Law, Ethics & Public Policy

The serious study of law is never far from the hard work of evaluation, of coming to judgments about the justice, fittingness, or even the efficiency of the legal doctrines and statutes that are the bread-and-butter of law school classes. Indeed Notre Dame Law School has a deserved reputation not only for fostering robust debate on legal issues, but also for focusing on the intersection of ethics, public policy, and the law. Nothing less could be expected of a Catholic law school whose mission it is to encourage students of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and commitments “to cultivate both the life of the mind and the wisdom of the heart, to pursue their studies with a passion for the truth, and to dedicate their professional and personal lives to serve the good of all the human family.”

Learning law therefore is not just a descriptive undertaking at Notre Dame Law School. It is prescriptive as well. In most classes, however, the doctrines and statutes are the main topic of discussion. In almost all first-year courses and in many at the upper-level, identifying the relevant legal norms, understanding what they mean, and applying them intelligently to practical problems is the central goal. Of necessity, evaluation is secondary. For example, first year courses stress that contracts are enforceable promises, property titles should be clear and stable, and tort recovery systems ought to be efficient.

The courses grouped together in this program of study take a different path. They take the task of critical moral evaluation and put it at center stage. The main focus in these courses is coming to understand and to defend critically justified standards by which we can gauge the value of the positive law. Establishing a critical apparatus and then subjecting a body of law to the bar of its judgment is the central goal of all these courses.

Courses in this program of study fall into three categories: Histories and Traditions, Concepts and Problems, and Theories and Frameworks. This program includes not only classes offered by the law school, but graduate courses offered in Notre Dame’s English, History, Political Science, and Theology departments.

Histories and Traditions

Courses in this category focus on understanding and interpreting ethical and jurisprudential figures or ideas in historical context. Jurisprudence is a required course, and consists of the study of the philosophical investigation of the nature and purpose of law. Other courses concentrate on key thinkers or debates in a particular ethical or jurisprudential tradition. Still others trace the development of normative ideas over time and in light of changing social or political circumstances. 


  • Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy
    The Journal explores the legal, ethical and policy considerations of each topic within the framework of the Judeo-Christian intellectual and moral tradition. It has a national audience of people actively involved in the formulation of public policy, and regularly includes timely pieces from a broad spectrum of prominent scholars and officials.
  • American Journal of Jurisprudence


  • American Legal History
  • Constitutional Interpretation: Originalism and History
  • Introduction to Canon Law
  • Judicial Process Seminar
  • Jurisprudence (required)
  • Medieval Legal History Seminar
  • Social, Legal, and Political Thought of Thomas Aquinas
  • Social, Legal, and Political Thought of Shakespeare
  • The Judicial Role in American History


  • The Atlantic World (Department of English)
  • U.S. Legal History (Department of History)
  • Aquinas on the Virtues, Law, and Politics (Department of Political Science)
  • Cicero & the Romans (Department of Political Science)
  • Political Philosophy & the American Founding (Department of Political Science)
  • Ethics Seminar: Aquinas and his Interlocutors on the Natural Law (Department of Theology)

Concepts and Problems

Courses in this category provide an opportunity for thorough examination of selected topics. These include difficult normative concepts with implications for morality and law as well as complicated social issues, or fundamental matters of political structure. In addressing such topics, these courses typically bring to bear an array of interdisciplinary resources, such as data from science, medicine and the social sciences, normative work in philosophy, political theory, economics, or theology, or public choice theory and policy studies.


  • Advanced Jurisprudence
  • Bioethics and the Law
  • Corporate Compliance and Ethics
  • Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
  • International Law and Use of Force
  • Law and Mental Health
  • Law of Terrorism
  • Legal Change Seminar


  • Religion, the State, and American Politics (Department of Political Science)
  • Race and Representation in American Politics (Department of Political Science)
  • Bioethics (Department of Theology)
  • Human Rights and Christian Ethics (Department of Theology)
  • Political Liberation Theology (Department of Theology)

Theories and Frameworks

Courses in this category examine a range of issues through the lens of one or more overarching theories of morality, politics, or law, or in terms of the framework of a legal system with clearly defined normative commitments. They investigate the anthropological, social, and factual presuppositions of such theories or frameworks, explore how they would deal with a range of problems, cases, and controversies, and assess their strengths and weaknesses vis-a-vis competing approaches.


  • Behavioral Analysis of the Law
  • Catholic Social Thought Seminar
  • Constitutional Theory
  • Freedom of Religion
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Foundations of International Human Rights
  • Islamic Law & Constitutions
  • Law & Economics Seminar
  • Private Law Workshop
  • Professional Responsibility
  • Property Theory Seminar


  • American Constitutional Theory & Development (Department of Political Science)
  • Comparative Law & Politics (Department of Political Science)
  • Theories of Law (Department of Political Science)
  • Comparative Religious Ethics, Buddhism/Christianity (Department of Theology)
  • Catholic Social Teaching (Department of Theology)
  • Christian Political Theology & Ethics (Department of Theology)


For more information about this Program of Study or the field of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy, please contact Professor Jeff Pojanowski.

Core Faculty

Affiliated Faculty