Latter-day Saints in Law

Latter-day Saints in the United States of America have had an impact in the field of law. Attorney Brian Craig highlighted some of the most important Latter-day Saint Lawyers in a recent 10 questions interview with Kurt Manwaring, after publishing a book called Latter Day Lawyers. What follows here is a short summary of the 10 questions post, but the full interview can be read here.

The basis of Brian Craig’s book is the idea that “a select group of lawyers and judges of a particular religion have influenced the constitutional and legal rights of all Americans under the backdrop of landmark and intriguing cases.” He compared his work to another book, As Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court: From Brandeis to Kagan by David G. Dalin and noted that: “As a lawyer, I wanted to explore more the intersection of law and religion.” His book focuses on “people who have left an impact on the American legal system” and “includes profiles of both conservative lawyers, like Rex Lee, and more left-leaning individuals, such as James E. Faust.” By doing so, Craig has brought the efforts of Latter-day Saint lawyers in the U.S.A. into greater focus.

Among the most important figures that Brian Craig highlights is Rex Lee. Perhaps most familiar to many in Utah as the father of Mike Lee or a former president of Brigham Young University, Rex Lee is an important figure in his own right. As Craig stated:

Rex Lee was an amazing advocate. Every lawyer and law student should listen to his oral arguments in the famous Chadha v. INS case where the Supreme Court invalidated the legislative veto. The Chadha case is considered one of the top five most important Supreme Court cases. …

He is undoubtedly one of the most successful lawyers to ever argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He had an amazing success record before the nation’s highest court. He also had a huge impact as the founding dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at BYU and as former solicitor general for President Ronald Reagan. Besides the Chadha case, he argued the United States v. Leon case, which now recognizes the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule.

Based on Lee’s illustrious career in law, Brian Craig noted that: “Everyone I talked to said that Rex Lee is the most influential lawyer who was a member of the Church—bar none.”

Other Latter-day Saints have had an impact as well. Judge A. Sherman Christensen, for example, was the first federal district judge in Utah who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He faced hostility from a colleague named Judge Willis W. Ritter and retired early as a result but was later appointed as a judge in other federal appeals courts. There:

Under Justice [Warren] Burger’s charge, Judge Christensen also founded the American Inns of Court movement for professionalism and excellence in the legal profession. The prestigious service award given annually at the Supreme Court that now bears his name recognizes the person who best exemplifies the qualities of leadership and commitment displayed by Judge Christensen.

Through his efforts, Judge Christensen displayed leadership in improving the legal profession.

For more insights into influential Latter-day Saint lawyers, including stories and anecdotes about lawyers who went on to serve in the First Presidency of the Church, visit the 10 questions with Brian Craig at From the Desk of Kurt Manwaring.

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