Defending the Rule of Law

January 28, 2013

We often hear about the importance of the rule of law. But how do we define the term? There is no universally accepted definition. Key elements certainly include the protection of human rights and a commitment to ensuring equal administration of justice. The implications of the rule of law can be seen more clearly, however, in recent and ongoing world events.

Last year when there were fears that famine in Somalia might kill as many as 500,000 people, the problem was not a lack of food, but a lack of law — and the rule of law — specifically, the absence of a stable political system. Looking more generally around the world, the rule of law saves lives, promotes human rights and facilitates economic growth. One of the greatest barriers to the kind of economic development that lifts people out of dire poverty is the absence of the rule of law. So many of our advances in public health and well-being involve challenges that are primarily legal and political, not scientific or medical. The law is — at its heart — interdisciplinary and global in its reach.

There is no better example than the work of our students and alumni. Daniel Hougendobler 12L12PH spent a summer in Haiti working to fight cholera outbreaks through improved systems for delivering clean drinking water. Justin Wiseman 10l and Carlissa Carson 08l vindicated the rights of politically unpopular defendants in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, through our International Humanitarian Law Clinic. Professor Paul Zwier and Reuben Guttman 85l worked with attorneys in Mexico to advance the rule of law through an extension of Emory Law’s Kessler-Eidson Program for Trial Techniques. And these instances are merely suggestive. There are countless other examples of our students and alumni advancing the rule of law at home and abroad.

At Emory Law, we teach students to understand and embrace the importance of the rule of law, whether their career goals include fighting to protect a patent or defending a human life. We ensure that our students are prepared for practice, while we instill in them a deeper understanding of their roles in upholding and defending the legal system and the rights of all. To promote these principles, Emory Law will continue to push the boundaries of knowledge through the scholarship in which our faculty members engage, through the signature programs we offer to our students, and through the professional development opportunities we provide to our students and alumni. Our role as one of the nation’s top law schools is one of service — to our students, to our alumni and to society.

I am honored to have been chosen your dean. In the last 10 months, I have met with alumni across the country and have come to appreciate more fully the incredible enthusiasm and level of support you have for Emory Law and for the important work we do.

In accepting the deanship, I thank the leadership of Emory Law’s Advisory and Alumni boards, particularly Gardner Courson 74L, Allan Diamond 79L, Phil Reese 76L 76B, Chilton Varner 76L and Della Wager Wells 86L, for their advice and support during this transition.

As we look toward the future of the legal profession and legal education, I am confident that working together, we will continue to ensure Emory Law’s success and in so doing, continue to advance the rule of law.

— Robert A. Schapiro Dean and Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law


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