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  • Loyola University New Orleans College of Law: A History by Maria Isabel Medina
  • Paul M. Pruitt Jr.
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law: A History. By Maria Isabel Medina. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 277. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-8071-6318-4.)

In most states there is a stark hierarchy among law schools based on passage rates of the bar exam. Such rankings, however, often mask the excellence and usefulness of lower-ranked schools. Loyola University New Orleans, for example, is typically the third-ranked law school in Louisiana, behind Louisiana State University (LSU) and Tulane University. But as Maria Isabel Medina [End Page 458] shows in her centennial history of Loyola New Orleans, the school has been an important factor in leveling the professional playing fields.

The law school was launched in 1914 as a natural appendage of the Jesuit-run university. The school's early history reads much like that of any upward-striving southern law school, with two exceptions. The first is that Jesuit professors and law school administrators shared a vision of human worth, one that slowly but surely transcended the Jim Crow limitations of local and regional culture. The second, less comprehensive exception flowed from the same source. Loyola's officials, conscious of the school's identity, felt free to resist certain pedagogical trends backed by the American Bar Association and the legal academy. Both strongly discouraged the continuation of night school law programs, a means by which a number of early-twentieth-century institutions had attracted office workers and others who wanted to better themselves. Loyola, founded as a blue-collar law school, had no interest in limiting access to the legal profession; thus, Loyola has kept its evening division to this day.

An important component of Medina's work is her treatment of Loyola New Orleans's role in the racial integration of the legal profession—a small but telling chapter in the civil rights epic of the mid-twentieth century. The year 1942 saw the first attempt by an African American to gain admission to Loyola's law school. An administration fearful of the backlash from the white community rejected this application, but the attempt touched off more than a decade of internal debate. By the end of the 1940s a growing number of faculty—led initially by Dean Vernon Miller and later by Joseph H. Fichter and Louis J. Twomey—opposed excluding applicants on the basis of race. The issue was not merely a matter of academic principle. During these years a number of lawsuits challenged the region's separate-but-equal approach to legal education. Indeed in 1950 federal district judge James Skelly Wright, a Loyola graduate, authored an opinion ordering LSU "to admit qualified blacks to its law school" (p. 75).

The next year the national legal academy entered the discussion when the convention of the Association of American Law Schools debated what came to be known as the Yale Resolution. The resolution would have excluded from membership any school that continued to discriminate among applicants on the basis of race. The Yale Resolution was subjected to various forms of parliamentary maneuver and delay before it was voted down in 1951. Delegates from Loyola New Orleans, unlike their counterparts from LSU and Tulane, voted for the Yale Resolution. After further study by a church-appointed commission, Loyola was ready to act on its principles. In August 1952 the school admitted Norman Francis, its first African American law student.

In the course of this fine book, Medina handles other themes of interest—for example, the steady rise of women in the legal profession. Likewise, in setting out Loyola's response to issues of poverty law, especially where they intersect with the movement to provide law students with clinical experience, Medina illuminates a little-known aspect of law schools' commitment to pursue social justice. Finally, Medina's measured treatment of Hurricane Katrina—the bravery and persistence of Loyola's people and the generosity shown by officials of neighboring schools, especially the University of Houston Law [End Page 459] Center—cannot help but resonate with readers who have experienced any of the natural disasters...


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pp. 458-460
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