Regent Law Professor Jeffrey Brauch Speaks at Michigan State University College of Law on "A Higher Law"

Professor Brauch with the leadership of the CLS chapter

I had a great visit to East Lansing, Michigan this week to discuss the existence of a higher law with about 80 Michigan State University College of Law students.  Together we explored whether there is a transcendent standard of moral right and wrong that provides a basis for human law and a standard by which human law can be evaluated. We began by discussing Dr. Martin Luther King's appeal to a higher law to justify his willingness to disobey laws that protected racial segregation. We then discussed the rich heritage of higher law thinking found in the Anglo-American legal tradition (from Bracton to Coke, Blackstone, Jefferson, and King). And we discussed the deep skepticism that exists today about the existence of such a law.

Probably the most important part of our discussion was why the idea of a higher law is more than just an interesting philosophical or historical discussion. Whether there is a higher law matters deeply to how we approach such pressing issues as biotechnology and human rights today. The students were engaged and asked great questions. It was a joy to be with them.

Thanks to the warm and generous student organizations that sponsored my visit: Christian Legal Society, St. Thomas More Society, and the Federalist Society. And special thanks to CLS president Micaiah Owens who took care of all of the arrangements. It was a fun - and I hope meaningful - visit.

See Professor Brauch's scholarship related to professional development and ethical fromation on CEFLER's Regent Law Faculty Publications page >


  1. Jeff Brauch's book A HIGHER LAW (William S. Hein & Co. 2008) offers a rich platform from which to discuss the difference between positive law and what our American Declaration of Independence referred to as the "Laws of Nature and Nature's God." The book includes sources such as Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which Reverend King refers to Augustine and Aquinas for the principle that the Jim Crow laws were unjust by contravening higher law. To be fair, Professor Brauch includes writings from other viewpoints that contend that the only law that governs is that which is enacted by the State. He leaves the reader to determine whether there are "higher laws" that would make a positive laws such as the Jim Crow laws "no law at all." In doing so, Professor Brauch avoids a lot of the nitpicking that goes on among those who debate what "natural law" means. I'm glad he had the opportunity to visit Michigan State Law School and discuss with their students issues such as this. I hope other law schools follow Michigan State Law's lead. I'm convinced they would come away with a better appreciation of the need for scholars such as Professor Brauch who remind us that, while perhaps most positive laws ought to be followed, law students and lawyers--as societal leaders, perhaps some to become legislators--ought to remember that some of the greatest examples of courage are by those who spoke out when laws, though enacted just like any others, needed to be challenged. - Prof. Ben Madison

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