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By Katie Vloet
Photography by Leisa Thompson
"Great education today depends on having facilities that
enable students to reach their highest potential."
—Supreme Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan
We don't build very often around here, just every Great Depression
or so. But when we do, we do it well."
Dean Evan Caminker spoke those words at the September 7 dedication
of the South Hall academic building in a speech that highlighted
the architectural and pedagogical significance of the new building,
as well as the difficulties of building it during an economic downturn.
"I believe," he said, "that we have succeeded in bringing the
Law Quad's beautiful buildings into the 21st century."
Adding to the grandeur of the event was the presence of Supreme
Court Associate Justice Elena Kagan, who spoke at the dedication
as well as at a Q&A with Caminker earlier in the day.
"How stunning is this," Justice Kagan said, waving toward the
front of South Hall during the dedication ceremony on Monroe Street.
Justice Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law School, understands
the importance of great facilities. "Great buildings are really
important to great law schools. Great education today depends on
having facilities that enable students to reach their highest potential,"
And a great education is exactly what Michigan Law students receive,
"Of the law schools in America, who really provides the kind
of training, the kind of education that we would most like the next
generation of lawyers to have? Who is able to marry the study of
legal theory and legal doctrine and legal skills? … Who is able
to focus both on domestic law and international law? Who is able
to bring it all together?
"I think the University of Michigan Law School is able to do
that like very few other schools do," she said, calling it "the
preeminent public law school in the United States."
During dedication weekend, Justice Kagan gave an inside look
at the Supreme Court at a Friday morning talk. She said justices
are not motivated to rule in certain cases to favor or disfavor
a particular president, that members of the Court genuinely like
and respect one another, and that she—the junior justice—has tasks
such as serving on the Court's cafeteria committee.
"There is not a single member of this Court, at a single time,
who has made a decision, who has cast a vote, based on do I like
this president, do I not like this president … will this help the
Democrats, will this help the Republicans?," she said. "It is just
not the way any member of the Court thinks."
Still, she said, "there are certain substantive matters that
we divide on because we approach Constitutional decision-making
in a different sort of way, because we bring different methodologies
to the table, because we have different views about governing precedents
and how broad or narrow those precedents are." The Court, she added,
would be better off "if we had fewer of these 5-4 cases. … I would
like to have a Court where there's more unpredictability of decision-making."
Justice Kagan made the remarks during a Q&A with Law School Dean
Evan Caminker, who served as a Supreme Court clerk around the same
time as Justice Kagan and who became dean the same year that she
was appointed dean of Harvard Law School.
She talked about how collegial the Court is—even more so now,
she said, than when she clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall in
"This may be the most intimate, warmest institution I've ever
participated in," she said. "We all have enormous respect for each
other," she said, adding that Justice Antonin Scalia considers Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg his best friend on the Court, in spite of their
differences of opinion on many cases.
In other portions of the Q&A, Justice Kagan:
Later in the day, at the dedication of South Hall, the focus
was on the building's importance to a Michigan Law legal education
and on the institution's gratitude for the extraordinarily generous
donors who made the building possible.
Speakers at the event—officiated by Bruce Bickner, '68, chair
of the building fundraising committee—included Justice Kagan, U-M
President Mary Sue Coleman, U-M Board of Regents Chairman Laurence
B. Deitch, '72, and Dean Caminker.
During her speech, Coleman quoted Law Quad benefactor William
W. Cook, an 1882 graduate, about the importance of the kind of strong
and wide-reaching legal education that Michigan provides: "The character
of the legal profession depends on the character of the law schools.
The character of the law schools forecasts the future of America."
Caminker spoke of the Law Quad's "magnificent architecture" that
has "supported our educational mission" for many decades. "Our wonderful
new additions will be equally inspirational," he said. "But they
will also do so much more, as pedagogy has changed significantly
over the past eight decades."
Construction of the building, which houses state-of-the-art classroom
and clinic spaces as well as faculty and staff offices, began in
2009 and was completed last winter.
Each classroom is equipped with flexible, easy-to-use technology
to make it easier for professors to bring their points to life.
All five full-size classrooms include intuitive, touch-panel control
systems, document cameras, a larger touch screen that allows professors
to annotate documents projected on video screens, and much more.
Two of the rooms are fully equipped for videoconferencing and distance
Other areas of the building call for more specialized equipment—some
of it carefully designed to protect the sensitive information lawyers
customarily handle. The clinical suites boast five interview rooms
with digital equipment that can produce video or audio recordings
at the push of a button. Interviews also can be viewed over a secure
Internet connection, allowing professors to monitor the discussions.
The new building received LEED Gold-level certification for Leadership
in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building
Council, becoming only the second building on campus to earn the
It had been almost 80 years since Michigan Law last dedicated
a new academic building. An associate justice of the Supreme Court
also spoke at that ceremony, held in June 1934.
"For the first time it has been given to an American university
to establish a unit completely organized and equipped for the training
of lawyers, for research in legal science, and for the intimate
association at a common meeting place of students and teachers of
law with the members of the Bench and Bar," Justice Harlan F. Stone
said at the 1934 event.
"By that magic," he continued, "which only the modern world has
known, in a brief interval of time all the physical equipment which
skill and ingenuity could devise to aid those engaged in the common
enterprise of advancing the science of the law has been here assembled,
clothed in architectural forms of enduring beauty, and richly endowed
to insure its service in perpetuity."
On September 7, 2012, a new piece of enduring beauty officially
became part of the storied Law Quad.
John Masson and Lori Atherton contributed to this story.
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