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My friend Mike Lefkow was murdered on Feb. 28, 2005. You probably know that already, since the killing made headlines around the world. Mike was married to federal district court judge Joan Lefkow, whose own life had been threatened by white supremacist Matthew Hale. In fact, Hale had been convicted of conspiring to murder Judge Lefkow, and he was awaiting sentencing when Mike (and his mother-in-law, Donna Humphrey) were found dead in the basement of the family home. Suspicion immediately focused on Hale and his followers, but it turned out that a different embittered litigant was guilty. A man named Bart Ross killed himself during a traffic stop, leaving a note in his car claiming that he shot Judge Lefkow’s husband and mother in revenge for her dismissal of his medical malpractice case. The subsequent police investigation uncovered substantial physical evidence linking Ross to the crimes. But whoever murdered Mike, the loss is immeasurable — not only to his family, but to the entire legal community. Mike Lefkow was one of the rare lawyers who devoted himself almost entirely to the public good. He was tireless and selfless, reflective and compassionate, brilliant and quirky — just the way a lawyer should be. In 1971 he argued and won Townsend v. Swank in the U.S. Supreme Court, establishing a battery of statutory “welfare rights” for public aid recipients across the country. About a year later, Mike interviewed me for my first job out of law school, at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. “Why do you want to work in legal services?” he asked. “Well, I just want to help poor people,” I replied. “Wrong answer,” he said. “Our job is to put poor people in a position where they can help themselves.” He didn’t use the word “empower,” which would not come into vogue for decades, but he made the same point. As lawyers, our highest goal is to effect our clients’ autonomy, no matter who they are, putting them in a position to make their own decisions about their own lives and property. And that holds true whether we represent welfare recipients, middle-class homeowners or large corporations. Which was precisely Mike’s point. Legal services attorneys have exactly the same obligations as any other lawyers — to serve their clients, not to “help” them. Well, I got the job, despite my youthful na�vet�, and Mike’s vision of client-centered lawyering has stayed with me ever since. One thing that Mike did not mention — during our interview or in the following years when we worked together — was his religious faith. I knew that Mike was a believer, but I was actually a bit surprised to read about the full extent of his involvement in the Episcopal Church, at both the parish and diocesan levels. He was a vestry member, an usher and a member of the stewardship committee at St. Luke’s Church in Evanston. He also served as secretary on the Chicago Standing Committee, a six-person advisory council to the bishop. Christianity was obviously central to the way he lived, but he did not feel compelled to talk about it. Of course, that contradicts the stereotype of liberal hostility to religion. If you get your information from talk radio and Fox News, you would think that conservatives are overwhelmingly devout churchgoers, committed to the establishment of “moral values,” while liberals are skeptics at best, atheists at worst, determined to banish faith from the public square. Mike Lefkow’s life demonstrates the foolishness of that caricature. He was a liberal through and through, devoted to civil liberties, workers’ rights, reproductive choice, separation of church and state and all the other values that make the blue states blue. But he was also a devout Christian, taking his children to Sunday school every week and singing in the choir. For Mike, there was no contradiction between liberalism and Christianity. In fact, they complemented each other in his worldview. I suppose you could call it faith and good works. Why have so many people come to believe that liberalism and religion don’t mix? Part of the reason is surely the drumbeat from the right, pounding home the hot-button message that tax cuts, capital punishment and Social Security privatization are essential to maintaining “Christian family values” and combating the “homosexual agenda.” But part of the problem is attributable to liberals ourselves. We can be guilty, I must admit, of a sort of dogmatic rationalism that must often seem intolerant of religious expression. While we may be opposed in principle to government funding for faith-based social services, we should take far more care to express our appreciation for the energy and devotion of the agencies themselves. Why did it take a Republican administration to set up a White House liaison for faith-based initiatives? Democrats could have engaged in the same outreach during the Clinton years, offering access, expertise, encouragement and support, if not direct tax dollars. Indeed, there is no reason that Evangelicals shouldn’t be tree huggers — given the Lord’s command to exercise stewardship over the earth — and more of them might be if they were made to feel more welcome by science-centric environmentalists. By the end of its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of displaying the Ten Commandments in government buildings. Conservatives are usually said to favor such displays, while liberals are opposed. I never had the opportunity to discuss this issue with Mike Lefkow, but I am pretty sure that I know what his position would have been. He did everything he could to live by the Ten Commandments, and he did not need to see them plastered on courthouse walls. But he would have taken that position out of love for the Holy Word, not antipathy or distaste. I did not share Mike’s beliefs, but I respect his faith, and I admire him for it. An entire generation of lawyers will deeply miss his wise counsel and deep inspiration, which taught us that humanism does not depend on secularism. As we say in my tradition: “May the source of peace bring peace to those who mourn.” Steven Lubet is a professor of law at Northwestern University and the author of Murder in Tombstone: The Forgotten Trial of Wyatt Earp , published by Yale University Press. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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