When the Foundation Began to Change
This faith in God, creation and revelation as the foundation for law dominated legal education until a Harvard dean, Christopher Columbus Langdell not only introduced a new method of teaching law, he introduced a new faith concerning law.
While Blackstone had demonstrated that the principles and doctrines underlying the common law of England were unchanging, Langdell in his 1879 work, Cases on Contracts asserted that the law is a living thing:
Law, considered as a science, consists of certain principles or doctrines… Each of these doctrines has arrived at its present state by slow decrees; on other words, it is a growth, extending in many cases through centuries. This growth is to be traced in the main through a series of case; and much the shorted and best, if not the only way of mastering the doctrine effectually, is by studying the case in which it is embodied.
Rather than law being derived from Natural Law as verified in the Revealed Law, Langdell believed that the cases were the original sources of legal doctrine and principles. “…the case gave birth to a rule of law, which slowly evolved through a series of cases into a full-fledged legal principle.”
Langdell abandoned the historic method of teaching Christian principles of the common law in favor of the new "case-book method" which directed the student to discover law through the constantly evolving opinion of judges.
Langdell taught that the evolution of law was guided by judges. Each opinion they wrote was one more step up the evolutionary ladder. A modern law student will never understand the mind of our Founders, because our Founders did not study the scribbling of men in black, they studied the Supreme Law of the Universe – the law of nature and nature’s God. Furthermore because Langdell taught that the evolution of law always means improvement, this would further discourage anyone from even studying our Founders. After all they would be considered legal Neanderthals by comparison with the enlightened Langdell. He rejected the Creator and His Law as the moral law which governs the universe.
Langdell claimed that his method of studying the law was the truly scientific method, implying that our Founders were unscientific and therefore in error. He substituted man’s reasoning for God’s revealed truth and taught his students that the scientific understanding of law requires society to reject the notion of fixed unalterable laws. His goal has been achieved. Like a virus unleashed, Langdell’s ideas infected not only his students, but other law schools, future law professors, judges and attorneys, and a vast number of legislators as well as anyone who came through the ranks of law schools across our land. And today the average American has also began to view law in a different light altogether. Now we have reached the point where, when you explain our Founder’s view of law and government people are dumbfounded. They often conclude, “How could our Founders have been so wrong about so many things?”
This drastic change in the foundation of American jurisprudence came at a time when a new faith was sweeping the academic world:
“that Darwin’s theory of evolution was the key to all of life, including the law.”
“As Darwin rejected God’s revelation of the creation account of life, so Langdell rejected God’s revelation of the creation of man and the governing moral laws of the universe.”
After hiring colleagues sympathetic to his philosophy and after winning the support of influential lawyers, Langdell’s teaching methods were implemented in almost every law school in the country by 1914. His case method also has remained relatively unchanged for over one hundred years.
The single most influential jurist of the Twentieth Century was United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. His massive treatise, The Common Law, supplanted Blackstone's Commentaries as the premier text for law students. Holmes taught "the life of the law has not been logic, but experience," and argued that it was the responsibility of courts to direct the evolution of law. Because right and wrong do not exist in any absolute sense, judges must determine which standards are most appropriate at a given point in the evolution of a society.