April 1, 2021 - University of Houston Law Center faculty, students and staff examined "Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson during a virtual discussion last week. The award-winning book tells the powerful story of Stevenson’s work as a lawyer representing death row clients in Alabama.
It marked the inaugural event of "UHLC's One Book, One Community Project," an initiative launched by the Law Center's Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The Diversity and Inclusion Committee is co-chaired by Professor Meredith J. Duncan, Assistant Dean of Diversity, Inclusion and Metropolitan Programs and Clinical Professor Geoffrey Hoffman, director of the Immigration Clinic.
The primary goal of UHLC’s One Book, One Community Project is to provide students, staff, and faculty a shared encounter with race, ethnicity, and legal justice issues, engendering greater awareness and understanding as well as conversations, both informal and formal.
Introductory remarks were provided by Cullen Professor of Law David R. Dow, the founder of the Texas Innocence Network. Dow has represented more than 100 death row inmates in their state and federal appeals.
"The question of the death penalty is the most important ethical question in contemporary American law," Dow said. There are other important questions having to do with re-distribution of wealth and healthcare, but the most important question in contemporary Constitutional law is the morality of capital punishment and whether the state should be engaged in executing its own citizens. All of the reasons attached to the "yes" and "no" answer to that question are addressed in the course of Bryan Stevenson's book.
"The title of the book is 'Just Mercy.' Just is an extremely interesting word in the English language. It can be a noun, adverb and an adjective. Any one of those uses of the word 'just' makes sense in the context of Bryan's book. It can be, "only mercy." Or it can be that, "mercy is what justice requires." Or it can be that mercy is just in this particular case. What to me is one of the most extraordinary things about the book, is that by the time you get to the end of it, it's not clear which of those meanings he means, or maybe he means all of them in the title."
Following Dow's remarks, attendees went into breakout rooms for additional discussion of the book.
The event closed with remarks from Dean Leonard M. Baynes.
"I want to thank the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for organizing this event," Baynes said. "I was most impressed with the students. They did an excellent job of asking incredible questions and thinking deeply about issues of the death penalty presented in the book.
“This project is a great way for us to educate each other and learn from each other. To advance the legal challenges to capital punishment is going to require advocacy, fearlessness and continued conversations where we listen to each other."