The beginning of a school year always brings with it fresh energy. This year, many of us at NYU Law return to campus with a sense of urgency. Recent events worldwide have placed stress on established legal norms, including freedom of the press and the legitimacy of courts and other governmental bodies. People around the globe are looking to lawyers and legal institutions to buttress the rule of law. At NYU Law, we are well suited to lead at this historic moment.
The rule of law—an enabling condition for fundamental fairness, the protection of liberty, and the promotion of equality—is not, to us, a distant ideal to be revered on a pedestal. It is a tangible concept that finds expression in how we construct our community and in the work of the individuals included within it. This perspective is not new: NYU Law welcomed women as students decades before most peer institutions, and this year we mark 125 years since the Law School celebrated its first women graduates. The Law School likewise has long been enriched by immigrants among our faculty, administration, and student body, and members of our community have been key to protecting immigrants’ rights through our renowned clinical program and our new Immigrant Defense Initiative. Through our strategic plan, we have redoubled our commitment to building a diverse and inclusive community, a goal we furthered through the launch this year of the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging and the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law.
In their scholarship, advocacy, and professional pursuits, individual Law School faculty, students, and alumni are engaged at every level in making legal institutions more open and more just. You’ll read more about some of that work in this year’s magazine. A few examples: Professors Helen Scott and Deborah Burand introduced the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship, which unites the Law School’s strengths in law and business and public service. Professor Edward Rock launched the Institute for Corporate Governance and Finance, operating at the intersections of academia and practice to encourage the development of institutional investors as a responsible force in corporate governance.
Professor Philip Alston continued his work as the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights. Professor Richard Brooks, the newest member of our faculty, has applied an innovative interdisciplinary approach to his scholarship on topics ranging from contract theory to racially restrictive housing covenants. Alumni served over the course of the year at all levels and in every branch of government, participating directly in our democratic governance on both sides of the aisle. A group of students launched a bail fund to support people accused of certain low-level crimes who lack the resources to post bail. The boundless energy, creativity, and commitment of members of the NYU Law community inspire me—and give me confidence that, in these challenging times, this Law School remains poised to promote the rule of law.
Perhaps no one better personifies, or had a greater influence upon, the Law School’s leadership in this area than Norman Dorsen, who passed away in July. Norman fought throughout his life for justice. A professor at NYU Law and director of its Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program for 56 years, Norman prepared hundreds of fellows to pursue careers in the public interest; argued several landmark cases before the US Supreme Court and filed briefs in many more; and served as the ACLU’s president for 15 years. Norman’s remarkably rich and impactful life both advanced the causes of civil rights and civil liberties and improved this school immeasurably.
In my remarks to our graduates at Convocation last spring, I emphasized something that Norman understood deeply: that the rule of law is not inevitable. It is the product of an ongoing recommitment to a system of laws and institutions, whether or not that system yields the results we prefer in every case. I’m proud that the members of the NYU Law community are so deeply engaged in advancing this commitment—in being the load-bearing walls of our most vital legal institutions. In the year ahead, let’s lead the way together.
Posted September 1, 2017