The Brief: Law School News and Events

Michael A. Fitts
Dean and Bernard G. Segal
Professor of Law

Penn Law is defined by the events that have framed our nation's history. Many older alumni remember vividly such moments as the assassination of President Kennedy or Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech, which occurred while they were students and became the subject of deep community involvement and inquiry.

The events of September 11th were such an institution–defining experience – both then and now. That fall, on a picture-perfect day in mid-September, an attack of unimaginable proportions was launched against our country. With fears of additional attacks abounding, many feared the whole world as we knew it might fall apart. The Law School cancelled classes mid-morning, but understood the importance to the Penn community of facing this new challenge together. The buildings remained open and virtually the entire community remained, huddled around televisions in the Goat and Clock areas, garnering communal connection and support. Similar experiences were replicated throughout the country. Americans gathered at work and at home to comfort one another. Even politicians temporarily put aside their differences. Who can forget the sight of Democrats and Republicans singing "God Bless America" on the steps of the Capitol?

Students returned to classes the next day, but not to their normal lives. A cascade of events followed hard on the heels of 9/11 – anthrax threats, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and eventually additional terrorist attacks on the Western World. America responded by tightening security at airports, sealing off the White House, and enacting laws such as the Patriot Act, unleashing a wave of debates about America's role in the world, constitutional concerns surrounding terrorist detention and domestic surveillance, and an economic tsunami that still washes over us today.

In the ensuing years, the Law School has responded to these issues as a great academic institution should: helping to lead in the policy and academic debates over the appropriateness of our national response. Our faculty and students, along with other leading scholars and international figures, have explored all of these issues in a series of classes, conferences and seminars. We continue that discussion in the current Penn Law Journal, where a range of esteemed alumni and faculty reflect on the implications of 9/11, touching on everything from border security and immigration to the reordering of relations between China and the United States. It makes for interesting commentary on the state of America ten years after 9/11. We also retell inspiring and sad stories, as alumni, students and one family who suffered a grievous loss recall the chaotic events that none of us will ever forget.

The response to 9/11 produced a brief period of national unity. We focused on our common humanity rather than our differences – a way of life that prevails at Penn Law School. Many of our students experienced the worst national tragedy of their lives on 9/11. On that day, we remembered the virtues of community. It has guided us every day since.

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