Hold these Truths

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    All men were created equal — except for law professors. One outside the dreaded stereotype is Pepperdine Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law Doug Kmiec.

    “Law professors like to say they engage in a Socratic dialogue,” he says of the prevailing system of teaching law in America, la Professor Kinsgfield in the film “The Paper Chase.” Kmiec says, “A dialogue is a conversation where both are learning. I don’t use that method to make someone feel badly. If they get it wrong, they do it because they are learning.” In his years of teaching, he adds, only one student has fainted.

    Kmiec was well prepared to teach property law and constitutional law this semester. After graduating from USC law school and while teaching at the University of Notre Dame law school, Kmiec won a White House Fellowship, becoming assistant to Secretary of Housing Samuel R. Pierce and to Domestic Policy Chair Edwin Meese III.

    At the expiration of the fellowship, Kmiec returned home, only to receive a telephone call from Meese, just nominated for Attorney General, who asked Kmiec to become his constitutional legal counsel. “Senator Kennedy held my confirmation hearing,” says Kmiec. “He was a very gracious inquisitor.” Kmiec doubts he will ever have as significant a legal experience, working on every legal problem that confronted President Ronald Reagan from 1985 to 1989.

    His own legal philosophy leans toward “natural rights.” “The self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence are that people were created with inalienable rights. That document explains a lot about our government.” He adds, “It does use the term ‘men,’ but we’re hoping in the ’90s it’s an inclusive term.”

    Property, he says, is a means of protecting humanity and human rights. It is a means of sheltering our families, of gaining rest, of educating our children. Our property rights laws include the manner in which communities design themselves — zoning, planning, subdivisions. The laws may create real communities that support families. They may also exclude people and make daily living more difficult.

    “There is a new understanding in this country,” he continues. “We haven’t done as well as we might. One of the things you notice when you have five kids — you’re in the car a lot. You’re in the car because houses and commercial activities, houses and educational activities, and houses and occupational activities are segregated. We separate moms and dads from where our children are during the day.”

    “We’ve done this to ourselves. Frequently, we did it for good uses — segregated uses to preserve the environment or quiet or privacy. It requires a fair amount of more sophisticated decisions, more careful selection, than we’ve done in the past.”

    Solutions, he says, include communitarian designs, neotraditional designs, thinking about an opportunity for people to walk to a library, a community center, a church. People never meet each other on the sidewalk. “Notice it becomes an anonymous and somewhat alienated life,” he says. “The more we’re connected with one another, the more we help raise our children in a vibrant way.”

    Kmiec and his wife, Carolyn, live in Malibu with their five children.

    Their son Keenan is a sophomore business student at USC. “He’s a better person than I am,” says Kmiec. “He has achieved a sense of maturity and balance that I will never see. He works very hard, but he knows he has to stop work and refresh himself.” A self-starter, Keenan turned a term paper into a course he could teach and found a job in Manhattan training corporate executives in his personnel theory.

    Katherine, a freshman at Pepperdine, “has shown the highest tolerance for legal reasoning.” She is said to be one of the favorite umpires at Malibu Little League. Says her father, “People liked her ability to make good calls with a cheerful face. There were a few retired professional umpires who took Carolyn and me aside and suggested we consider a full-time career for her in this line of work.”

    Kiley, named after a judge and natural rights philosopher at Notre Dame, “is smiley,” says dad. “He’s one of the happiest, least perturbed people in the world. If you have a problem, he will cheer you up.” The MHS freshman, too, serves as a Little League umpire. Kmiec sees mathematical abilities in this son.

    Twins Kloe and Kolleen, Our Lady of Malibu students, are their own best friends. Kmiec describes Kolleen as a quiet reader, the sweetest of the Kmiec kids; Kloe is a talkative mathematician, the most pragmatic Kmiec. Ask Kolleen why she is so quiet, says Kmiec, and she answers that Kloe says what needs to be said. “We’ve never separated them at school,” he reports. “They do independent work and achieve independently.”

    Before the family moved to Malibu, Kmiec and his wife raised the five children on a farm. Kmiec taught at the University of Notre Dame for nearly 20 years and lived 10 miles north of the campus. On the farm was a schoolhouse built in 1859. “It wasn’t quite red at the time because it had faded.” They ran a pre-Kindergarten, at one time teaching 60 students on three shifts. “Carolyn was great at that,” he says. “She knows that children have their good moments and their difficult moments. The beauty of Carolyn is that she can make the most out of their difficult moments.” He describes it as a great way to see community form around a little building in the middle of nowhere.

    “Carolyn and I are Chicago natives,” he says. “This was a source of amusement for our neighbors. We could almost hear them saying, ‘Let’s go watch the Kmiecs fix the hay bailer today.'” There was always something for the children to do — fixing the tractor, tackling piglets. “We thought it would be a way of having lots to do with the children at all times.”

    As a high school student, he met Carolyn at a St. Patrick’s day parade in Chicago. They married after college, then came to Los Angeles so he could attend USC law school, packing their belongings into a ’72 Volkswagen and moving into an apartment in Koreatown. Carolyn worked as an accountant at a Big Eight firm. During his third year, he was held up at gunpoint, but, he says, “All things considered, we grew to love Los Angeles.” On weekends, they took foot tours, “driving to every conceivable location and then walking around it.”

    Still, they returned to the mid-West to be with their parents. Now, he says, both sets have retired and moved to separate sun belts. “I still speak to my hometown every other Monday,” says Kmiec. He writes a column for the Chicago Tribune, on politics and law.

    “I like to be well occupied,” he says. “I still believe in family time, so I will go home at night, and I relish family dinner. I feel it is my duty to help the kids with homework and my share of the family chores.” The answering machine is on and the TV off. He says there’s more time to talk to family when he is not competing with an electrical gadget.

    His wife is pursuing advanced work in fine arts at Pepperdine. “Our home is filled with one beautiful item after another,” he notes. With their neighbor Page Adler, she is also planning a camp for seriously ill children, funded by Newman’s Own.

    On their Sundays, the Kmiec parents serve as volunteer teachers, and their children as teachers’ aides, at OLM. “You’ve got to go to church,” says Kmiec, “so we just go two hours earlier. You learn more about your faith by teaching it, and it’s a way of learning more about people in Malibu.”

    Now, about that visiting professorship. “I’m still visiting,” he says, “but one of the things about being in a beautiful place like this is that roots start to form. Because my family likes this so much, it may be more than a visit.”