The Richard J. Childress Memorial Lecture, named in honor of former Dean Richard J. Childress (1969-1976), is a premier academic event highlighting a provocative and timely area of law. The lecture commemorates the contributions Dean Childress made academically, ethically, and socially to benefit the Saint Louis University School of Law.
Childress was a member of the faculty at the School of Law for almost 30 years, and then served for 15 years as associate dean and dean. Among other achievements, Dean Childress is credited with founding the Saint Louis University Law Journal.
Every year, the Journal sponsors the Lecture and publishes the keynote address on a timely legal topic as well as responses from the lecture’s scholarly participants.
Established by the generosity of alumni and friends of the former dean, the lecture aims to enhance the exemplary teaching at the School of Law by bringing world-renowned scholars to campus for academic enrichment.
On October 6-7, 2016, the Childress Memorial Lecture addressed the continuing inequality in the criminal courts. While Americans are increasingly aware of issues involving law enforcement agencies and communities of color, less attention has been paid to the courts to which those arrested are sent after being taken into custody.
In that system, numerous discretionary decisions are made by prosecutors, such as
whether to file charges; whether a high bail be set so the accused remains in jail;
what charges to bring; whether to seek enhanced penalties such as the death penalty,
life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or a mandatory minimum of years
in prison; whether to make a plea offer and what offer to make; what information to
disclose to the defense; and whether to strike prospective jurors based on race during
Most of the discretionary decisions are made by white men, even though virtually all the people appearing before some criminal courts are people of color. People are often prosecuted in municipal courts whose primary purpose is revenue generation and not law enforcement. In those courts and others, the accused may be denied a lawyer to assist them, or may be given a lawyer who lacks the competence, resources, experience, training and, in some cases, the inclination to provide a zealous and effective defense. In many states, the people in charge of this system – governors, legislators, prosecutors and judges – want it to remain as it is because it gives the prosecution an enormous advantage in obtaining convictions, fines, jail and prison terms, and death sentences.
The keynote speaker was Stephen B. Bright, president and senior counsel of the Southern Center for Human Rights and Harvey Karp Visiting Lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, whose lecture was titled "The Future of Criminal Justice Reform."
On November 13, 2015, scholars from across the country addressed conflicts following recent legal developments in areas such as same-sex marriage, birth control coverage and mandatory vaccinations, examining the clashing of rights and how they could potentially be resolved.
Lawrence Sager of the University of Texas School of Law was the keynote speaker, whose lecture was titled "The Imminent Clash Between Religious Freedom and Public Accommodation Law."
On October 25, 2014, the Childress Memorial Lecture addressed the "long and not-so-merry war" between proponents of federalism and nationalists.
Keynote speaker Professor Heather Gerken argued that now is the time for a détente between the warring sides. Those on both sides of the debate have an outdated idea of what “Our Federalism” looks like today. As a result, many of the debates in the field are beside the point, and it would be better for scholars to direct their considerable energies at different questions than the ones they have traditionally pursued. Gerken questioned whether it’s possible to have a “nationalist school of federalism” and described what each side needs to give up in order for a détente to succeed.