Mitchell Professor David Cole Delivers Inaugural Address

May 14, 2014 —

According to Georgetown Law Professor David Cole, Judge Learned Hand once said that “liberty lies in the hearts of men and women.” Cole used his May 12th inaugural address as the first Hon. George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy to examine “where liberty lies,” exploring the role that citizens and associations play in shaping constitutional law.

People like past NRA President Marion Hammer, Evan Wolfson, formerly of Lambda Legal, and Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, might not agree with each other on matters of gun control, same-sex marriage or the rights of enemy aliens, Cole noted, but they each played an essential role in shaping constitutional law — as much by activity beyond the courts as by litigation itself. 

“We commonly use the term ‘living constitution’ as a metaphor for a document that is interpreted in an evolving way over time,” Cole said. “But I think better candidates for that term are those civil society groups that organize themselves around their commitments to particular constitutional visions, and through their work make those visions a reality.”

Alumnus and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (L’61) — for whom the chair is named — also spoke at the investiture ceremony, offering his thoughts on the importance of the rule of law. 

“The Declaration of Independence … was a powerful statement of the right to self governance” and “the first ten amendments to the Constitution, what we call the Bill of Rights, is, to me, the most concise and eloquent statement ever written of the right of the individual to be free from oppression by government,” Mitchell noted. “Our ideals, set forth in those two documents, distinguished our nation from the very beginning and they appealed to people all around the world. They still do.”  

The Mitchell professorship was made possible through the generosity of J. Clifford Hudson (L’80), chairman, CEO and president of Sonic Corp.; Lee I. Miller (L’73), global co-chairman of DLA Piper, and the DLA Piper firm. Hudson serves as chairman of the Georgetown Law Board of Visitors, and Miller is a member of the board.

Dean William M. Treanor and Professor David Luban introduced Cole and Mitchell. Cole’s wife (and former Georgetown Law Professor) Nina Pillard, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and his children, Aidan and Sarah, were in attendance. 

A webcast is available here.