Unpublished Papers

The Air in the Balloon: Further Notes on Catholic and Jesuit Indentity in Legal Education

John M. Breen, Loyola University Chicago


In this essay entitled The Air in the Balloon: Further Notes on Catholic and Jesuit Identity in Legal Education, I argue that Catholic legal education in this country has lost its way. The piece serves as follow-up to an earlier piece, Justice and Jesuit Legal Education: A Critique, 36 LOY. U. CHI. L.J. 383 (2005), an article which has prompted a number of published responses, including a favorable discussion in the widely read journal FIRST THINGS.

When students apply for admission to law schools that operate under Catholic auspices they are told that these institutions offer a distinctive kind of legal education. Foremost among these are the fourteen Jesuit law schools which define their special mission as “the promotion of justice.” However, when Jesuit law schools are asked to locate the special concern for justice that supposedly sets them apart, these schools almost invariably point to the clinical opportunities that they make available to students. Nevertheless, clinical education cannot be the distinguishing feature of Jesuit legal education since every law school in the country offers some sort of clinical program that provides legal services to the poor and disadvantaged. Although these schools uniformly provide their students with a high level of legal instruction, nothing in the academic life of these institutions sets them apart from schools that do not identify themselves as either Catholic or Jesuit. Thus, the experience of many students at these schools who expected something different is, at least in part, one of disappointment.

In this essay, I respond to a number of criticisms that I received in response to the original piece. I also diagnose the reason why, notwithstanding the fatuous nature of the claim, Jesuit and many other Catholic law schools point to their clinics as proof of the fulfillment of their mission. Briefly put, the problem can be found in the fact that Catholic identity is thought of conceptually as an additive—an extra ingredient, like the icing on top of a cake. Instead, I argue, this identity must be thought of as integral and essential, as something which inspires and gives purpose to the institution—like the air in a balloon! Moreover, this identity must be active in the intellectual life of the school. Thus, although the school should be open to all points of view and all schools of thought, the academic enterprise must include a healthy engagement with the Catholic intellectual tradition.

In the piece I also discuss how this proper understanding of identity can be realized in a law school that includes faculty and students from a variety of different faith traditions and none at all.

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