The new Karsh Center for Law and Democracy at the University of Virginia School of Law promises to serve as an institution that promotes and studies core facets of a democratic society.
Established with a gift from Martha and Bruce Karsh, alumni and philanthropists who met at UVA as law students, the center will be led by Professor Micah Schwartzman ’05, an expert in law and religion, jurisprudence, political philosophy and constitutional law.
Schwartzman answered a few questions about establishing an “intellectual home” for scholars, students and public officials.
What are the initial goals of the Karsh Center?
Our initial aim is to promote democratic dialogue and civil discourse through a series of public conversations focused on core principles, including respect for the rule of law, integrity in public office, freedom of speech and press, and the importance of civic engagement. We plan to do this by organizing conferences, workshops and courses that will bring together leaders from the academy, the bar and the bench. Our sense is that sustaining democratic principles and norms requires building relationships around them. And that means forging new and meaningful connections between students, faculty, practicing lawyers, judges and leaders from across the legal profession.
Why is “law and democracy” an important focus right now?
In the last year — and especially in Charlottesville — we have seen alarming attacks on democratic principles. In our own streets, we have witnessed shocking assaults on those representing basic commitments to equality, pluralism and inclusiveness. At the same time, our public rhetoric has become increasingly vicious and polarized, creating conditions in which citizens increasingly cannot hear each other over the noise of partisanship and personal attack. A sustained effort will be necessary to repair this damage over the years to come, and that effort cannot begin soon enough.
Can you tell us more about yourself as a scholar and how this aligns with your work?
Much of my work focuses on the ethics of political and legal decision-making, especially but not exclusively in the context of law and religion. I have written about the value of sincerity in democratic deliberation and about the need for public officials to give justifications for their actions. Many of our political and legal institutions reflect this demand for reason-giving, which is central to the rule of law and to the legitimacy of a democratic society. And so I see my scholarship as bound up with the core commitments of the Karsh Center.
Where do you see the center 10 years from now?
The Karsh Center will be a focal point for national conversations about law and democracy. With established faculty and distinguished fellows, the center will be a place of continuous and sustained dialogue about the importance of civil discourse, rule of law, public integrity, and the ideals of a pluralistic, inclusive and decent society. My hope is that scholars, students and public officials will find an intellectual home here — a place where they can talk to each other about their common ideals, shore up existing relationships, and build up new ones to advance our commitment to democratic principles and the legal institutions that embody them.
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.