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.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

What Can A Just Man Do?

After the tragedy and unrest in Minnesota yesterday, I was driven to contemplate what could be done, what is needed, what could be offered to promote true, lasting peace in my home state?  Justice is desired, truth is required, but beauty might save world.  I aspire to live justly, more justly, and I had to offer something, however meager.  So here goes.

First, an attempt at offering something which may be found beautiful; springtime brings natural beauty, yet weeds will grow.  "The tempo of [reading this poem], ..., should be brisk. It must neither drag nor sound hurried. Serenity combined with energy is required."  Gregorian Chant Volume II, Justine Ward, 1949 (original context: for psalmody).

Distraught by news of violence, anger, and cloudy skies,

What can I do?  What might I offer?  I am not wise.

Pricked by conscience, past things read, and connecting now with old,

My wedding ring cleaned, there, now more cleanly I see the gold:

A true promise of total, free, fruitful, faithful commitment.


Only those who promise to forgive, fed by forgiveness, can long live.

From the unchanging Father, every best gift, in His Mercy, we can give.

Else no hope have they to stay in peace, for we all fall yet fail in love,

And though it stirs us up, the anger of man does not work out the justice of God above.


Shall I let this sleep? Should I give it a slumber, turning back to my work?

Twin topics;  Folding my hands will bring want upon me, and poverty like a man armed.

I'll put my hands back to the plow that pays, after all, we have a baby still with the stork.

Yet for these reasons, the work of public peace must not be left undone, as it is presently quite harmed.


Second, a few Proverbs from the Douay-Rheims (DR) that could be found, here to help me feebly strain to perceive something in this mess that I must call my hometown.

The thoughts of the just are judgments: and the counsels of the wicked are deceitful. (12:5)

The substance of a rich man is the city of his strength: the fear of the poor is their poverty.  The work of the just is unto life: but the fruit of the wicked, unto sin. (10:15-16)

But see here:

The name of the Lord is a strong tower;

the just run to it and are safe.

The wealth of the rich is their strong city;

they fancy it a high wall. (18:10-11, NABRE translation)

Before destruction, the heart of a man is exalted:

and before he be glorified, it is humbled. 

He that answereth before he heareth sheweth himself to be a fool, and worthy of confusion. (DR 18:12-13)

First, I must hear and hunger to humble my heart or I will be laid low and worthy of the responding, wreaking waves of confusion.  After a moment, I summon courage and saunter on, watching my steps as best I can but I choose to walk onward so I trust my footing and strike out, thinking.  It is the just who are safe, though the rich fancy themselves well guarded.  Yet, the name of the Lord does not preclude trouble, but 'only' saves one from utter ruin.  This does bring peace, yes, it does.  But it leaves one humbled.  Splendid; good.  More to be done here than I can accomplish, perhaps the Risen Lord will direct me further.  St. Thomas More, how did you keep focus?  St. Joseph Most Just, pray for us!  Our Lady Our Mother, pray for us humble sinners with work to do, prayers to be said, and good works aplenty.

April 13, 2021 | Permalink

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Catholic legal education in an age of political tribalism

As we continue to make progress toward a post-pandemic future, we need to recognize that COVID is not the only force that has driven us apart from one another.  We are hopeful that social distancing requirements will be relaxed in the coming months, but we’d be naïve to believe that physical proximity will be sufficient to bring us all back together. 

I was reminded of that reality this morning by a Star-Tribune article about the bar owner in Albert Lea, Minnesota who defied the governor’s pandemic restrictions and is now on the run.  What was most striking in the coverage were the diametrically opposed opinions of Albert Lea residents: some praised her for bravely resisting government overreach, and some condemned her for prioritizing herself over her community’s health. 

So how should we train our graduates to be effective lawyers for the bar owner in Albert Lea?  She has, I presume, a deep-seated opposition to wearing masks as a response to the COVID pandemic, as may virtually all of her customers, business associates, family members, and friends.  When she asks our graduate for advice regarding compliance, how should our graduate respond?  With a categorial “you must comply,” or should she also opine on the chances of an enforcement action, the potential penalties, or the legality of encouraging customers to invoke disability exemptions from mask-wearing?  Does our graduate’s own view of masks’ efficacy as a virus safeguard matter to her advice? Does our graduate’s belief that her client is misunderstanding the purpose and intent of the mask mandate matter to her advice? What if she believes that the misunderstanding is shared widely by all of the groups whose views matter to her client? And how can she ensure that she is navigating these tensions with client-centered humility without undermining the rule of law?  Put simply, how should relationships matter to a lawyer’s work in our deeply divided nation?

This is not just about COVID, of course.  Our responses to pandemic restrictions are part of a broader set of beliefs that together comprise the social identities that are driving the grand sorting of our nation into increasingly distant and hostile camps.  Our perception of the debates surrounding the Derek Chauvin trial, the influx of undocumented immigrants in Texas, Georgia’s new election laws, climate change, the prioritization of religious liberty, and a wide variety of pressing policy issues are shaped by the lenses we bring.  Increasingly, Americans’ lenses are based on the camp with which they identify, rather than on their own assessment of the particular issue’s merits. 

This is one reason why I believe that legal education is absolutely essential to our nation’s future.  Law schools teach suspension of judgment, critical thinking, the cultivation of trust, precision with language, detached empathy, and the courage to represent unpopular clients and causes – these are all important habits for a divided nation.  And Catholic law schools should bring a long-overlooked dimension to the conversation: a willingness to go deeper, to discuss moral claims and the relationships that give rise to them.  If lawyers are not attentive to this dimension, we will be of limited help bridging a divide that is not primarily about legal interpretation or technique, and is not simply a product of opposing moral claims—it’s a product of cultures that shape and sustain opposing moral claims. Lawyers need to learn how to build trust across cultural boundaries.

We should think carefully about how we respond to the pressure points that our nation’s division will produce in the coming days.  We should never use division as an excuse to weaken our moral commitments, to withdraw from political engagement, or to slide toward an apathy-driven acceptance of the status quo.  However, we should be clear that the mission of Catholic legal education is not ultimately a call to win the battle for one warring camp or the other – it’s a call to help restore the relationships that have been broken.

April 11, 2021 in Vischer, Rob | Permalink

Friday, April 9, 2021

Religious Liberty: Where We Are and Where We’re Going


Religious Liberty: Where We Are and Where We're Going
, the inaugural event in a series entitled Courtrooms to Classrooms, will be a panel discussion featuring the Honorable Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, U.S. District Judge, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas; and James A. Sonne, Law Professor, Stanford Law School, Founding Director, Religious Liberty Clinic at Stanford Law School. Andrew Graham, Senior Fellow at the Religious Freedom Institute, will moderate the discussion, which will focus on the state of religious liberty in the United States, current trends affecting this fundamental right, and how potential legislation and case law may affect America’s First Freedom in the future.


April 9, 2021 | Permalink

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The USNWR rankings and law-school debt

Insert here [       ] all of the usual (and correct) criticisms of the USNWR law-school rankings.   And, insert here [     ] the necessary caveats relating to the fact that the rankings' new incorporation of student-loan-debt matters did not help my own institution.  All that aside, it's far from clear to me why this incorporation makes much sense.  Just two, not-at-all-original concerns, for now:  First, as others have noted, it could create incentives to (all things considered) prefer admitting wealthier students.  And (a more abstract point, I guess), it seems to neglect the likelihood that higher student-debt loads at graduation are related to students' calculations/predictions regarding the value of education, networks, credentials, etc., in which they are investing.  We should care more, it seems to me, about whether those predictions are well-grounded than about the fact of student loans.

On the other hand:  I kind of like the possibilitythat the new metric could disincentivize the practice of using transfer-admissions (and strategically-small first-year classes) as a revenue-enhancing mechanism.  We'll see, I guess . . . 

April 8, 2021 in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Wayne State’s actions “obviously odious to the Constitution”

A federal court just ruled against Wayne State University, finding that it discriminated against InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a religious student club, when it kicked the group off campus for requiring its leaders to be Christians. As the court stated, at Wayne State, “[s]tudent groups were permitted to restrict leadership based on sex, gender identity, political partisanship, ideology, creed, ethnicity, and even GPA and physical attractiveness.” However, religious groups were not allowed to require that leaders share any of a group’s religious beliefs and at Wayne State, it was a “small group of Christians, who were denied [student organization] benefits because they require their Christian leaders to be . . . Christian.”

Full press release at Becket Law.

April 6, 2021 | Permalink