The Catholic University of America






Federal Appellate Court Judge Makes Case
for Unique Role of Catholic Law Schools

   Print Friendly and PDF


America’s approximately two dozen Catholic-affiliated law schools fulfill a critically important role in legal education, helping to form the character and intellect of future generations of lawyers while addressing questions of law, jurisprudence and constitutional self-government though the distinct lens of the Catholic intellectual tradition. 

That assessment from the Honorable Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain (above), a judge serving on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, formed the philosophical foundation for his deliverance of the law school’s 2014 Brendan F. Brown Lecture, offered to the Columbus School of Law community in Slowinski Courtroom on Sept. 15.
Judge O’Scannlain’s address, titled “The Catholic Law School and Constitutional Self-Government,” was predicated on President John Adams’ observation that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”
During his 45-minute lecture, the judge expanded on that line of thought. “Our pluralist democracy does not require citizens—as some would have it—to check their most deeply held religious convictions at the threshold of the public square,” he said.  Rather, “to divorce faith from education is to remove the buttress that supports the truth that education attempts to preserve and transmit.” 
Judge O’Scannlain drew heavily upon the teachings of Pope Benedict, who publicly discussed the nature and identify of Catholic education a number of times during his 2008 apostolic visit to the United States.
The distinguished jurist was wholly in agreement the Pope's declaration that the Church’s role in education is to serve society as a whole and not just the faithful.
“Without a grounding in the deeper principles of justice, of right and wrong, legal education provides its students with a powerful set of tools but without any clear notion of how they ought to be employed,” O’Scannlain said.  “The Catholic law schools’ special contribution in ensuring that legal training is not divorced from the service of truth plays a powerful role in preserving a social order grounded in ethical concerns.”
The application of jurisprudence that is untethered to natural law—defined by the judge as a set of principles that derive from a comprehensive view of man’s purpose and destiny—risks subjecting human life, in his view, to “irresponsible, value-neutral notions of freedom” that poorly serve society as a whole.
For that reason, he concluded, “the importance of Catholic law schools in molding American legal and general culture can hardly be overstated.”
Judge O’Scannlain was appointed by President Reagan to the federal bench in 1986.  He has participated in more than 6,000 cases and written hundreds of published opinions on many facets of the law.
Founded in 1982 and named in honor of the sixth dean of The Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law, the Brendan F. Brown lecture series seeks to provide the law school community with an opportunity to learn from and participate in an exchange of views on a variety of timely societal and judicial topics.