the past week. The story follows the common pattern of time-travel and a future post-apocalyptic world, but adds the distinct twist of an antagonist who seeks to end time altogether by deliberate paradox so as to be able to abide forever in favored moments. 12monkeys

The script is amusing and, at times, profound.  I was particularly taken in the closing episodes by the following line, which I’ve slightly rewritten below. This  character grew up in the ruins after a virus had killed nearly everyone, struggling to survive, even to find food and avoid violent death. She ends up being transported back through time to a period close to our modern day in New York City. Based on her observations of urban Americans, especially those in their teens and twenties who seem always to be wedded to their cell phones, she offers this damning summation:

"They have everything, all the time, but see nothing. Their world is full, but they are empty."

Let us pray that we will always be the witness for something more, so that those around us may seek a full soul, rather than the emptiness of a world.

July 11, 2018 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Monday, July 2, 2018

A Pro-Life Ripple in a Sea of Pro-Choice Academic Commentary

With the retirement of Justice Kennedy from the Supreme Court, law professors have been speculating how constitutional law may change with a new member of the Court. At the forefront of concern for many is the continued viability of Roe v. Wade, the decision that announced a nearly-absolute right to abortion of a pregnancy.

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Given the ideological and political homogeneity of law professors generally and of constitutional law professors in particular, online discussions not surprisingly have been dominated by those who bemoan this possibility. Professorial posts typically frame the question in stark terms between, on the one hand, support for women's rights and gender equality, and on the other side, disrespect for women or even the design to undermine the progress of women toward professional and cultural equality. Indeed, on a general “listserv” of constitutional law professors, posts tend to assume that everyone is on the same page, to the point of outlining the strategy for preserving abortion rights by legal and political action and cheering the various advocates and organizations that champion “reproductive rights.” That anyone in the legal academy might disagree or that another value – such as protection of unborn life – might play a role in the debate appears not to have occurred to many or at least is seldom acknowledged.

While I have become mostly a reader and not poster on internet discussions in recent years, I was unable to resist this time, given the blessings of life that have washed over me recently, as explained below. And so into the "conlaw" professors’ discussion, I interjected this message last week:

Friends, just as a reminder, lest this become a pro-choice echo chamber as we see too often on abortion in the legal academy, tens of millions of Americans regard protecting the life of the unborn to be the most important civil rights movement of our time.  One could as readily list many local pro-life organizations, simultaneously compassionate and passionate, who are dedicated to helping pregnant women avoid the Faustian bargain of abortion.  I have had the opportunity to observe and provide support to families involved with these organizations, who have sacrificed greatly to bring into their homes new-borns of all races, backgrounds, and disability status.

More than half-a-century ago, my 15-year-old birth mother placed me for adoption after she had broken up with her high school classmate who was my birth father.  That loving choice was the spark of multiple blessings to my adoptive family, including my parents who could not have children of their own and obviously to me in the opportunities I have had.  Within just the past two weeks, I’ve learned the identity of my birth mother (from her participation in one of the DNA companies).  That in turn has opened doors for me now to learn of five more sisters and two more brothers, as well as more than a dozen nieces and nephews.  In the past two weeks, the joyful exchanges by phone, on email, and through Facebook have been overwhelming, moving me to tears nearly daily.  I know I will be blessed by building relationships now with my larger family, unknown to me for nearly all my life.

Continue reading

July 2, 2018 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Friday, November 17, 2017

New Empirical Study on Religious Freedom Cases Post-Hobby Lobby (by Luke Goodrich and Rachel Busick)

Two attorneys at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — Luke Goodrich and Rachel Busick — have just posted one of the first empirical studies of federal religious freedom cases since Hobby Lobby.

Some critics of Hobby Lobby predicted that the decision would open the floodgates to a host of novel claims, transforming religious freedom from a shield for protecting religious minorities into a sword for imposing majoritarian values. But this study finds those dire predictions to be unsupported. Instead, it finds that religious freedom cases remain scarce. Successful cases are even scarcer. Religious minorities remain significantly overrepresented in religious freedom cases; Christians remain significantly underrepresented. The study also highlights several interesting doctrinal developments in recent litigation over RFRA, Trump’s travel ban, and the Establishment Clause. 1st

The most intriguing empirical research tells us something new, such as that the conventional wisdom is mistaken or overstated.  That is true here, as Goodrich and Busick reach this conclusion:

[Hobby Lobby] has not prompted a flood of new litigation by Christians or for-profit corporations. If anything, its main effect has been to provide more protection for religious minorities like the Native Americans who won the right to use eagle feathers in McAllen, or the Muslim prisoner who won the right to grow a beard in Holt. These religious minorities were the main religious liberty claimants before Hobby Lobby, and they remain the main religious liberty claimants afterwards. Ironically, then, the main beneficiaries of the win for Christian claimants in Hobby Lobby may be non-Christian religious minorities.

You can find the full article here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3067053. I highly recommend it!  I’m see that it has already drawn more than 150 downloads.  Add to the statistics by downloading it yourself today.

November 17, 2017 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

David Brooks on the "Siege Mentality"

Siege_of_Lisbon_by_Roque_Gameiro

[The Siege of Lisbon, by Roque Gameiro (1917)]

David Brooks has published an insightful warning of the mutually repelling characteristics of the true believers on both extremes of the political spectrum today.  In today’s New York Times (here), Brooks calls this behavior the “Siege Mentality,” which “starts with a sense of collective victimhood” that feeds “a deep sense of pessimism” and “floats on apocalyptic fear.”

This approach is seductive, offering a kind of a false high that, like other misguided addictions, proves self-destruction:  “The odd thing is that the siege mentality feels kind of good to the people who grab on to it. It gives its proponents a straightforward way to interpret the world — the noble us versus the powerful them.” But, in the end, “[g]roups smitten with the siege mentality filter out discordant facts and become more extreme versions of themselves, leading to further marginalization.”

Worst of all, those who surrender to the Siege Mentality lose their own souls, becoming the opposite of what they sincerely believed themselves to be at the beginning.  “Evangelical Christians, for example, had a humane model for leadership — servant leadership — but, feeling besieged, they swapped it for Donald Trump, for gladiator pagan leadership.”

As Catholics, we need to remember that faithfully standing by what we think is right need not fall into a hateful disregard for those who disagree or a willingness to compromise our principles by temporary political alignments with those whose past conduct and present behavior display contempt for those very principles.

November 14, 2017 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Bolshevism is Back!

In Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Anne Applebaum tells the simultaneously captivating and tragic story of the degradation of Eastern Europe as it was absorbed into the Soviet empire after World War II. In little more than a decade, the vibrant and rich cultures of many Eastern European nations were stripped to the bone so that they could be reincarnated as totalitarian systems beholden to a communist ideology.

In a 2014 post here at Mirror of Justice about Applebaum’s award-winning book, I highlighted the antipathy of Soviet Lenin
occupiers to the Catholic Church in Poland and Hungary, precisely because “[r]eligious leaders were a source of alternative moral and spiritual authority.” Following the Leninist path taken earlier by the 1917 Bolsheviks, the Soviet occupiers of Eastern Europe were bent on “crushing” civil society, banishing tradition, suppressing diversity of thought, and burning down all institutions. Only then could they sow the new communist seed into the freshly scorched earth.

Earlier this week in the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum drew upon her considerable historical wisdom to warn us about the resurgence of Bolshevism with its nihilistic attitude of destruction in today’s western society and in the United States. In a column titled 100 Years Later, Bolshevism is Back. And We Should Be Worried, Applebaum reminds us that the ascendance of Bolshevism in Russia in 1917 came suddenly and with little warning. The economic and cultural devastation that Lenin and the Bolsheviks brought to Russia came not through a popular movement but rather by the calculated extremism of a chaos-worshipping minority. The popular and moderate regime that initially succeeded the Czar was suddenly swept away by the intransigent Bolshevik leaders, who brooked no compromise, reveled in smashing everything before them, and boldly seized power for a fanatical minority.

The signature characteristic of Bolshevism was then (and remains today) not its socialist ideology as much as its uncompromising hatred of anything and everything that stands in the way of absolute power. The Bolshevik game-plan is a cynical play for power by fomenting chaos and disrupting civil society. Thus, as Applebaum explains, the neo-Bolsheviks of today can be identified not so much by liberal/left or conservative/right ideology but by their origins on “the extremist fringes of political life” and their desire “to overthrow existing institutions.”

To be sure, heirs to Bolshevism can be found on the far left of American political life, especially on campuses where the Marxist fringe, as described by Applebaum, “policies the speech of its members, fights to prevent students from hearing opposing viewpoints, and teaches a dark, negative version of American history, one calculated to create doubts about democracy and to cast shadows on all political debate.” But while we should be troubled by this development and worry about its foothold on the edges of the Democratic Party, it has not yet tasted power.

By contrast, the Bolshevism of the American right has grasped political power. The key strategy of these modern Bolsheviks of the right is what Applebaum calls their adoption of “Lenin’s refusal to compromise, his anti-democratic elevation of some social groups over others and his hateful attacks on his ‘illegitimate’ opponents.” As Applebaum notes, Stephen Bannon has Bannon
been rather candid by expressly comparing himself to Lenin, saying he has the same goal of “bring[ing] everything crashing down.” Consider the deliberate chaos promoted by the Trump White House team, the pattern of falsehoods in perpetuating political myths, and the constant attempts to delegitimize political opponents while provoking outrage by a small base of true believers. As a particular worry to people of faith and conscience, these neo-Bolsheviks are “often not real Christians, but rather cynics who use ‘Christianity’ as a tribal identifies, a way of distinguishing themselves from their enemies.”

The Russian Bolshevik revolution in 1917 shocked all observers with its sudden fury and unexpected success, while lacking anything approaching majority support in Russia. If we are not careful, so too the Trump insurgency might still succeed in its authoritarian agenda despite waning support from a tiny minority of the population. As Applebaum warns, we must not be complacent:

At the beginning of 1917, on the eve of the Russian revolution, most of the men who later became known to the world as the Bolsheviks were conspirators and fantasists on the margins of society. By the end of the year, they ran Russia. Fringe figures and eccentric movements cannot be counted out.

November 9, 2017 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Beatitudes: The Trump Rewrite

Minnesota's very own Garrison Keillor (of Prairie Home Companion fame) offers a revision of the Beatitudes in Trumpian style.  Herewith a sample:

The Lord is my shepherd. Okay? Totally. Big league. He is a tremendous shepherd. The best. No comparison. I know more than most people about herding sheep. And that’s why I won the election in a landslide, and it’s why my company is doing very, very well. Because He said, “I’m with you, Donald. You will never want.”

Find the rest at the Washington Post site here.

February 21, 2017 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink