What JLEPP is about
Devin Humphreys | Wednesday, March 22, 2023
All the way back in July of 2020, before our time at Notre Dame Law School had truly begun, those in our class who had professor Richard W. Garnett for Criminal Law received his classic piece on the four layers of the law, each layer getting closer to the core of what this thing we reify as “law” is actually about.
At layer one are the legal terms of art that make us sound sophisticated at a cocktail party, from Latin phrases like mens rea and res ipsa loquitur to words like “trover” and “replevin” which only really mean something to those of us reading old cases.
Layer two gets more substantive, with concepts like the mailbox rule for contracts or the rule against perpetuities in property law that we are called not just to learn but to understand, analyze and synthesize, so that we can begin to understand the law not as independent bubbles of torts, contracts or property, but instead as an interconnected web of general principles with specific applications.
Layer three then asks us to evaluate everything we’ve considered in those first two layers. Does X principle or Y rule actually advance the objectives it purports to advance? Better yet, does X principle or Y rule advance the objectives it should be advancing? These questions require a uniquely human approach to be answered well, the first point at which our competitive advantage above and beyond the robots won’t really be threatened for quite some time.
But as the affectionately-nicknamed “Lord Garnett” explained, most law schools go no further than layer three, if they even dare go that far. What makes Notre Dame Law School so special is our willingness to spend at least some amount of time considering questions at layer four. Quoting St. Augustine, Lord Garnett notes that “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Layer four seeks to take everything we learn and internalize about the law in law school and return it to first things: who we are, why we exist and what that means for our legal vocation.
For many of us, as our time in law school went on, it became clear that one step toward considering these first principles — and considering them well — was to join a law journal that puts these layer four questions at the center of its mission. Indeed, for the three of us writing this piece, that step was accepting our offers to join the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy. JLEPP is one of only five top-400 law journals with an ethical focus, and it is the only public policy journal with a commitment to considering the issues of the day “from the perspective of the Judeo-Christian intellectual and moral tradition.” The foreword to the very first volume of JLEPP makes the case for the importance of this mission, invoking then-President Ronald Reagan’s insistence upon the “inseparability of morality and politics” and illustrating a vision for the journal that would give pride of place to works that “draw upon religious teaching and philosophy within the broad spectrum of Judeo-Christian values in order to make practical application of those insights to timely issues of public concern.”
The pieces that we’ll be publishing in volume 37, this year’s volume, exemplify our desire to fulfill this purpose for which JLEPP was founded in the first place, now that we each have the privilege of serving on JLEPP’s editorial board. 2022 NDLS graduate Matthew Goldammer, for instance, has a piece about protecting church autonomy that we are excited to be publishing, and Catholic University of America professor Melissa Moschella’s piece defending parental rights is the flagship piece of our symposium issue. We were also blessed to have the opportunity to start up a speaker series this year. Our first speaker in that series was Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, who gave an edifying talk that sought to reiterate, for a new generation, what JLEPP’s mission is all about. Given Bishop Paprocki’s robust defense of magisterial Catholic teaching in recent discourses surrounding the Synod on Synodality, we are all the more honored to have had the opportunity to hear from such a nationally prominent leader in modern Catholic thought. Inspired by the exhortations he made to us while speaking at Notre Dame, we are honored to announce that an edited version of Bishop Paprocki’s speech will serve as the foreword to this year’s general issue. This forward, “The Essential Relationship of the Judeo-Christian Intellectual Tradition to Ethics, Law, & Public Policy,” is a purposeful reordering of the elements of our journal’s name because, as Bishop Paprocki states, “Ethical principles come first, with law and public policy flowing from them.”
We have always believed that emphasizing our journal’s mission is important, in large part because it is something that prior volumes have sought to run away from. Passionate debates were had in recent years about removing the language centering the Judeo-Christian intellectual and moral tradition from our mission, and while our mission statement remained unchanged in those years gone by, the fact that this was a conversation being seriously had by our journal convinced us all the more of the need to embrace our mission and not to run from layer four. We hope that our time on the executive board has allowed JLEPP to take a first step toward remembering what it is that we’re about, and we look forward to seeing this mission further accomplished for the journal and for the University in the years ahead.
Joseph Gergel, JLEPP editor-in-chief, NDLS ‘23
Devin Humphreys, JLEPP executive symposium editor, NDLS ‘23
Joshua Lacoste, JLEPP executive managing editor, NDLS ‘23
Devin Humphreys, Joseph Gergel and Josh Lacoste are third-year law students at Notre Dame Law School and members of JLEPP’s executive board for the 2022-23 term who strongly believe in the importance of JLEPP’s mission. Devin can be reached at [email protected] or @DevinJHumphreys on Twitter, Joseph can be contacted at [email protected] and Josh’s email is [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.