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Lecture emphasizes importance of discussions about justice

March 04, 2011

Oklahoma City University President and CEO Robert Henry spoke about the importance of fostering discussions around justice during the fifteenth annual Willard H. Pedrick Lecture on March 3, in the Great Hall of Armstrong Hall.

Henry was introduced by his friend, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (ret.), who said the two shared numerous passions including educational law and discourse.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 200 law students, faculty, staff and members of the public, Henry argued that, while a court’s job is to decide based on law, not on justice, justice is still significant.

“Law and justice have a great, interesting relationship,” Henry said. “I think that both deserve meaningful dialogue and discussion.”

And although law can be beneficial, it can’t solve all problems, Henry said. At the very least, justice has a place in the law and it is important to cultivate dialogues regarding justice.

“When we’re trying to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, I think it’s good to talk about it [justice],” Henry said.

To illustrate the importance of justice discourse, Henry emphasized a story in the Torah, known as the plains of Mamre.

The story details God’s visit to Abraham in the plains of Mamre where God reveals to Abraham that he is planning to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham, on behalf of the cities, pleads with God to reconsider. Abraham asks God if he would not destroy the cities if he found at least 50 righteous people living within the city and, to that, God agrees. Abraham continues to negotiate with God, finally getting God to agree that he would not destroy the city if there were 10 righteous people living within the city.

The passage about the plains of Mamre teaches that it one should always speak out against injustice. In addition, Henry said the story shows that God is open to compromise and willing to change his mind.

While admitting that he didn’t agree with breaking the law, Henry argued we should never stop challenging the law.

“We should always question law when it deserves questioning,” Henry said.

Henry was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in 1994 and became chief judge in 2008. He stepped down from the post in July 2008 to become president of Oklahoma City University where he had previously served as a professor and dean at the university’s law school. Henry is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Board of Directors for the VERA Institute of Justice.

The lecture, hosted by the Pedrick family, was established in 1997 in memory of the founding dean of the College of Law. It brings outstanding legal scholars, jurists or practitioners to the College of Law to enrich the intellectual life of the College and the community.

Staci McCabe,
(480) 965-8702
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law