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The Tool of Law

by Sally Benner

A crisis was visited upon the United States in November 2000– who would be our president? Lawyers parsed the Constitution and presented arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. A sophisticated nation, and the world, turned to a document drawn up by inspired theorists over 200 years before to find the answers to the election quandary. The U.S. Constitution was the blueprint for the experiment called democracy. The election crisis pales in comparison to the carnage that was delivered upon the nation on September 11, 2001. When the smoke cleared in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, there was an urgency to repair the damage wrought that day, and to move to protect our nation. In each case the legal framework helped guide the hard decisions that needed to be made.

Because of the Law School’s location in Philadelphia we were surrounded by events taking place directly north, south and west of our location. Yet, in the center of Philadelphia stood Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, symbols of the democracy we would be defending in our response to the attacks.

We can be inspired by patriotic symbols, but we need the law to fight this war. So far, our laws have not failed us. They have proven to be strong and resilient in addressing the unprecedented attacks on the continental United States. We turn to them to define for ourselves what is just and fair in restricting civil liberties, punishing the offenders, conducting the war, and gathering intelligence to protect the nation against additional terrorist acts. Violence has been brought home after decades of witnessing such barbarism from a seemingly safe distance.

We asked faculty and alumni of the University of Pennsylvania Law School to address these questions: In your experience, how have the events of September 11 th changed the legal landscape? How is the law being used as a constructive tool to respond to the initial terrorist attacks on September 11 th ? How is the law being used to restore national security?

Some of our full-time and adjunct faculty live in New York and Washington and were able to provide students with firsthand testimony of the events on that day. They are teaching Penn Law students how to identify the laws that will be used to fight the war. What follows is an account of how Penn Law graduates and teachers have used their positions as lawyers to rebuild the nation in the six months since September 11th.

  Next: September 11th and the Days After