November 1, 1997
A controversy that has been brewing in an Alabama courtroom will bubble up at Tulane next month as Alabama attorney general Bill Pryor and Tulane law professor (and former dean) John Kramer engage in a debate about a constitutional issue that delves into the interpretation of the First Amendment.
Should an Alabama county judge be allowed to display the Ten Commandments in his courtroom? While the issue will soon come before the Alabama Supreme Court, it will first come before Kramer and Pryor during the Tulane Federalist Society's 1997 James Madison Debate, which will take place in Weinmann Hall on Nov. 17 at 5 p.m.
Verne Speirs, president of the Federalist Society, is expecting a vigorous, good-natured debate between the outspoken, liberal-minded Kramer and his former student, who, as the youngest attorney general in the country, is a staunch conservative and supporter of keeping the Ten Commandments in place in the courtroom.
"The society is about bringing controversial issues out and providing a fair forum for people on the left and right to debate issues," says Speirs. "We hope to clarify the issues so that people can make an informed decision on whether having the Ten Commandments in court is appropriate or not."
From his perspective, Kramer is already pretty clear on the issue. "Tacking up the Ten Commandments imposes a religious formula on the most diverse religious society in the world," he says. "It intimidates people. It tells you that the judge is going to impose certain beliefs."
Besides, says Kramer, the issue is old hat. "Since the Supreme Court has ruled on this in the past, how many times do you get to challenge the umpire before you get thrown out of the game?" If for no other reason, Kramer says the Tulane community should turn out for the debate to hear Pryor, who graduated from Tulane Law School in 1987.
"He is wonderful," says Kramer. "He is charming, young, articulate, and an enlightened conservative. He has quite a future ahead of him."
Pryor is also the founder of the Tulane Law School's chapter of the Federalist Society, which, according to Speirs, comprises 30 active student and alumni members. While the society is non-political, its members are "conservatives and libertarians who are concerned with the state of legal order," he says. There are society chapters in more than 140 law schools. The debate is free and open to the public.
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