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School of Law | Constitutional Scholar Examines Problems of Capital Punishment and Same-Sex Marriage

Constitutional Scholar Examines Problems of Capital Punishment and Same-Sex Marriage

Professor Michael Perry, a leading legal theorist and constitutional scholar, spent a week in March at the University of Dayton School of Law exploring with students two controversial issues in the United States: capital punishment and same-sex marriage.

Perry visited the School of Law to co-teach an intrasession course, "The Constitutional Morality of the United States: The Problems of Capital Punishment and Same-Sex Marriage," with Professor Richard Saphire.

Perry's visit created "an opportunity to explore constitutional and human rights law with one of the country¿s most influential teachers and scholars," Saphire said.

The two friends, who have known each other for 30 years, designed the course together. The two principal issues the course explored not only receive regular media coverage, but are also issues that Perry has addressed in his past writing and is exploring in a book that is now in progress.

"In recent years, issues such as capital punishment and same sex marriage have been among the most interesting and difficult challenges facing the country and the courts," Saphire said.

The class included readings of some Perry's recent works. "My classes are where my books begin," said Perry, who has written 12 books, including, most recently, Toward a Theory of Human Rights: Religion, Law, Courts; Constitutional Rights, Moral Controversy and the Supreme Court; and The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy.

"I'm especially interested in constitutional controversies that are closely aligned with moral controversies," Perry said. He said he wanted the students in the course to come away with a 'keener sense of the complexity of these issues than they had before the week began."

Though he's taught Constitutional Law for 36 years, Perry said, "I'm still seeing new things and thinking new thoughts." For instance, in regards to capital punishment, he said he thinks he has finally arrived at a position he will hold for "the rest of my life."

"I agree with the majority of liberal democracies," he said. "It's a violation of human dignity to execute people."

He called capital punishment a "more complicated issue than same-sex marriage." Perry said he thinks that it is a "violation of relevant moral norms to deny access to civil marriage to same-sex couples."

During his visit, Perry also met with law faculty members and UD faculty members elsewhere on campus.

Since 2003, Perry has held a Robert W. Woodruff University Chair at Emory University, where he teaches in the law school. He is currently splitting his time between Emory and the University of San Diego, where, as the University Distinguished Visiting Professor in Law and Peace Studies, he teaches a course on the morality and law of international human rights both to law students and to graduate students at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.

Before joining Emory, Perry was the inaugural occupant of the Howard J.Trienens Chair in Law at Northwestern University. He also has held the University Distinguished Chair in Law at Wake Forest. He began his teaching career at Ohio State University College of Law and has taught as a visiting professor at several law schools, including Yale, Tulane, New York Law School, the University of Tokyo, Alabama and the University of Western Ontario, Canada.


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