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What do you get when you combine a United States Supreme Court justice, a failed high court candidate, and the founder of Domino’s Pizza? You won’t get law degree in 30 minutes, but apparently you’ll order up a bit of controversy. When United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, failed high court candidate Robert Bork, and Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan joined forces 17 months ago to establish a new law school in Ann Arbor, Mich., passionate responses were almost assured. This is not only because the school is affiliated with the Catholic Church, but also because it is affiliated with Monaghan. A self-made businessman who bought the pizza chain for $500, Monaghan has long been a known supporter of the Catholic Church and its principles. When Monaghan began using his ample resources to affect political change, such as attempting to overturn current abortion rights, however, he became a figurehead — with vociferous enemies and faithful allies. Although much has been written about his monetary ties to anti-abortion groups like the New Hope Life Center and the American Center for Law, such attention is just starting to grace his Ave Maria School of Law. ‘MORE THAN JUST THE TECHNICAL ASPECTS OF LAW’ The 77 first year law students — nearly double the projected opening class size — will receive something other than traditional law school training at Ave Maria, the 26th Catholic law school in the United States. “We have noticed an enthusiasm about what we’re all about here,” Ave Maria School of Law Dean Bernard Dobranski told American Lawyer Media News Service. “Our students have a thirst for more than just the technical aspects of the law. They desire to learn more about the Judeo-Christian principles of the law. Although not everything moral is legal — and vice versa — we can provide a place to explore what the connection is.” In its first year, Ave Maria exceeded its student body projection of 40 by 33 spots. The 77 students currently enrolled were chosen from a pool of 218 applicants representing 44 states, meaning nearly one of every three student who applied were accepted and then chose to attend the school. Dobranski said that, although the student body is predominantly Catholic, the school does have a small number of non-Catholics enrolled, as well. “To see it all come together like this is exhilarating,” Dobranski said. “We’ve attracted more students than we thought we could in our first year, especially when you think about how high we’ve set our admission standards. We wanted a high quality student body, and, without being accredited, we weren’t sure how many students we could attract with our median LSAT (Law School Admission Test) score for acceptance set at 158.” Dobranski said that one of the school’s goals is to “re-establish the law as one of the three classic vocations alongside medicine and the church.” He added that those on the school’s founding board — Monaghan is the founding member — believe that over the last 30 to 50 years the law has become less of a vocation and more of a business. To understand how the school believes that the revitalization of law as a vocation can be accomplished, one must look no further than the school’s mission statement: “Our mission is to offer an outstanding legal education in fidelity to the Catholic Faith, as expressed through Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church … Ave Maria School of Law affirms Catholic legal education’s traditional emphasis on the only secure foundation for human freedom — the natural law written on the heart of every human being. We affirm the need for society to rediscover those human and moral truths that flow from the nature of the human person and that safeguard human freedom.” To help rediscover these truths, Ave Maria has allied itself with many influential members of the judiciary, the government, and the church. Founding board include U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., U.S. Appeals Court Judge James L. Ryan, and former Cardinal John J. O’Connor of New York City. Perhaps the school’s most interesting ally is its first faculty member, former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. JUDGE ROBERT BORK: NOT CATHOLIC, BUT A GOOD FIT The Ave Maria School of Law’s first faculty member was Robert Bork. Although not a Catholic, Bork seemingly shares many of the beliefs of the school’s founder. Bork is most widely known for two things: his firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox while he was acting U.S. attorney general, an event that became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, and his failed nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. President Ronald Reagan nominated Bork, but liberal groups across the country protested his nomination because of his well-known positions against abortion, affirmative action, and First Amendment protection for nonpolitical free speech. Bork is currently co-teaching a course with Dobranski, entitled “Moral Foundations of the Law.” “I wasn’t ready to teach constitutional law again, and this course, and the new school gave me a chance to explore the law just as much as a chance to teach it,” Bork said. “We started the course with a hypothetical case originally introduced by a Harvard professor years back called the ‘Spelunker Explorers.’ These spelunkers get trapped by a rockslide, and realize they cannot be rescued. They are forced to decide to kill and eat one of the members in order to stay alive. The case is based on an old English case, and basically the professor wrote opinions based on different approaches of law. We are not teaching the foundations in this course, but exploring. The law states that willful killing is murder, and by looking at the different approaches the opinions used students hopefully get a chance to see how the law can be interpreted differently.” Bork said that, even though he is not Catholic, he does not feel out of place at the school. “I’m not Catholic, but let’s just say that my wife is Catholic enough for both of us,” Bork said. “In my time I have been in predominantly Catholic and Jewish societies and have always felt comfortable. Although classes are in session, the high-profile board is in place, and Bork is feeling comfortable, some people still are asking: For what purpose was Ave Maria actually created? FROM PIZZA TO A CATHOLIC LAW SCHOOL, WHAT IS MONAGHAN UP TO? Monaghan, the founder and former owner of Domino’s Pizza and the owner of Detroit Tigers baseball franchise, has a great deal of experience in business management. With Ave Maria, he will now get the chance to manage how the law is taught. Monaghan — the founder of Legatus, a group of conservative catholic businessmen — claims to have devoted $50 million to establish Ave Maria because he feels Catholic education in the United States has become too secularized in the teaching of faith. Although the Catholic faith is an obvious foundation in the creation of a Catholic law school, Dobranski argues students at the school will receive a complete legal education. “We [Ave Maria] are not a seminary, we are a law school,” Dobranski said. “We are not a propaganda institution, because plain and simple that is not what an educational institution is all about. We aren’t taking 77 students and corrupting their minds; we are offering a comfortable setting where they can receive a first class education that also offers perspectives that they might not receive in a non-Catholic law school.” Critics contend, however, that Monaghan is using Ave Maria to create a legion of ultra-conservative, religiously radical attorneys to fight for issues on his “right-wing” agenda. Dobranski dismisses such accusations, arguing that the school will teach case law, just as does any other law school. “Regardless if it’s dealing with abortion or a First Amendment issue, we will introduce the arguments as they appear; we won’t alter issues or slant them toward the views of the Catholic Church,” he said. “The difference here is we feel that the ability to use Judeo-Christian values will actually enable our students to study cases in a broader context.” Ironically, it is this desire to study cases in the context of Monaghan’s principles that has critics, such as Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, saying the school and its future graduates could pose a threat to the role of the legal profession in the United States. “We’ll have to wait to see if the school is able to turn out competent lawyers,” Simon Heller of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy said. “We definitely have questions about a school that isn’t dedicated to law, but instead to religion. They’re training advocates for a point of view and we wonder if such a school will be able to compete in the legal marketplace. But, anytime $50 million is dumped into an agenda, you have to be aware and afraid.” The agenda, according to Heller, whose nonprofit legal and policy advocacy group promotes women’s reproductive rights, is that the school’s students will be trained to push for a theocracy — a system governed by the tenets of religion, not the rule of law. He added that these concerns are not limited to the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade — the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling upholding a woman’s right to abortion — but extend to other fundamentalist positions, such as the need for school prayer. The view of some of Monaghan’s critics — that he has created a law school to produce lawyers who will to fight to take away a woman’s right to choose — is based, at least in part, on Monaghan’s past. Although affiliated with both the American Center for Law and the New Hope Life Center, Monaghan has appeared as counsel for a number of anti-choice groups, including American Life League, Catholics United for Life, and Concerned Women of America. In the ’90s Monaghan has lent a helping hand in defending several abortion foes. In 1993 he appeared as counsel in Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263, a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that abortion clinics could not sue anti-abortion demonstrators obstructing access to clinics under Reconstruction-era civil rights statute. Monaghan lent his assistance in 1994 once again in the high court in NOW v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249. In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the dismissal of a suit brought by women’s rights groups and abortion clinics under RICO for nationwide conspiracy to close clinics through a series of illegal racketeering activities. In perhaps the oddest case in which Monaghan has served as counsel is United States v. Terry, 17 F.3d 575, cert denied, 513 U.S. 946, in which the criminal contempt conviction of an anti-abortion demonstrator who presented a fetus to President Bill Clinton was affirmed. The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy is taking notice not only because of these ties, but also because of the substantial monetary resources Monaghan takes with him when supporting a cause. Bork feels the critics have been quick to judge Ave Maria because of its Catholic tag. “[The critics] are all out of their minds,” Bork said. “There is no political agenda at Ave Maria that I know of or have seen. These critics see that the school is Catholic, and because they are hostile to our mission, they call us names. I mean pro-abortion people are against us simply because we’re Catholic; they associate a certain political agenda with the Catholic Church, while the school does not.” NEXT STEP FOR AVE MARIA: ACCREDITATION Ave Maria School of Law consists of an 84,000 square foot building on an 11-acre site. The law school offers technologically-enhanced classrooms, meeting rooms, a moot court, a chapel, additional space for student organizations, and a library that houses 225,000 volumes, which is thousands more than the American Bar Association requires for accreditation. Although these resources indeed are impressive, without ABA accreditation Ave Maria will have a group of students unable to sit for the state bar exam unless the Michigan Board of Law Examiners approves the school as “reputable and qualified.” To be accredited, a law school needs to meet the ABA’s requirements in a vast array of areas, from library size to faculty pay. Whether a school is affiliated with a religious denomination is not taken into account by the ABA when considering a school for accreditation. Dobranski said he is fully aware of the Standards and Rules of Procedure for the Approval of Law Schools by the American Bar Association. The Administration and the Dean have said they are determined to devote all necessary resources to create a legal education program that will qualify for approval by the ABA. The school currently makes no representation to applicants that it will be approved by the American Bar Association prior to the graduation of any matriculating student. OPENING YEAR JITTERS ASIDE, WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR AVE MARIA? The Ave Maria School of Law has opened its doors and classes have begun, but to be competitive with not only the other 25 Catholic law schools, but also the top non-secular law schools in the country, the school must continue to grow. “I think in five years we would like to have close to 400-450, slightly higher academically-profiled students,” Dobranski said. “I mean we are very happy with our current students, but we hope to be constantly improving. Ultimately, I don’t know if five years is enough, but we’d like to be recognized as one of the top tier law schools in America. We’d like to have a faculty of close to 30, and begin gearing ourselves toward scholarship and research.” Ave Maria’s yearly tuition of $19,750 compares favorably to that of the Catholic University of America’s law school, which is $25,092. The school’s neighboring competition, the University of Michigan Law School, costs in-state residents $19,116 a year and $25,086 for students from outside the state. Dobranski said that although the school would not be officially evaluated by rating services such as the annual report in the U.S. News and World Report for a few years, the inaugural class compares favorably with the top 45 law schools in the country. The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, the state’s other Catholic law school, welcomes Ave Maria to the playing field, but doesn’t see it as competition. “We wish them [Ave Maria] well, but in no way are they competition to our school,” University of Detroit Mercy Director of Media Relations Gary Lichtman said. “Their student body is different than ours, most of their students are out-of-state, while we have for the most part in-state students. We’re the first and only law school in the state to teach ethics across the board, and as much as we welcome them, we don’t feel threatened by them because we’re two different schools.” If the Ave Maria School of Law doesn’t garner the interest of those looking for this difference, and expand its student body as the rate it desires, perhaps the school will take a page from its founder’s past and offer buy-one-year-get-one-free coupons to applicants.

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