Mark and I hosted the first session of our Reading Society last night, an occasion for students to gather with us and one another in the evening, over a beverage, to discuss a classic work. Our first choice was Antigone, by Sophocles. It was an enormous success. We were both very impressed with the depth of insight our students brought to this masterpiece of literature. Truly, we learned a lot from our students.
Congratulations to the staff of the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies for the publication of these papers connected to the symposium last February on Professors John Breen and Lee Strang’s forthcoming book, A Light Unseen: A History of Catholic Legal Education. The volume contains contributions by several law school deans and professors reflecting on the project.
For those who are interested, at the Law & Liberty site today, I have an essay on the Karabakh War, now one month old. I argue that the war represents a civilizational clash between democracy and dictatorship and suggest what American can do to ease the crisis. Here’s an excerpt:
America should consider a range of options to help ease the Karabakh crisis, none of which would involve America as a participant in the conflict. First, it can send humanitarian assistance to the region, indirectly if necessary. Second, it can suspend the direct or third-party sale or transfer of military equipment and technology to Azerbaijan. America provided $100 million of military aid to Azerbaijan just in 2018 and 2019, much more than to any other country in the region, ostensibly to help Azerbaijan defend itself against Iran. With Azerbaijan openly purchasing weapons from Iran, that strategy seems counterproductive. America can also suspend military sales and transfers to Turkey while Turkey continues its belligerent policy in Karabakh and elsewhere. If this doesn’t work, America could impose sanctions on both countries.
Finally, America can continue to push Azerbaijan to cease hostilities, return to negotiations, and reach a diplomatic settlement of Karabakh’s status. (After agreeing to one US-brokered ceasefire last weekend, Azerbaijan immediately broke it.) A comprehensive settlement has been in sight for decades: Armenia returns most captured territories to Azerbaijan and allows refugees to return in exchange for some sort of independence for Karabakh. Michael Rubin argues in The National Interest that America should support this idea, which has a precedent in Kosovo: “remedial secession” to protect an endangered minority. After weeks of cluster bombing, not to mention the history of pogroms and other crimes, Karabakh Armenians can never be safe under Azeri rule.
For those who are interested, the St. John’s University Institute for International Communication has posted a video of last week’s panel, “The Crisis in the Caucasus,” on the war in Karabakh. I participated, along with Alek Gevorkyan (St. John’s), Artyom Tonoyan (University of Minnesota), and Siobhan Nash-Marshall (Manhattanville College). Kudos to St. John’s Law 2L Isabel Arustamyan for helping to put it all together. The link is below:
What are the primary sources of American notions of toleration: the Enlightenment or early Christianity? And why do so many see cultural parallels between America today and late imperial Rome? In our latest podcast, we chat with Professor Jed Atkins, a professor of classics at Duke University about these and other questions related to the nature and value of religious toleration, including its relationship to the virtue of justice. Professor Atkins’s presented a paper on Tertullian (as well as Augustine, St. Paul, and others) for our Colloquium in Law and Religion. Listen in as we broaden the lens to discuss these more general themes of cultural and legal significance today.
A programming note: this coming Wednesday (October 21), I will participate in a panel here at St. John’s University on the war in Karabakh, “The Crisis in the Caucasus.” Other panelists include Siobhan Nash-Marshall (Manhattanville College) and Artyom Tonoyan (University of Minnesota). The event, which will cover the history of the conflict, its religious implications, and its importance for the international human-rights community, is sponsored by the university’s Institute for International Communication. Details and login information are available at the link.
In First Things today, I have an essay on the Barrett nomination. I argue that Republicans and Democrats both play politics, but that Barrett deserves to be confirmed. Here’s an excerpt:
Another objection is that Judge Barrett will be an activist. Here the argument seems to be that, as a faithful Catholic and member of an ecumenical charismatic group, she will inevitably decide cases on the basis of her religious convictions rather than the law—“the dogma lives loudly within you” and so on. But no evidence of this sort of thing exists in her record as an appeals judge, though that record is, admittedly, brief. In her one essay that raises the subject, Judge Barrett suggests that in cases of conflict she would recuse herself rather than impose her Catholic convictions in place of the law, a position that arguably should concern Catholics more than non-Catholics. And, as my colleague Marc DeGirolami has explained, her writings about stare decisis—the idea that judges should stick to decided cases and not overrule them, even if judges think those cases are wrong—are well within the American legal tradition.
Moreover, as Judge Barrett pointed out in a speech at Hillsdale College last year, keeping one’s ideology out of judging is not a problem limited to Catholics, or believers generally. When “you think about the debate about whether someone’s religion has any bearing on their fitness for office,” she told the students, “it seems to me that the premise of the question is that people of faith would have a uniquely difficult time separating out their moral commitments from their obligation to apply the law.” But that isn’t true. “People who have no faith, people who are not religious” also “have deeply held moral convictions,” she said. “And it’s just as important for those people to be sure . . . to set aside . . . personal moral convictions . . . and follow the law.”
The extent to which judges can and should keep personal moral convictions out of the law is of course a matter of debate. Some constitutional doctrines invite judges to import their convictions into the law, or at least make it difficult for judges to avoid doing so. One example is the “compelling interest test” in free-exercise law, which asks judges to evaluate whether the state has a compelling interest that justifies a burden on religious freedom. But there is no reason to think Judge Barrett would have a harder time setting aside her personal convictions than a secular justice would have setting aside his or hers. Besides, progressives have been arguing for decades that the bench should reflect diverse life experiences, which help judges apply the law in empathetic ways. It’s a little late in the day to argue such a thing is unthinkable.