A Moment to Center on Our Law School’s Values

Below is a message that Dean Michael A. Simons shared with St. John’s Law students in the wake of the violent protests at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. 

Dear students,

Like many of you, I have spent much of today gripped by the disturbing events in Washington. As you know, I don’t often send emails regarding political issues. Rather, I reach out to you at moments that center on values—our values as a law school, the values that underscore the legal profession, and the values that we stand for as a Vincentian institution. This is one of those moments. Watching today’s events unfold in Washington was deeply distressing. As a lawyer and someone who has dedicated his professional life to educating lawyers, I am outraged, disgusted, embarrassed, and sad.

Today, while Congress sought to do its constitutionally required work of certifying the presidential election, a violent mob descended on the Capitol to disrupt those constitutional proceedings. That mob was incited by the President of the United States—precisely because he has lost the election and wants Congress to nevertheless keep him in power.

Before our country was even founded, John Adams wrote that a republic is a “Government of laws, not of men.” As recent events have made clear, however, laws alone are not enough. Our laws require people who will implement them, who will be faithful to them, and who have the character to put respect for the law ahead of their own personal interests. Peaceful transfer of power—a hallmark of any democracy—is not guaranteed. It depends on individual people conducting themselves with respect for the rule of law. It depends on us; and as lawyers and future lawyers, it’s our special obligation to cultivate and promote the rule of law.

As we navigate this moment, it feels wrong to tell you that you have another “obligation.” I know it is hard to be in law school and to focus on your studies while our country is convulsed by a pandemic, racial injustice, political turmoil, and growing anxiety. But I want to urge you to maintain hope. Today’s events have only emphasized how much law matters—and how much you will matter. And we are here to support and prepare you for that work. If you need any help dealing with the with stress of these times, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

I am sad, but I am also resolved. I am resolved to continue my work of preparing lawyers who will protect our democracy and use the power of the law to promote justice. I urge you, too, to remain resolute, hopeful, engaged, and confident in our shared vocation. Your work as lawyers will be important. You will be in a position to make a difference. And our country needs you.

With warm regards,