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Scalia gives law school centennial speech

Speech focuses on Catholic law school in secular world

By Jordan Power
On September 29, 2011

  • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (left) accepts the Carol Los Mansmann Award, an award in honor of the late Carol Los Mansmann, the first woman to be appointed to the U.S. District Court's Third Circuit. She was also a Duquesne law professor. Robyn Rudish-Laning/The Duquesne Duke

Trading in black robes for a grey suit and tie, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the law school centennial keynote speech Saturday afternoon in the A.J. Palumbo Center.

About 1,200 people attended the 2-hour  event. Scalia, who is entering his 25th year as a Supreme Court Justice, devoted most of his 23-minute speech to the difficulties that a Catholic law school faces while operating in a secular society.

"What does it mean to be a Catholic law school? And what business is there even having a Catholic law school?" Scalia said. "There's no such thing as Catholic law."

Scalia, who is Catholic, outlined three fundamentals of Catholic law schools that make them viable institutions. First, he said, the school must promote Catholic-based law. Second, the school must focus education on law subjects that Catholics are interested in. Third, the law school must have "a discernably Catholic environment," where faith is present in Catholic life.

He added that maintaining the faith and Catholic-based education in a law school is not contrary to the United States' secular society.

"Religious education institutions … are not strangers to the American scene," Scalia said. "They are as American as apple pie."

Law school dean Ken Gormley said he liked that Scalia's speech focused on reminding students that they have other obligations to uphold and encouraging students not to "get lost in the law." Gormley added that it was exciting to have someone as prestigious as Scalia come to Duquesne was exciting.

"It was a proud moment for Duquesne's law school," he said. "It really could not have been any better than this."

Scalia was appointed as the 103rd justice of the Supreme Court in 1986 by then-President Ronald Regan. Reagan also appointed Scalia as a judge in the Court of Appeal in 1982. Scalia graduated from Georgetown University in 1957 with a degree in history. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1960.

But not everyone was impressed by Scalia's visit. Seven protestors lined up outside the Palumbo Center before the speech to protest Scalia's approval of the death penalty.

Michael Drohan, a member of the Thomas Merton Center, a Downtown-based organization dedicated to promoting peace and social justice, said Scalia's Catholic beliefs should prevent him from supporting the death penalty.

"It's an abomination," Drohan said. "We cannot understand it. This man has no qualms about condemning people to death."

Scalia said he noticed the protestors before giving his speech and defended his views.

"If I thought that Catholic doctrine held the death penalty to be immoral, I would resign," Scalia said. "I cannot participate in something which is contrary to my religion."

Lou Kroeck, 28, a Downtown lawyer who attended the speech, said Scalia's speech was inspiring.

"I think the Justice did a good job of describing what it means to be a Catholic law school," he said.

Abbie Spooner, 31, a 2002 Duquesne business graduate, agreed.

"It's great to see someone so prestigious coming here," she said. "It shows that Duquesne has really made a name for itself."

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