Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the Boston College Law School Commencement Ceremony

NEWTON, Mass. , May 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is a transcript of remarks prepared for delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the Boston College Law School Commencement Ceremony: Thank you Dean Garvey...


NEWTON, Mass. , May 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is a transcript of remarks prepared for delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the Boston College Law School Commencement Ceremony:

Thank you Dean Garvey .

Distinguished faculty and guests; parents, families and friends of the graduates; and members of the class of 2008:

I am grateful for the invitation to deliver this year's commencement address at this distinguished school. Boston College Law School has a history of inviting commencement speakers who reflect diverse views on important legal and public policy issues. Of course, this has meant speakers with whom some faculty members and students have strongly disagreed - including, most recently, me. That history is consistent with what elevates American legal education above mere indoctrination and makes it worthy of being called higher education; that history includes a hearty welcome to open discourse on vital questions of the day.

Many of those questions in today's world revolve around the terrorist threat to the civilization we all treasure. It should be no surprise that questions about how we should confront that threat have generated vigorous debate at this law school, and at others around the country. Those questions are among the most complex and consequential that a democratic government can face. How we as a nation should seek to protect ourselves; whether the steps we take are proportional to the threat and consistent with our history and principles; where the legal lines are in this new and very different conflict; and, as a matter of policy, how close to those legal lines we should go, and whether the lines themselves should be redrawn - these are questions that, understandably, trigger passionate debate.

Whether or not you pursue national security law as a vocation, and whether or not you go into other kinds of public service, all of you, as lawyers, will have a special role in that debate - as you will in many others. Not only because, as Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed, political questions in the United States often turn into legal questions. But also because, as lawyers, you have developed a set of tools that enable you - and assumed a set of commitments that require you - to conduct dispassionate and reasoned analysis, to distinguish what is legally relevant from what is not and, most important, to separate what are legal questions from what are political questions.

Answering legal questions often involves a close reading and a critical analysis of text - the Constitution, statutes, judicial decisions and the like. Regrettably, that elementary point - elementary at least to those of you in this graduating class - is far too often lost in public discourse on legal subjects. Newspapers and commentators, for example, often discuss legal questions with barely any acknowledgement, or no acknowledgment, that the answers may depend on the language of, say, the Constitution or a statute. And critics of a policy decision much too rarely draw distinctions between whether a course of action is permitted as a matter of law, and whether that course of action is prudent as a matter of policy.

That is a critical distinction; indeed, it is a distinction that goes to the heart of what it means to live in a society governed by the rule of law. I don't mean to suggest that lawyers can or should approach legal questions with no regard for their own values or moral commitments. Nor do I mean to suggest that a lawyer should express no opinion about matters of policy - although policy opinion should be expressed without disguising it in the language of the law.

A lawyer's principal duty is to advise his client as to what the best reading of the law is -- to define the space in which the client may act consistent with the law. If you do your job well, there will be times when you will have to advise clients that the law prohibits them from doing things that they want to do, or that might even be, in your view, the right thing to do. And there will be times when you will have to advise clients that the law permits them to take actions that you may find imprudent, or even wrong.

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