Thursday, January 6, 2022
Monday, November 1, 2021
Growing up, I thought my career choice – a singular choice, made only once – was a direct and public reflection of my relationship with God. If my faith in God was strong enough, it meant I should probably be a missionary or a pastor. One problem: I knew enough missionaries and pastors to know that I didn’t want to be either one. I contemplated attending graduate school for theology rather than going to law school, as if that might be closer to a true “Christian” vocation. When I moved from legal practice into the academy, I started writing about the intersection of law and religion. Not quite ministry, but close enough to count in God’s eyes?
Obviously, it’s taken a while for me to understand that vocation is more about becoming the person God has called me to be, less about my career choice. Or as Thomas Merton put it, “discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess.”
Which brings me to David Link, who died on Thursday. He was a tax attorney who left private practice to teach, eventually serving as Notre Dame Law School’s dean for nearly 25 years. He left Notre Dame to become the founding dean of St. Thomas Law, helping launch the school. Soon after Dave left St. Thomas, his wife Barbara passed away, and he went to seminary, becoming a Catholic priest at age 71. Fr. Link devoted the rest of his days to prison ministry, working primarily at a maximum-security prison in which most of the inmates were convicted of murder.
I wonder, if we could ask David Link to describe his vocation while he was sitting in his office at Winston & Strawn parsing new tax regulations, then pose the same question to Dean Link as he welcomed the inaugural JD class to St. Thomas, and to Fr. Link as he counseled an inmate serving a life sentence, would his answers have changed? Did his vocation shift at each new step of his career, or did his vocation actually remain constant? His perception of the ways his gifts could best help meet the world’s needs evolved over fifty years, no doubt. But his defining vocation was not tax attorney, law school dean, or even Catholic priest. His defining vocation, I suspect, was his heeding of the prophet Micah’s call “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
As we observe All Saints' Day, I encourage us to reflect on vocation, both in our own lives and in the lives of our students. What difference might it make if we view vocation less as a one-time career choice and more as a commitment to being the person God has created us to be?
Rest in peace, David Link – may your memory be a blessing.
Sunday, October 10, 2021
We are stewards of the rule of law, and that means we also have to be honest and unflinching students of our history. Under the gaze of previous generations, what does it mean – what should it mean – to be called to help form the next generation of lawyers and leaders? Are we being faithful to the witness of those who came before us?
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
A new issue of the Journal of Law & Religion has been published, and it's available for free (here) until November 15. The issue features an article from Nate Oman and book review contributions from Frank Ravitch, Cathy Kaveny, Robin Fretwell Wilson, Perry Dane, and many others. Definitely worth checking out.
Sunday, October 3, 2021
- 41% of Biden voters and 52% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that red states / blue states should secede from the union to form their own separate country.
- 46% of Biden voters and 44% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that it would be better for America if whoever is President could take needed actions without being constrained by Congress or the courts.
- 62% of Biden voters and 82% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that “our country needs a powerful leader in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today.”
- 56% of Biden voters at least somewhat agree that there’s no real difference between Republicans and Fascists, and 76% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that there’s no real difference between Democrats and Socialists.
- 75% of Biden voters and 78% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that Americans who strongly support the opposing party have become “a clear and present danger to the American way of life.”
- 80% of Biden voters and 84% of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that elected officials from the opposing party are a “clear and present danger to American democracy.”
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
St. Thomas Law opened its doors twenty years ago last month, and one way we are celebrating is by redoubling our commitment to live out our distinctive Catholic mission in ways that meet the needs of our society. Last week, we launched the Initiative on Restorative Justice & Healing, a coordinated effort to leverage our expertise and resources to help restore relationships fractured by injustice, with a particular focus on racial injustice, sexual abuse by clergy and institutional failures within the Catholic church, and societal polarization. Directed by my faculty colleague Fr. Dan Griffith, this project is a great example of our mission in action, demonstrating the importance of integrating legal acumen with empathy, concern for the whole person, and the transformative power of human connection. Fr. Griffith and Professor Hank Shea, a former federal prosecutor, have been co-teaching a course on restorative justice for several years, and we will look to expand those efforts to include a hands-on restorative justice practicum course, community partnerships, externships, lectures, conferences, training sessions, and broader visibility into ways that restorative justice practices can help bring healing to our communities.
With an understanding of justice as right relationships, we believe that this work can be a core component of Catholic legal education.
This video (created by Hunter Johnson) is a helpful introduction to the role that restorative justice has played in the resolution of clergy sexual abuse cases in our Archdiocese, and this video of last week's launch event provides a preview of the Initiative's potential impact. Restorative justice pioneer and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske will chair the Initiative's advisory board.
Friday, July 2, 2021
As we begin the 4th of July weekend, we should not celebrate the fact that serial rapist Bill Cosby has been released from prison. His freedom is yet another trauma inflicted on his victims. We should, however, be grateful that we live in a country where the rule of law is followed, even when it results in wrongdoers going free.
Back in 2005, Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce Castor learned that Andrea Constand reported that Bill Cosby had sexually assaulted her in 2004. After investigating, Castor concluded that, unless Cosby confessed, “there was insufficient credible and admissible evidence upon which any charge against [him] . . . could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” Castor decided that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would refrain from prosecuting Cosby, thus allowing him to be forced to testify in a civil suit brought by Constand.
This decision meant that the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination would not be available to Cosby – i.e., there was no possibility of criminal charges being brought based on Constand’s allegations. So Cosby provided four sworn depositions in Constand’s civil suit – not once invoking the Fifth Amendment – and ended up settling the suit for $3.38 million.
After the records of the civil suit were released in 2015, Castor’s successor as District Attorney reopened the criminal investigation of the Constand case despite being warned by Castor that “I intentionally and specifically bound the Commonwealth that there would be no state prosecution of Cosby in order to remove from him the ability to claim his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, thus forcing him to sit for a deposition under oath.” The criminal case nevertheless proceeded, and the deposition testimony Cosby provided in the earlier civil suit was crucial to the prosecution.
In this week's ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court observed that courts are obligated “to hold prosecutors to their word, to enforce promises, to ensure that defendants’ decisions are made with a full understanding of the circumstances, and to prevent fraudulent inducements of waivers of one or more constitutional rights.” Society “holds a strong interest in the prosecution of crimes,” but “no such interest, however important, ever can eclipse society’s interest in ensuring that the constitutional rights of the people are vindicated.” Accordingly, the Court ruled, Cosby’s convictions and sentence must be vacated.
My favorite explanation of why the rule of law matters is offered by Robert Bolt in “A Man for All Seasons” when he depicts an exchange between Sir Thomas More and a young idealist, William Roper, about giving the accused the benefit of the law:
William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!"
Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?"
William Roper: “Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!”
Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!”
American courts must take seriously the rights extended by our Constitution, even when – especially when – the person seeking their protection deserves no public sympathy or solace. I’m not glad that Bill Cosby is free, but I’m glad I live in a country where judges decide his freedom based on what the law requires, not on what they think he – or any of us – deserve.
Monday, June 28, 2021
I've written a new op-ed for Religion News Service:
Earlier this month, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — viewed as a leading candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — received several standing ovations during his speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s “Road to Majority” conference. He told the audience that “you got to put on the full armor of God” to “take a stand against the left’s schemes,” for “you will face flaming arrows but take up the shield of faith and fight on.”
This was a reference to a passage in the New Testament in which the Apostle Paul implored the Ephesians to:
“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. … (T)ake up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.”
The dubious interpretive gymnastics required to apply Paul’s spiritual admonition to today’s hyperpartisan political landscape is just the latest example of Republican politicians aggressively merging their political and Christian identities. This isn’t particularly new: America’s politicians have always exploited our faith for votes. What’s different is that the tone of the political discourse has shifted as the religious landscape has changed in some pretty significant ways.
The first change to keep in mind is that American Christianity is declining. In 2019, 65% of American adults described themselves as Christians, down 12 percentage points over the previous decade. With fewer Christians to offend and more non-Christians in the marketplace, media providers, corporations and universities are staking out positions on “culture war” issues that are in tension with traditional Christian beliefs.
This phenomenon contributes to a perception among many American Christians that they are a persecuted minority surrounded by an increasingly hostile culture. Most white evangelicals today believe that Christians are more likely to face discrimination in the United States than Muslims. If Christians believe they face an existential threat, they will tend to support candidates whose rhetoric matches the gravity of the moment.
The second change relates to the shift in party coalitions. Today, according to Pew Research, about half of Democratic voters identify as Christian, down from 73% as recently as 2008. The percentage of Democratic voters who are religiously unaffiliated has doubled during that time, from 18% to 38%. The change among Republicans has been more modest: Christians are 79% of Republican voters, down from 87% in 2008. Only 15% of Republican voters are religiously unaffiliated, up from 9% in 2008.
This shift means that Republican politicians have an incentive to underscore the religious beliefs that most Republican voters hold in common and that many Democratic voters do not. Ezra Klein, in his 2020 book “Why We’re Polarized,” explains that group conflict today is not primarily motivated “by zero-sum collisions over resources or power,” but by the psychological desire to increase difference between the in group and the out group.
The result, according to University of Maryland professor Lilliana Mason in her 2018 book “Uncivil Agreement,” is our current predicament in which “partisan identities fall into alignment with other social identities, stoking our intolerance of each other to levels that are unsupported by our degrees of political disagreement.”
So, it may be in the short-term self-interest of Gov. DeSantis and other GOP presidential prospects to describe policy disagreements with language traditionally reserved for spiritual battles against demonic forces. But that does not mean that such rhetoric is anything but toxic, for both democracy and the public witness of Christians.
Besides portraying the Gospel itself as a partisan proposition, this language ratchets up the perceived stakes of our debates: our political opponents are not merely separated by ideology; they are enemies engaged in spiritual warfare.
Further, such rhetoric quickly leads to a spirit of self-righteousness. If those who reject our political views are demonic — as Eric Metaxas and Franklin Graham suggested in a 2020 interview regarding opposition to President Trump, for example — then of course we enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that God is on our side. If we refuse to recognize the possibility that our political tribe is just as capable of evil as the other side is, we are denying the reality of sin.
That’s a theological problem, but it’s also a political one. Self-righteousness obscures the mutual fallibility on which the give-and-take of democracy depends. If our tribe is on God’s side and our opponents are on Satan’s, why would we ever consider compromise?
Pushing back against this rhetoric does not require a retreat to some sort of imagined secular space — the resources for resistance are available within Christianity itself.
Christians have long used religious language to advocate for particular policies, and there is nothing wrong with doing so provided that the religious language is an entry point, not the entirety of the argument.
The rule of law requires that the lawgiver offer reasons that are rationally accessible, even if not agreeable, to all. On both sides of the political spectrum, the most effective advocates convey the public relevance of Christian values in terms that are wide open to disagreement.
In his 1984 State of the Union address, President Reagan explained: “We must be cautious in claiming that God is on our side, but I think it’s all right to keep asking if we’re on his side.” Though the demographics of the American electorate have changed over the ensuing decades, the underlying principle has not: When we bring our faith into politics, a little humility goes a long way.
In the past week, three news stories that may have escaped widespread attention are nevertheless crucial to bringing closure to the 2020 presidential election.
First, a Michigan senate committee led by Republicans issued a 35-page report on its investigation of claims made regarding election improprieties and irregularities. The committee found “no evidence of widespread or systematic fraud in Michigan’s prosecution of the 2020 election.” Regarding Antrim County (the county at the center of many claims), the committee found that “all compelling theories that sprang forth from the rumors surrounding Antrim County are diminished so significantly as for it to be a complete waste of time to consider them further.” In conclusion, the committee urged citizens to “be confident the results represent the true results of the ballots cast by the people of Michigan,” and to “use a critical eye and ear toward those who have pushed demonstrably false theories for their own personal gain.”
Second, a New York court suspended Rudy Giuliani from practicing law based on falsehoods he knowingly spread while representing President Trump. Giuliani’s defense was not that his statements were true, but that he did not know they were false at the time he made them. For example, he claimed repeatedly that Pennsylvania sent out 1.8 million absentee ballots before the election, but nearly 2.6 million absentee ballots came in during the election. In reality, 3.08 million absentee ballots were sent out by Pennsylvania. In his disciplinary proceeding, Giuliani said that he relied on an unidentified member of his team who took the information from the Pennsylvania website, which allegedly posted the incorrect information. The court observed that there was no evidence to support Giuliani’s explanation, no screen shot of the website with the mistaken information, no affidavit or other information from the unidentified team member. Giuliani did not bother to contest the court’s observation that his earlier statements were false. There were similar inquiries about his other statements regarding election fraud and irregularities. No one disputed that his statements were false; the only dispute was whether he knew they were false when he made them.
Third, former Attorney General William Barr, one of President Trump’s core loyalists, told reporter Jonathan Karl, regarding the stolen election claims, “It was all bullsh*t.”
Just as President Trump was legitimately elected in 2016, President Biden was legitimately elected in 2020. You may love him, you may hate him, or you may be somewhere in between. But let’s ground our criticisms in reality. We already have plenty of issues to disagree about. The outcome of the 2020 election should not be one of them.
Thursday, June 17, 2021