Fourteen law school deans from across the country have collaborated on a book called Beyond Imagination? The January 6 Insurrection (West, 2022), which examines that event “from a legal perspective, in hopes of moving the nation forward towards healing and a recommitment to the rule of law and the Constitution.” UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin, an authority on the law of evidence, contributed the chapter “Reflections on the Post-2020 Election Challenges: On the Critical Importance of Good Faith and Evidence.” There, she examines the array of lawsuits that contested the 2020 presidential election, and she asks what it means to bring good faith to engagement with the law and the legal system.
Each dean wrote one chapter for the book, which is organized into three sections. “Lawyers and Leadership,” which includes Mnookin’s chapter, considers a range of ethical issues that bear on the legal profession and the essential role of trust in a democratic system. The other two sections — “Roots of American National Identity” and “Looking Forward/Pursuit of Truth and Solutions” — look more closely at the role that law schools play in nurturing engagement with thorny issues of race, Christian nationalism, white supremacy, and the deficiency of civics education in America, a phenomenon that one co-author called “civic anemia.”
Contributors include the deans of two other UC law schools, Erwin Chemerinsky of UC Berkeley School of Law and Kevin Johnson of UC Davis School of Law, as well as deans from a diverse array of legal institutions around the country.
The authors gathered on Zoom during the recent annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools for an insightful conversation that delved into the issues at the book’s core and looked ahead at the path forward for American democracy.
Beyond Imagination? marks the second time that the authors have joined to write about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. On Jan. 7, 2021, they and 156 other deans drafted an open letter that condemned the insurrection. “The violent attack on the Capitol was an assault on our democracy and the rule of law,” they wrote. “The effort to disrupt the certification of a free and fair election was a betrayal of the core values that undergird our Constitution. Lives were lost, the seat of our democracy was desecrated, and our country was shamed.” They also wrote, “This should be a moment of reflection for legal educators and the legal profession.”
In that spirit, Mnookin’s essay addresses a disconcerting aspect of the post-election lawsuits: that they “went forward with a shocking absence of grounded, plausible evidence.”
“There is a place for bringing suits not at all likely to win,” she writes. “The bare fact of losing … ought not be treated as strong evidence that litigants [are] acting in bad faith.”
But, she concludes, “We need to train lawyers who are fierce advocates, yes, but who also recognize a core and non-negotiable professional responsibility to make arguments grounded in evidence. For the good of both our country and our profession, we must ensure that we and our students remain collectively and deeply tethered to the idea that the ‘facts of the matter’ matter deeply.”
Sales of Beyond Imagination? support students and programs at the authors’ law schools.