Balancing the Values that Make Us Uniquely American with the Need to Protect Ourselves from Terrorism

As Dean, I have always viewed it as my role to remain as politically neutral as possible. Regardless of what party is in power, I will always stand for the Constitution and the values it represents. This country has been very good to me: I don’t think that there are so many countries in the world where the daughter of parents who were not college graduates and the granddaughter of immigrants (on my mother’s side) could become the dean of a top-tier law school. While it has never been perfect, through the great arc of history, it has always felt like we were moving toward fuller realization of our constitutional vision.

After September 11, 2001, we became painfully aware of an irony—the very freedoms that we take for granted like the freedom to travel and the relative openness of our borders can be used against us in the most heinous ways. Particularly since that time, we have been struggling to balance the values that make us uniquely American with the need to protect ourselves from terrorism. I have no doubt about two things: (1) that the President of the United States, regardless of party, views keeping the nation secure as an extraordinarily high (if not the highest) priority; and (2)  if any one of us were to see the daily threat matrix put together by the intelligence agencies, our hair would very quickly turn gray.

With all that said, though, I have to ask, if we betray our fundamental values in the name of safety, in the end, what will we have gained? How do we know when we have gone too far?

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Google’s search page on Monday, January 30, 2017 featured Fred Korematsu.

Last Friday’s Executive Order concerned me for many reasons. Suffice it to say that regardless of whether the President has the power to make such changes in this way, it struck me as new policy that disregards the lessons of history in a potentially very dangerous way. There is a reason that Google today has Fred Korematsu on its front search page. Enough said for now.

There are certainly lessons here for lawyers. The one that springs to my mind is to think before you act and also think before you react. Get the facts. Consider the ramifications of your actions before you take them. Then re-think. This is particularly important if you ever have the chance to act on an international stage. There’s an old saying, “America sneezes, and the world catches a cold.” In my most recent international trip in October, when I visited alumni, they had two comments that I found quite interesting, both of which were expressed matter-of-factly, not with a partisan hue. The first was, “When was America not great?” and the second was, “You always under-estimate how much the rest of the world depends on a stable United States.”

Jack Beermann, Gary Lawson, Jay Wexler, and Karen Pita Loor spoke at the Faculty Insights on the Trump Administration event last week.

Jack Beermann, Gary Lawson, Jay Wexler, and Karen Pita Loor spoke at the Faculty Insights on the Trump Administration event last week.

We will continue to announce various panels (like the one we held last Friday) that will address some of the legal aspects of both this and other controversies. For many of you that will seem like not enough; for others, too much. In the meantime, maybe think back to your own experience with immigration. Unless you are a Native American, there are immigrants in your family. What are their stories?

My maternal grandmother came to the United States from Austria-Hungary (now Slovenia) around the time of World War I. I don’t know if she’d be considered a refugee under today’s standards. I do know that it took 2–3 months to arrive here and most of that time was spent in steerage. It was also a time when you had to have a job lined up and a sponsor before you could enter the US. Her uncle in Bridgeport, CT was her sponsor. When she arrived, she knew three English words—“coffee” and “apple pie.” She taught herself English from the newspaper. Eventually, she moved to Poughkeepsie where she worked in a button factory. She had three children, one of whom died around the age of 3. My mother and my uncle—who served in the United States Navy in World War II—spent their lives making sure their children had more opportunities than they did. When my grandmother died at the age of 92, she still spoke English with an accent. I’ve mourned my mom for the last year but I know whenever I look in the mirror, I see her and my grandmother, and I wish I had their strength and courage. I like to think it added something to our country.

These issues are not simple. They never are. But remember what I told you at orientation, “The law is a noble profession.” You will have the ability to help us come closer to our constitutional vision. Never forget that and never stop believing that a democratic system of checks and balances can work. You will have the opportunity to see that it does.

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