Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Roundtable, "The Catholic Legal Theory Project: Concept and Goals"

The Scarpa conference is winding down with a Roundtable conversation, involving all ten (!) of the participants.  For starters . . . is there a tension between, on the one hand, talking about "creating conditions" for exploring ideas and, on the other, Patrick Brennan's critique of "dialogue" as that term is sometimes used.  Rob and Marc say, "not necessarily."  One can emphasize the importance of "exchange of ideas" in the educational context (and the law-school context) while at the same time sharing Patrick's concern that "dialogue" becomes, as he put it, the object of "worship" rather than a way of interacting and a means to or method for an end.

But, for the law, anyway . . . what is that end (Tom asks)?  Is it the goal or purpose of human law to bring people, in Patrick's words, to "salvation in Jesus Christ?"  It is, Patrick insists, to "create conditions" -- to the extent circumstances permit -- "conducive to the supernatural common good."  Shifting to law schools, Michael Moreland says that the project of Catholic law schools cannot be entirely a project of evangelization; academic excellence will and does matter.  At the same time, as John Breen and others emphasized, "academic excellence" should not be understood entirely apart from the Catholic mission and character of these schools. 

What is the role, post-2008, of the Catholic legal scholar, doing Catholic Legal Theory, at a Catholic law school?  (Dean) Rob Vischer takes this as an important and difficult question.  Our scholarship has to matter to (even if not only to) the student experience and students' success and outcomes.  Otherwise, it is difficult to justify the use of (in effect) students' resources to subsidize that scholarship.  Patrick responds by noting that no one forces students to pay for legal scholarship; they can attend schools where faculty are not expected to engage in scholarly activities and work.  (He then illustrates and elaborates with some stories about Henry Monahan.)   And, Marc and Lisa recalled ways in which their scholarship -- in Law and Religion, or in Catholic feminist theory -- enriched their teaching and relationships with children.

Tom Berg recalled to Rob Vischer the fact that he (Rob) had said in his own talk that the value of Catholic Legal Theory is that it is true.  That's reason enough -- more than! -- for faculty to engage in such scholarship.  And if a socialist can be expected to subsidize Law and Economics scholarship, there would not seem to be anything strange about expecting law students to pay also for the scholarship of those who are engaged by and with Catholic Legal Theory.  (Marc wonders, though, if a line of inquiry has to be true, or believed to be true, in order to be a worthy academic endeavor.)

Michael Scaperlanda shifted gears . . . what does this project mean outside the law schools, in practice and for practitioners?  A member of the audience suggested that maybe we should, in law schools -- in order to better prepare advocates -- spend more time understanding the actual substantive claims, including religious claims, that will often motivate clients.  As Kevin notes, though . . . it is not always the case (perhaps not even often the case) that the faculty in Catholic law schools are equipped to prepare students in this way.  Sounding a similar note, Michael Moreland warned about "extrinsicism" in the treatment or introduction of "Catholic" materials.  But again . . . what is the "impact" of Catholic Legal Theory on the practice of law?  Marc suggests there isn't much, in terms of how one files one's briefs, etc.  But . . . what about how one balances one's work and personal life, how one treats one's family and friends (and clients and co-workers)?  Here, the impact can be real and significant.  Patrick, recalling Judge Noonan's work and example, noted that Catholics have particularly good reasons for understanding and appreciating what law is and does to people (see Persons and Masks of the Law) and so he thinks that highlighting the human and personal dimensions of these materials is a good way to be a Catholic law teacher.

Now . . . what about Mirror of Justice?  What's it about?  What's it for?  What has it done and what could it do better?  (One suggestion:  More Chesterton!  Indeed.  And more cowbell?)  Does it have value and, if so, what it is?  Michael suggests that, perhaps, the blog sometimes lacks a focus (or when focus comes, it's on particular elections).  Susan hopes we can find more ways to get active discussion and dialogue going among the bloggers.  Rob wonders if the blog-form is being eclipsed by even more "short form" media -- A 500 word post takes a lot more time to write, and to read, than a 140 character Tweet.  John points out that, despite the blog's opening post, the substantive focus of the blog has perhaps narrowed (maybe in response to the times and events) to religious-freedom questions.  Lisa also recalled that part of the "original mandate" was not to zero in on First Amendment questions or "hot button" social issues.  Of course, as Marc pointed out ("pedantically," he says), the blog (like any blog) needs content.  ("Feed the beast!")  This need makes it the case that it's better for people to feel free to post -- and to actually post -- in a kind of free-form and fresh way.  Kevin observed that people sometimes miss the fact that blogs can be about "quick hits" or about stay-a-while engagement.  And . . . the content stays "out there," for a while, and people might find the thoughts we leave years later.

Thanks very much to Villanova, to John Scarpa, and to Patrick Brennan for hosting!



Garnett, Rick | Permalink