Flash: L is for Legality

Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

Overweight, more of a ball than a triangle, and sweat gleaming on his bald head from the trek from the parking lot to the small lecture hall, Dr. Hawkins rushed in the room, instantly silencing those already there, filling the quiet with a slamming door. One quick sweep of the room verified all students for his special class on “Argumentative Law” were in attendance. “What has the Supreme Court done?” he asked while shoving his briefcase into the lectern. He wouldn’t touch it again until it was time to leave.

“Preserved the Sanctity of Life.” John jumped in first, like normal. Coming from a long line of criminal lawyers, he grew up breathing court talk over dinner.

“Fucking evangelical.” Lindsey muttered under her breath.

Dr. Hawkins beady eyes flew to her. “What’s the problem?”

She shoved her chair back. “You know.”

“No, I don’t. What is wrong with his statement?”

“Sanctity.” Monica said, breathlessly, her soft voice cutting through the classroom’s silent fear of the professor’s rage. “It’s sanctity.” The pleasure figuring out something finally strengthened her statement.


“America, first amendment includes separation of church and state. ‘Sanctity’ is a religious term, basically defining life, all life as holy.” Her dark eyebrow met. “And it’s not, it can’t be.”


Monica beamed at getting a ‘good’ for the first time this semester.

The professor nailed the boy next to her with his eyes. “Why can’t life be holy, Mr. Goard?”

“Well … um. Separation of church and state.”

“Ms. Hargate already said that. Do better. Mr. Fikes?”

“Crap, well.” Jacob stared at the ceiling a second. “Food. We kill all the time for food – plants, animals. So it doesn’t matter if life is sacred as a general thought, some life has other purposes. We don’t care about the religious quality of life. We have to look at the legal value.”

“Oh, oh. Right.” Jervin snapped his fingers thinking. “Pets have a different value from food animals which have a different value from men–”

“Which have a different value from slaves, children, and women.” Lindsey interrupted, her arms crossed. “Sanctity of life only applies to white men and unborn babies. Everyone else is just property.”

“Good point Ms. Mills-Jumper. We will discuss property if time allows, otherwise next Monday. Back to the ‘sanctity of life’. What are other issues? Mr. Northern?”

“The judges, by using a religious argument, invalidate their decision.”

“Keep that in mind. But there is a long history of using God-given rights for the common law. Expand.”

“Well, sanctity has no value in the court of law, any more than God-given rights.”

John growled beside Larry. They were roommates and president and treasurer of the Christian club on campus respectively. Larry lightly kicked his foot to the side to shut John up. Unlike John, a heritage baby with his last name on one of the dorms, Larry needed his grades high to keep his scholarship. Everyone in the class, being seniors, had Dr. Hawkins previously and knew his vindictive nature.

“Legal rights, humanity rights matter. While animals and pets have property rights in relation to their owners, humans have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

“Pretty, but not enough.” Dr. Hawkins leaned on the lectern. “That would get a jury’s attention, but not a judge. Moore? Mr. Moore?”

“Um, when does life begin?” Matthew asked hopefully.

Breanna, his girlfriend moaned, dropping her face into her hands.

“What, you can do better?” Matt snapped.

“Well, the question you asked is important, and that is exactly what the judges should have sent back in this decision. When does LEGAL life begin? That needs to be decided by the legislature. Until it is, life should begin at first breath as that is the common law definition.”

“Is it Crawford?” Dr. Hawkins pinned the woman with his eyes.

“Right, you would ask that. Okay, I take that back. Let me look.” Breanna clicked at her computer, talking all the while, the only one who dared research and talk in this class. ” … the common law defines death as when the heart stops beating, so it could mirror that when the hearts start beating, which a lot of the evangelical Christians talk about. But since legal life also impacts plants, that cannot be the only definition. According to Black Law Dictionary ‘That state of animals and plants, or of an organized being, in which its natural functions and motions are performed, or in which its organs are capable of performing their functions. Webster. The sum of the forces by which death is resisted. Richat.'” She smiled. “Life is the SUM of the forces by which death is resisted, not just heartbeat. Breathing by plants and animals is also an important aspect and modern science prefers to define body life as beat and breathing, but quality of life by brain function.

“In the mix is being ‘born alive’. A child is not considered a child unless ‘born alive’. No social security number will be given until a child is born. A birth certificate isn’t issued. They have no personhood. They cannot be considered a citizen until birth.”

“Exactly,” muttered Lindsey. Dr. Hawkins turned his face toward her again, so she spoke out. “Sanctity of life is bullsh– is an imprecise term. Yes, we should treat life, all life, as important, but we have long established that human life, in particular those who qualify for citizenship, life is more valuable than life of non-citizens and lawbreakers.”

“Damn.” Jervin’s statement carried.

“Very good Ms. Mills-Jumper. There is hope for you yet.”

“Can you be less misogynistic?!” Lindsy waved her arms at the rest of the class. “You don’t even call on the women in your class, only the men. If we didn’t speak up on our own, nothing would happen.”

“You aren’t going to get that special treatment out there.” Dr. Hawkins nodded at the door. “And yes, I am aware I only called on the men. This is our fourth meeting and we got twelve to go this semester. Question, how many men noticed I only called on the males?”

Jervin raised his hand slowly. The rest of the group heads swiveled around, looking at the others. The three female students all had their arms crossed, even Monica’s face had hardened.

“I’m assuming all the women noticed?”

The women nodded at the professor.

“Mr. Santinelli, you noticed, why didn’t you say anything?”

“Um, well, because…”

“When did you notice?” Dr. Hawkins stepped to the side of the lectern and leaned forward, putting the dark-skinned student on the spot.

Jervin whispered, “First class, about half way through.”

“Good on the observation, horrible for seeking justice.” Dr. Hawkins clapped his hands together. “We need justice for humanity, not just men, not just women. For humanity. Our job as lawyers is to help justice happen. That includes stopping injustice at home, in school, if you go into politics, in the legislature and on the bench, if you go into business, in the work world. Going forward everyone will be called on. And if I fall into old habits, I expect everyone in class to call me on it. And ladies, gents, stand up for yourselves. Lawyers run over everyone. Especially criminal trial lawyers. You will need to break the cycle OUTSIDE of the court. Inside court, you are sharks. Outside, you are human. Get the best researchers, receptionists, and law secretaries you can, you will need them because you are human. Treat these people well so you KEEP them. Nothing is better than a well-trained assistant.

“Now to conclude today. ‘Sanctity of life’ has quite a bit of meaning as it keeps being used in law decisions. Today you got some ideas of how to pull that apart or support the ideal, depending on your client needs. As Ms. Crawford indicated, the start of life is not clearly defined, though the start of citizenship is. The legislature should clearly define when legally protected human life begins and its value in comparison to adult citizen’s life. Common law until recently applied different weights to males and females; now it seems that inequality of adult life valuation by gender has resumed. It will be up to you and your generation to either strengthen equality between the genders or formally and clearly remove it. I would appreciate it not be the mess of when “adulthood” begins – drive, drink, sign contracts, inherit, vote – giving hundreds of breakpoints. But that is up to you. I will be in my office for the next hour. Fikes, Goard, I need your senior project outlines. Hargate, your first draft. Dismissed.”

(words 1,452; first published 4/14/2024)

Argumentative Law series

  1. L is for Legality (4/14/2024)
  2. M is for Monday (4/15/2024)
  3. O is for Options (4/17/2024)
  4. Editing Rant: Q is for Quorum (4/19/2024)
  5. Writing Exercise: Y is for Yoke (4/28/2024)

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