News for the Neighborhood #38
Dr. John C. Eastman

Dr. John C. Eastman

When Dr. John C. Eastman joined Chapman University in 1999 as a professor of law, he had no intentions of becoming Dean of the University’s School of Law. After the former dean retired and a replacement search began, though, Eastman decided to put his name in the running after reflecting that the strongest outside candidates were not well positioned to be able to connect quickly with the local legal market and aggressively pursue the steep trajectory to prominence that the Law School faculty and the University were seeking.

“The law school had fairly aggressive goals they wanted to accomplish-including preparing the next generation of legal practitioners and scholars to become ethical and successful global citizens-which would mean making the program one of the best in the country,” says Eastman, who is considered a prominent conservative constitutional scholar. “It soon became apparent that it would take someone from the inside who knew the history of the school to accomplish those goals.”

In June of 2007, Eastman took over as dean. Under his direction, the school continues to gain a reputation as an up-and-coming law school, standing among some of the best in the nation. The school achieved full ABA accreditation in near-record time and became a member of the elite Association of American Law Schools. “Considering how young the school is, it’s extraordinary that we are almost in the top 100 law schools in the nation,” says Eastman, who attributes this status to the school’s approach to learning and its ideological diversity.

“Historically, law schools have been set up with a professor lecturing in front of 150 students. While this model has its benefits, we’ve found that other avenues of learning such as admitting students into small clinics where they get to work for actual clients is much more helpful to them in the long run.” Chapman’s personal approach to education has enabled several students to argue before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals well before graduation.

Perhaps even more importantly, the school offers students the opportunity to experience an array of ideologies. “At Chapman we have an ideologically diverse faculty which attracts a wide variety of students and provides them with a much healthier, more varied learning environment,” says Eastman. “This is unusual in many law schools, and is the market niche we’ve been striving to create for ourselves.”

Eastman’s illustrious career prepared him well for the deanship. After graduating from the Claremont Graduate School with a degree in government, he then received his law degree from the University of Chicago. From 1996 to 1997, he served as a clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas and after that worked for the national well-known law firm Kirkland & Ellis. He then founded the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a public interest law firm affiliated with the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy. On behalf of the Center, he has been involved in almost 50 Supreme Court cases, many of which hold great constitutional significance. He also has a weekly segment on the nationally-syndicated Hugh Hewitt radio show debating current legal issues with UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and has appeared as an expert legal commentator on numerous television and radio programs.

When asked why he became a lawyer, Eastman replies: “I saw that the understanding of the basic structures of our government was so at odds with what our founding fathers wrote and envisioned that I thought it was important to engage in the judicial system and remind the courts of what was originally intended,” he says. “Dedication to the higher aspirations of the law keeps me motivated and moving forward.”

Donald P. Kennedy Hall

The Chapman University School of Law is the first law school in Orange County located on a university campus. It is housed in Donald P. Kennedy Hall, an impressive 133,000-square-foot building named in honor of longtime Chapman trustee and benefactor Donald Kennedy. The $30-million dollar law school complex was dedicated on October 20, 1999, with keynote speaker Justice Clarence Thomas of the United States Supreme Court.

A state-of-the-art facility, Kennedy Hall is equipped with a wide variety of classrooms and seminar rooms, an extensive law library and two courtrooms. One courtroom is designed for trials and the other for appellate hearings, providing fully equipped facilities for mock trials and formal hearings from visiting courts. The 37,000-square-foot Harry and Diane Rinker Law Library located in the building is equipped to assist students and practicing attorneys with over 300,000 volumes in print and microform.

Built on the site of the Old Orange School District building, Kennedy Hall commemorates the past by retaining the distinctive façade of the earlier building, which was modeled after the eleventh century Romanesque Basilica del Santi Vitale e Agricola in Bologna, Italy.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2009 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Julie Bawden-Davis, Photograph by Scott Montgomery

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