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I Do Solemnly Swear
The Moral Obligations of Legal Officials

$37.99 (P)

  • Date Published: April 2009
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521735087

$ 37.99 (P)
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About the Authors
  • What should the people expect from their legal officials? This book asks whether officials can be moral and still follow the law, answering that the law requires them to do so. It revives the idea of the good official – the good lawyer, the good judge, the good president, the good legislator – that guided Cicero and Washington and that we seem to have forgotten. Based on stories and law cases from America’s founding to the present, this book examines what is good and right in law and why officials must care. This overview of official duties, from oaths to the law itself, explains how morals and law work together to create freedom and justice, and it provides useful maxims to argue for the right answer in hard cases. Important for scholars but useful for lawyers and readable by anybody, this book explains how American law ought to work.

    • Tells stories from ancient Greece to modern movies to explain the problems of law so the reader understands them
    • Contains useful rules that officials and citizens can understand and argue
    • Explores the real stakes we the people have in officials' decisions
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    Reviews & endorsements


    “By focusing his important new book, I Do Solemnly Swear: The Moral Obligations of Legal Officials, on what he calls "the retail ideas of justice," that is, the interplay of rules, behavior, and beliefs that shape the actions of individual judges, lawyers, and other legal officials, Professor Steven Sheppard helps restore a human face to the law and, in the process, brings new clarity to the legal system and its functioning. Sheppard's thesis that "officials must be moral. not just legal" may ring strange to the many accustomed to the notion that the legal system long ago severed it links to morality, but the case is compelling, both descriptively and proscriptively, that no such separation is possible for a legal system whose aim is to act justly. Without morality, "there is no legal protection against tyranny, because laws may always be changed by laws," a point most recently illustrated by the Bush administration's legal memoranda purporting to justify the application of torture.

    I Do Solemnly Swear is a major contribution to a disputed and little understood area of legal scholarship. It is a learned, witty, provocative, challenging, penetrating, and compelling work of legal history and philosophy, yet one with immediate and practical relevance to any public official seeking to honorably discharge the duties of his office.”
    --Alberto Mora, General Counsel of the United States Navy, 2001-2006, Recipient in 2006 of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award

    “Stephen Sheppard finds that the tools for moral assessment of official conduct have become unfamiliar, and magisterially sets them out for our benefit. Ranging over legal history (the ‘archive’), moral theory, metaphor (sword, shield, balance and mirror) and maxims of office, Sheppard wisely counsels against a binary opposition between law and morality in assessing what our officials do. There are complex relations between the two, beginning with the oath of office. This brilliant book is essential reading for all those interested in public office.”
    --H. Patrick Glenn, Peter M. Laing Professor of Law, McGill University

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2009
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521735087
    • length: 306 pages
    • dimensions: 226 x 150 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.5kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Law and office
    2. The stakes: the interests of others in official actions
    3. Officials' obligations arise from more than the law alone
    4. The moral obligations of legal officials
    5. Patterns of relationship between legal and moral obligations
    6. Breaching duties
    7. Tools for the trade: maxims and fallacies.

  • Instructors have used or reviewed this title for the following courses

    • Government Lawyer
    • Wrongful Convictions
  • Author

    Steve Sheppard, University of Arkansas
    Steve Sheppard is the William Enfield Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law. He has written articles in legal history, legal philosophy, international law, and the practice of law. With George Fletcher, he wrote American Law in a Global Context: The Basics. He is the editor of the Aspen Bouvier: A Law Dictionary, The Selected Writings of Sir Edward Coke, The History of Legal Education in the United States, Karl Llewellyn's The Bramble Bush, and several series of law books, as well as contributing introductions to the revived works of John Selden, Sir William Jones, and Francis Leiber, among others. He clerked and practised law in Mississippi and throughout the South and lives with his family in the Ozarks. He completed his doctorate in the science of law at Columbia University and holds other degrees from Columbia, Oxford University, and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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