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, September 8, 2020

First Things on Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris and Religious Liberty

Kenneth Craycraft at First Things has provided a timely and troubling reminder of Senator Kamala Harris’s narrow views on religious liberty, her legislative proposal to weaken the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act,  and her past suggestions that belonging to a Catholic organization may disqualify someone from public office.

Please understand, and my Mirror of Justice colleagues may recall some of my past posts to confirm as much, I do not offer this link to un-endorse Joe Biden, much less indirectly endorse Donald Trump. Rather, I think it important that those of us who cherish religious liberty and rightly condemn anti-Catholic statements have our eyes wide open as we go into this election and anticipate a possible transition of power. If Joe Biden is elected President, we may hope that Vice President Harris will come to a more inclusive attitude toward Catholics and a more robust view of religious liberty. And it will remain important for us to remain vigilant and speak out when necessary. Joe Biden has insisted that he wants to unit Americans and will resist attempts to divide us. His support for religious liberty, for Catholics and others, may be a test for him as to whether that promise holds true.

September 8, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Mirror of Justice Anniversary: Revised Past Post on Purpose of Blog on Catholic Legal Thought

Although posted many years ago, I came across this again recently and it no longer appears to be retrievable online. I’m redacting it into a more general discussion of the purpose of a blog on Catholic Legal Thought (rather than focused on the controversy of the moment that prompted the original post).  I hope it still resonates today.

In blogging on the Mirror of Justice, we should not just be talking to each other but mindful of our larger audience, who are not always privy to the richness and diversity of perspectives, projects, and internal dialogues that constitute the growing and exciting field of Catholic Legal Studies. In so doing, we often are responding to what we see as errors by other public commentators, including other Catholic thinkers. But whenever we poke at supposed flaws in another Catholic thinker’s message, we should acknowledge the flaws our own ability to get out our message and to more effectively penetrate the culture with our alternative approach toward thinking about issues of legal and public moment.

We should not make the mistake of treating the blogosphere as the universe. Most of us blogging on Catholic legal issues devote far more attention to these matters in the context of serious scholarship published in traditional venues and through carefully developed presentations and responses at conferences. Questions about Catholic teaching and social justice are the subject of regular and spirited debates among Catholic legal scholars of all political hue in symposia and at various conferences. While blogs, such as Mirror of Justice, are an important means by which Catholic Legal Studies is developed, a blog hardly substitutes for the other means either in terms of scholarly depth or community-building.

And in translating Catholic teaching into public-regarding proposals, we must remember the principle of prudential judgment in Catholic thought. That the laity are given the apostolate of working within the political realm means that the Church must respect and honor the different expertise of political leaders, economists, lawyers, and others regarding appropriate measures undertaken to promote social justice.  Most questions of public policy involve prudential judgments that should be guided by moral principles—and here is where Catholic Legal Studies is important in offering a framework for discussion and principles upon which to draw—but upon which persons of good will and common faith reasonably may differ.

For example, whether certain circumstances present the occasion for the use of military force in accord with principles of just war or whether a particular piece of legislation regarding provision of governmental benefits to the disadvantaged or disabled is the best means to advance the preferential option for the poor are questions that demand both morally sensitive and realistically pragmatic evaluations. In answering such policy questions, the decision-maker often must balance conflicting moral precepts or justifiable human interests, or at least may find that the underlying moral principles do not point unambiguously in one direction.

Church leaders contributing to a moral dialogue in public society appropriately may opine as to whether a particular measure or proposed course of action contributes to or undermines the common good. But policy suggestions by clerical or lay leaders in the Church must not be mistaken for the teaching of the Magisterium on matters of doctrine and morals to which all faithful Catholics must confess. In sum, most policy choices involve the exercise of prudential judgment, and the Church respects the expertise and special vocation of those holding public office in making those decisions.

In contrast with most public policy matters, which require prudential judgment and on which persons taking different views do not thereby fall out of communion with the Church, there are certain forms of societal behavior that implicate public policy that are so manifestly and grievously wrong as to be categorically prohibited.  In these instances of intrinsic evil—slavery, genocide, racist oppression, and abortion—moral principle and public policy effectively merge, sharply circumscribing prudential judgment.

Finally, we should avoid the common categorical error of too readily and simplistically labeling Catholic thinkers in secular political terms. I do not mean to resist the label conservative, which has its purpose, but neither is it fully descriptive of my thinking or my engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition. Whether categorized as conservative or liberal, one point of consensus among those of us across the spectrum on the Mirror of Justice is that we intend to be a contradiction to this society, in seeking common ground or at least a common framework for discussion that transcends ideological lines.

February 13, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Overheard Today at the National Prayer Breakfast

Democratic co-sponsor (Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.):  “If we’re to heal our division, we need to spend time together; we need to stop judging one another.”

Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute and a convert to Catholicism:  “How do you do it in a country and world roiled by hatreds we can’t seem to bridge? Contempt kills. Ask God to take political contempt from your heart. And sometimes when it’s too hard, ask God to help you fake it. Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing. To go against your human nature. To follow Jesus’ teaching. You believe in Jesus! Follow his teachings.”

President Donald Trump:  “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.”

Jesus:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

February 6, 2020 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

Thursday, October 3, 2019

"It’s not because I am good. It’s because I believe in Christ."

A very public story of tragedy and violence set on a stage of racial injustice that ends with expressions of mercy and faith.

If you have not taken the time to watch the two videos following the sentencing of Amber Guyger and the response of Brandt Jean, the brother of the homicide victim Boothan Jean, and that of Judge Tammy Kemp, you should do so.  As one of the reporters described it, this was a scene of "extraordinary grace."  No person of faith can fail to be inspired and brought to tears.

In a troubling period of our history in which people of Christian faith too often are seen by the public as apparently advocates for cruel policies and agents of division rather than as witnesses for the Gospel, this episode reminds us that Christ still walks among us through his disciples.

October 3, 2019 in Sisk, Greg | Permalink

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.”

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.



Law School
































George Washington








George Mason




Washington University




U. St. Thomas (MN)




Notre Dame


Boston University


William & Mary




Florida State








Case Western








North Carolina


U. San Diego


Arizona State






Ohio State


Wake Forest















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.

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