In Memoriam: Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell

In 2013, Professor Amy Levin and I launched a judicial clerkship committee at Pepperdine Law. We wanted to help maximize clerkship opportunities students. That same year, Pepperdine saw its first alumna appointed to the federal judiciary: Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell. Our dean, herself a former federal judge, Deanell Reece Tacha, encouraged us to connect with Judge O'Connell to think about how we could best advance the cause of our students.

She passed away this week, after an abrupt health issue, and I thought I'd share a few thoughts about her.

I quickly found myself intimidated by the presence of Judge O'Connell when I first met her in her chambers--even if she couldn't have been taller than five feet. She was ready to get to business and talk about how we could help our law students and how she, as our first federal judge, could give back to the Pepperdine community. This was Judge O'Connell (I could never bring myself to call her "Bev" as so many of her friends did): intense, focused, driven, passionate, selfless, tireless. I valued every conversation and meal I shared with her in our handful of interactions over the years. These was mostly in the context of clerkships, but I had the pleasure of interacting with her when our Board of Visitors met, or at the annual dinner, events for which she always made time to attend. She was, as I said, tireless.

She did not suffer fools. She had high standards. But that business exterior could never belie the deep care and concern she had for the Pepperdine community in particular and the legal community as a whole. There is no doubt she was the single best advocate for Pepperdine I have encountered in over six years at the school. She was the kind of alumna schools dream about having. And, of course, as business-like as she could be, she had a delightful sense of humor and a disarming smile (when you had the pleasure of seeing it).

Her care extended to her externs and her judicial clerks. Yes, she was demanding, as I quickly learned from my students who spent time in her chambers. But she was also a tireless and vocal advocate for them in their legal careers. In her short time on the bench and on this earth, she influenced many around her who were affected deeply by her presence. Many of my students owe her a great deal, and for that her legacy will live on.

I don't have many words to say except these seemingly generic platitudes. I knew her a little, but hardly as well as so many of her classmates, fellow judges, and alumni in the Pepperdine community. Still, I'll miss her, because of her enthusiasm that made me want to be a better mentor to my students and citizen of the Pepperdine community. My prayers are with her family in this time. You will be deeply missed.

Highlights from Pepperdine Law this week

I don't usually highlight what takes place at Pepperdine University School of Law, but my colleagues have had a string of impressive articles in national newspapers this week on interesting subject, and I thought I would highlight them.

Michael Helfand wrote a piece in the Los Angeles Times entitled "Is a prisoner's beard dangerous?" It evaluates the upcoming Supreme Court case interpreting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalize Persons Act. It opens:

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Holt vs. Hobbs, another big-ticket case that tests the limits of religious liberty when it comes into conflict with government regulation. The petitioner — Gregory Holt — is a prison inmate, housed by the Arkansas Department of Correction. But Holt is also known by another name, Abdul Maalik Muhammad, and he is by all accounts a sincere adherent of Islam. As part of that faith commitment, he wants to grow his beard 1/2-inch long in accordance with Islamic practice.

It seems like a relatively reasonable request. But Arkansas prison officials have refused to grant it, arguing that a 1/2-inch beard would prevent them from maintaining the safety and security of the prison. The Department of Correction contends that Holt might be able to hide, for example, a SIM card or a razor in such a beard; the former could be used to order contraband and the latter to commit further violent crimes.

Rick Cupp participated in the New York Times Room for Debate on the site's opinion pages and wrote a piece called, "Animal Cruelty Laws Don’t Depend on Animal Rights."

Vigorous prosecution of animal cruelty is appropriate, but not based on animal rights. All members of nonhuman animal species are incapable of significant moral responsibilities, and thus affording them "rights" just doesn't fit. Rather than focusing on rights for cats and dogs, we should focus on human moral responsibility.

Finally, Ed Larson has a new book forthcoming, The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789. It was reviewed in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. The reviews explains:

If never considered exactly wilderness years, the span between the end of the war and Washington’s presidency is often seen as a hiatus in which the Virginia planter put his estate in order and then shed legitimacy on the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia solely by his taciturn presence. But Mr. Larson, a history professor at Pepperdine University, engagingly argues that the stretch between 1783 and 1789 was as important to Washington—and to America—as all that preceded and followed it.

I deeply appreciate my conversations with my colleagues on these and many other legal subjects, and I'm so thrilled to see their successful research highlights across the country this week.