We Hold These Truths

The mission of a Catholic law school

As the dean of a law school, I spend much time meeting our graduates. They have many stories about the colorful characters who taught them. The most popular story by far is about what one late legendary professor would say to his first-year students at the beginning of each school year. "You want justice?" he would bark, "then go across the street!" and he would point through the window at what was then a seminary.

Of course, there is more than one way to interpret this story. Law school is supposed to strip students of their unexamined assumptions, over-generalizations, lazy prejudices, and foggy sympathies about maddeningly imprecise and philosophically difficult terms like "truth" and "justice." As law professors, we strive to clear minds of "mush," as John Houseman’s Professor Kingsfield put it in the movie The Paper Chase, and I suspect that this is what our legendary professor was trying to do. As a committed Catholic and deeply moral individual, he may also have been challenging students to come back at him with the argument that there is in fact a place for justice in law school, and that he should help them learn to find it.

Unfortunately, none of the graduates who tell the story ever reports that a student contradicted that professor, or that the question of justice ever surfaced again. Instead, they relate the story with a certain pride. It encapsulates for them their first lesson in what it...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.