A year ago, I attended a lunch where Justice Antonin Scalia gave the keynote address to celebrate the Legal Services Corporation’s 50th anniversary. His thoughts that day echoed a theme that I’ve heard throughout my time in the Law and Public Service Program:
The American ideal is not for some justice. It is, as the pledge of allegiance says, “Liberty and justice for all”; or as the Supreme Court pediment has it, “equal justice.” I’ve always thought that’s somewhat redundant. Can there be justice if it is not equal? Can there be a just society when some do not have justice? Equality – equal treatment – is perhaps the most fundamental element of justice.
As law students, we enjoy the benefits of those who fought for equal justice. Historical figures like Charles Hamilton Houston, who engineered the strategy to desegregate law schools as the first stone in the road to Brown v. Board, or Belva Lockwood who lobbied Congress to pass an anti-discrimination law to allow women to practice in federal courts. They opened the door, giving us access to the most important tools for navigating society and protecting our rights.
That legacy comes with a responsibility. As soon-to-be lawyers, we will have a capacity to be useful for so many who need our services. Not that the LPS community needs me to say this – I am humbled everyday by my colleagues who do so much for so many even as they balance all the rigors of law school. I only say this because I think about it constantly, especially as I plan to head off into the world of big law. I’ve viewed my time in the LPS program as more than just finding a community of like-minded students, but as making a promise to try to do what I can to ensure equal access and equal justice for others wherever I am in my legal career.
Justice Scalia will be known for more than just his blistering wit and fiery dissents. He dedicated his life to public service, and to bringing a coherence to the law that he saw as vital to the preservation of our constitutional democracy. Although he often disagreed with many civil rights lawyers who brought their cases to the Supreme Court, Justice Scalia was a model public servant. I aspire to have even a modicum of his energy and passion over my career, and will always think the world is better off for having had him in it.
Monica Haymond is a third-year law student from Pasadena, California. After graduating in 2010 from the University of California in Davis, she spent three years doing everything from computer programming to retail to pension law. Next year she’ll be working for Gibson Dunn in Washington, D.C.