Lincoln's love for the law
I hope my students will follow his admonition: Be a lawyer only if you can be honest.
"I am not an accomplished lawyer," said Abraham Lincoln. Yet his courtroom panache is still taught in law school today as a classic on how to conduct cross examination. In his virtuoso defense of a falsely accused client, Lincoln used simple schedules of moonlight in an almanac to expose lies that had almost convicted a man of murder.Skip to next paragraph
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When I began teaching law students in Israel several years ago, I searched for a vehicle not only to convey theories of jurisprudence and the nuts and bolts of law, but also to inspire young people by showing them how their profession can enrich the world. So I tell them about Benjamin Cardozo, wealthy son of a crooked New York judge, who in shocked reaction to his father's ignominy became the most ethical of jurists. I mention Hugo Black, one-time member of the Klu Klux Klan, who turned his back on segregationism to champion individual liberties as a Supreme Court justice. I talk about Robert Jackson, Frank Murphy, and Owen Roberts, the courageous trio of Supreme Court dissenters in the Korematsu case of Japanese-American internment, who rejected the slippery slope that wartime dangers excuse racism.
When considering cruel and unusual punishment today, there is hardly a text more stirring than Clarence Darrow's 1924 argument against the death penalty for murderers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. And they learn that although Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated near the top of her class at Columbia Law School, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter refused to consider her as a law clerk because she was a woman, and not one single firm in New York City offered her a job. Perhaps Ginsburg's personal battles to overcome professional discrimination helped galvanize her to help change the gender face of American law.