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Call it a mute court. For some reason, lawyers don’t commit literature about their profession – a void that puzzles Brad Leithauser.

Leithauser, poet, novelist, and Harvard Law School graduate, came to Penn Law to ponder this disconnect in the first in a series of lectures on law and literature. He is the Emily Dickinson Lecturer in the Humanities at Mount Holyoke College, and a Guggeheim, MacArthur, and Ingram Merrill Grant winner.

“It would be hard to come up with two people who, in theory, are more focused on every nuance of every word,” said Leithauser, referring to writers and lawyers. “The potential is there for a much richer literature than we seem to have.”

Two of Leithauser’s favorite writers – Henry James and Cole Porter – were law school dropouts, and another, poet Wallace Stevens, graduated law school. Yet none of them drew on law as a subject, Leithauser said.

The convergence of law and literature, on the other hand, has found voice in Leithauser, who has mined his background to produce sprightly poems. As evidence, he read from “Two Summer Jobs” and “Law Clerk 1971.”

Edward B. Rock, Saul A. Fox Distinguished Professor of Business Law, and Kelly Writers House co-sponsored the event. Rock said he started the series because he thought it interesting to “push the frontier” of an emerging discipline: law and literature.



Bill Colby was a young lawyer trying to find his footing on a new job when he got an assignment that forever changed his life, not to mention American law.

Colby, currently a fellow of the Midwest Bioethics Center in Kansas City, represented Nancy Cruzan’s family in the only “Right to Die” case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court. He wrote a book about the experience and, in March, came to Penn Law to talk about the case and to read from his book Long Goodbye: The Deaths of Nancy Cruzan.

He recounted the turbulent history of the case – the 1983 accident that left Cruzan in a vegetative state, the family’s decision to remove her feeding tube and let her die, and her doctors’ refusal to follow their wishes. That denial, backed in a decision by the Missouri Supreme Court, set off a legal storm and national debate about patients’ rights.

Emotions ran so high that when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 1989, more than twice the number of amicus briefs were filed than in Roe v. Wade, according to Colby, who teaches at the University of Kansas School of Law. In 1990, the justices ruled against the Cruzans, but left room for interpretation and, ultimately, a new trial in Missouri. This time, the Cruzans prevailed. And in so doing, Colby said, reshaped end-of-life questions and gave patients more rights to direct their medical care.

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