There oughta be a law
Four by Four—deans and decades: Clockwise from left, they're George Alexander, Mack Player, Gerald Uelmen, and Don Polden. Photo by Charles Barry.
If you could put one law (or two, or three) on the books—or toss one into the dustbin of legal history—what it would be? That’s what writer Dashka Slater asked four men who have served as dean of the Santa Clara University School of Law.
George J. Alexander
I want to get better lawyering for the underprivileged people of the world. There are a number of glaring illustrations of places in which the law presumes equality of opportunity but provides a lot less. Particularly, and fortunately this is not in our state, with people being represented in capital criminal cases by attorneys who don’t do criminal cases but who are unfortunate enough to be in the grasp of the court at the moment someone needs representation. That’s the worst example.
But representation is also thin in a number of places where it isn’t provided in that manner. Civil cases are often not supported by anything but occasional pro bono assistance, which makes it very difficult for indigent people to exercise the right they would have to compensation for injury. Someone who has a language problem and is forced into a large contract may find it difficult to work the court process to get relief. I think it’s in that area that people see the application of the law very vividly. I would be much happier if the view they got was less jaundiced.
Professor of Law
I am devoting a good deal of time and effort to bringing about the change in the law I would most like to see in my lifetime: the abolition of the death penalty in California. Last year I put together a group called California Catholic Lawyers Against the Death Penalty. So I’ve been speaking to a lot of Catholic groups. I tell them, “Take a look at what our bishops have to say because they’re right on.” I think they’ve nailed this issue and we need to pay closer attention.
The Church doesn’t forbid the use of the death penalty in any circumstances. It says it’s morally wrong if you have alternatives available that do not require the taking of life. And we do have alternatives available in California: We have sentences of life without parole—and we would save millions of dollars by using that instead of the death penalty. Life issues are all a piece of one fabric, and I certainly want to live in a society that has respect for life.
Mack A. Player
International and Comparative Law Program Dean, 1994–2003
At the federal level, I’d get rid of the Senate filibuster. At the state level, I’d get rid of the two-thirds requirement for budget and taxes. I believe in democracy. The president and the House of Representatives and the vast majority of the Senate get nothing done because a minority of senators from a minority of states keep them from enacting necessary legislation. It’s almost as bad in the state of California with the two-thirds requirement for the budget and for taxes.
Another thing I would do is offer a Bill of Secession for all of the West Coast. We have so little in common with the rest of the country, I say to hell with them. California, Washington, and Oregon, and maybe Nevada if they want to join us. We might get cleaner air—we wouldn’t have people from Texas telling us what kind of air we have to breathe. I would re-establish the California Republic. I like the old bear flag. It kind of looks like a pig, but that’s okay.
Donald J. Polden
Dean of the Law School since 2003
I would ban smoking in public, period. Smoking’s bad for people. As with motorcycle helmet laws, I have never really felt this tremendous surge of personal liberty that our constitution and its transcendent values [protect my right to do] something really stupid where I ended up in a hospital and everyone gets to take care of me for 20 years. I just think we would be a healthier society if it was incredibly difficult for people to smoke around other people, including their own kids.
I would also welcome sensible laws that limited private corporations’ influence in political campaigns. The recent Citizens United case, whereby the Supreme Court struck down the McCain-Feingold Act, really opened up the possibility for a lot more wealth influencing campaigns. Corporations are very important parts of our society and our economy, but they ain’t people and they shouldn’t have the ability, simply because of their corporate wallets, to have such a substantial effect on campaigns.
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