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November 2001

Sheldon H. Nahmod
Distinguished Professor of Law
Co-director, Institute for Law and the Humanities

The Chicago-Kent community salutes Distinguished Professor Sheldon Nahmod for his recent Lifetime Achievement Award, granted by the Jefferson Fordham Society, for his work in the area of Section 1983 civil rights law.

Best known for his expertise in Section 1983 civil rights law, Distinguished Professor Sheldon Nahmod isn't satisfied with success in one area. Fueled by a strong interest in the theoretical aspects of the law, Nahmod aspires to further not just the letter, but also the spirit, of the law.

"I like to think of myself as a teacher and a scholar who combines both the theoretical and the practical," Nahmod says. "I have a lot of theoretical interests–-in religion, in law, in philosophy and jurisprudence–-but I also live in the real world; I write briefs and argue cases in the federal courts and before the Supreme Court."

That said, Nahmod makes it clear where his priorities lie: "Nothing ever interferes with my teaching and scholarship."

Even so, 2001 has been a busy year for Nahmod outside the classroom. Aside from winning two major civil rights cases, one of which reversed a $6.2 million jury verdict, he was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the area of Section 1983 civil rights law by the Jefferson Fordham Society of the American Bar Association's Section of State and Local Government.

The award should come as no surprise to those who know Nahmod or his work. His widely used casebook, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Litigation: The Law of Section 1983, is now in its fourth edition, and his annual Conference on Section 1983 Civil Rights Litigation has drawn thousands of lawyers from across the country to Chicago-Kent over the past 19 years.

The secret to the success of Nahmod's annual Section 1983 continuing legal education conference lies in his devotion to the subject, his relationships with prominent academics and practitioners in the field, and his dedication to furthering the understanding of civil rights law. As he explains, "The program is part of the law school's mission, and part of my personal mission."

In 1996, Nahmod earned a master of arts degree in religious studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He has written extensively on both religion and philosophy as well as their relation to the law.

"There is a lot of philosophy in the legal system, more than most law students appreciate," says Nahmod. "Good lawyers need to know a little bit about the philosophical assumptions underlying the legal system."

Whereas Nahmod appreciates the close relationship between law and philosophy, it's another story with institutionalized religion.

"I frankly think the separation of church and state is one of the most fundamental precepts of our democratic way of life," Nahmod says. "How can you have democratic decision-making if people are at each other's throats for religious reasons? What you want to do is keep that in your private life."

A professor so well-respected in his field and with such a long list of achievements, including a Supreme Court victory, may seem intimidating to a first-year law student. But that's the last thing Nahmod wants his students to feel in the classroom.

"I think intimidation as a teaching technique is terrible," he says. "I try to be serious. I consider the law school classroom sactum sanctorium-–the holy of holies–-but I try not to be intimidating.

"My ideal classroom is one in which all students participate in a free and open discussion. That is when learning most often occurs."

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