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The use of capital punishment in America today presents a number of fundamental moral issues about our society and our system of justice. It is fitting that we address those issues here at Notre Dame Law School, which has a well-deserved reputation for raising moral issues, for a deep commitment to justice, and for responding to human needs with compassion.
Our society and the legal professional are failing to meet the need for legal services of many of those most desperately in need of such services in cases involving the highest stake, life itself. There are, of course, urgent needs in other areas besides capital punishment. Those accused of crimes which do not carry the death penalty, the poor, people of color, homeless people, people with mental impairments, people who are HIV positive, people in prisons and jails and many others are without lawyers to represent them in cases which involve their freedom, their shelter, their survival.
Those needs will be greater when you graduate from law school than they are today. But there could be fewer jobs and less resources for those who respond. And, as you know, you will be saddled with enormous debts. This presents a challenge, but it should not deter you from responding. Indeed, my message to you is that you have no choice except to respond – the needs and the times demand it.
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