|Centre College: "Cradle of Justice"
RELEASED: Dec. 26, 2002
DANVILLE, KYThe following article ran in the Nov. 22 edition of The Daily Reporter of Columbus, Ohio. The author is Harry Franken, a Centre graduate (Class of 1945). He worked for newspapers for many years and is now a freelance writer and public relations consultant.
Centre College can be called "Cradle of Justice"
Those could be subtitles for Centre College of Kentucky in Danville, which has done more than its share of providing judges and attorneys to the country.
You used to be able to get a law degree at Centre, now ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of the top 50 liberal arts colleges in the country. Centre closed its law school in 1912, but many of its students are headed for legal careers.
When the school opened in September, there were 298 freshmen. About one of every five members of the Class of 2007 said they were headed for legal careers.
Centre offers two courses dealing with the law. One is constitutional law and the other is on civil liberties. They're taught by the team of Pierce Lively, a 1943 graduate of Centre, and Dr. Dan Stroup, a government professor.
Judge Lively was appointed to the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati by President Nixon in 1972 and became chief judge in 1983. He is now retired. The Sixth District hears cases from Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.
As a senior judge, Judge Lively spoke to students at Centre and gave them some memorable thoughts, including the following:
"It is not easy to put aside personal feelings, and yes, even personal prejudices, and to decide controversies solely on merit. Yet that is what a judge must do every day. No judge succeeds every time, but every judge must make this effort." Judges who read this column may take note.
Two people serve as pre-law advisors at Centre. One is Dr. Stroup and the other is Jamey Leahey, a 1992 graduate, director of gift planning for the college and associate college counsel.
Leahey reports that Centre alumni include 11 active judges and eight retired judges. It also has 636 alumni listed as practicing attorneys. He failed to report that there is, also, this writer, who looks in print at judges and the law.
Two Centre graduates have become justices of the United States Supreme Court. The first was John Marshall Harlan of the class of 1850. He served 34 years on the court from 1877 to 1911. He was also the grandfather of a justice, also named John Marshall Harlan, who served from 1955 through 1971. (That gives the family 50 years on the highest court. The longest serving justice was William O. Douglas36 years.)
The public is given a good view of the elder Harlan in the book Some Memories of a Long Life1854-1911. It is notes written by his wife, Malvina Shanklin Harlan. They were discovered by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she was preparing a speech on the wives of justices. It was first published by Modern Library last year.
Perhaps the most memorable line of Harlan was in his dissent in Plessy vs. Ferguson.
"Our constitution is color blind," he said. The words were not to become law until Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, making segregation in schools unconstitutional.
The second U.S. Supreme Court justice from Centre was Fred M. Vinson, anointed chief justice by President Truman in 1946. Vinson led the court for seven years until his death in 1953.
He was known in politics as "Available Vinson" because after serving 12 years in Congress and being named to a permanent job as a federal court of appeals judge, he left that court to become director of the Office of Economic Stabilization and secretary of the Treasury under President Roosevelt in World War II.
At Centre he received the highest grades in his class, was captain of the Colonel baseball team and was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity. He received his undergraduate degree in 1909 and his law degree in 1911. The fraternity still carries a portrait of him to all athletic events and I have enjoyed sitting next to the chief justice in the stands at football games.
He is affectionately known to his fraternity brothers as "Dead Fred."
You can take a good look at Vinson in Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of KentuckyA Political Biography by James E. St. Clair and Linda C. Gugin, Indiana University Southeast professors, and published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2002.
Willard Pedrick, founding dean of the Arizona State University law school, said of Vinson, "This was a great man, a man devoted to his country, a man who gave everything to his country and served with distinction in every branch of the federal government."
Another Centre lawyer is James H. Evans, class of '43, and retired chief executive officer of the Union Pacific Corp. In a commencement address at Centre in 1979, he said the most important quality in a business leader is enthusiasm"enthusiasm is everythingyour country, your church, your friends, your family, your career, the books you read, the games and sports you play."
And there is also attorney John Rhorer of Lexington, Ky., class of 1978. He was interviewed when Centre tried to discover the origin of the school rite of passage of "running the flame." The flame is a statue of a fire erected on the campus in 1969. On its base are the words of Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe: "Where the lights are brightest the shadows are deepest."
"Running the flame" is the name given to running a circle around the statue naked. Attorney Rhorer says he didn't do it. "It was probably some GDIs or Rackies," he said. "Rackies is not a Latin legal word. It is the word they use at Centre to describe those who frequent the Regional Arts Center.
P.S. I never ran around the statue either.
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