Charlie Rice, Rest in Peace

March 4, 2015

Charles Edward Rice, Aug. 7, 1931 – Feb. 25, 2015

The officers of the foundation pause to praise Charlie Rice, professor of law at Notre Dame, who died last week in South Bend. We do so because we greatly admired Charlie, a founding scholar here, but also because Indiana is in desperate need of being reminded what endurance, character and hope look like in a man.

Charlie’s resume is full of achievements requiring those attributes — lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps; champion boxer; legal scholar who argued before the Supreme Court of the United States; teacher who instilled the fire of justice in his students; fierce defender of the unborn and all innocents; and beloved head of a huge Irish household that included natural and adopted children plus a long line of rescued dogs and cats.

Once, one of our writers mistakenly identified Charlie as a former dean of a law school. “I’ve never been the dean of a law school,” he wrote us in mock rage, “and I’ll fight any man who says otherwise.”

Twenty-six years ago, the officers of our nascent foundation were sent to petition Charlie in his Notre Dame office. He asked a few pointed questions as to what we were about, listened to the answers and made a characteristic on-the-spot decision to help us with all of the strength he could muster, and to do so whenever we called — forever.

His was the first paper that the foundation commissioned, a carefully reasoned legal brief against public-sector collective bargaining. It predated by more than two decades Gov. Scott Walker’s political triumph in Wisconsin. It was flatly dismissed as politically impossible by Indiana’s GOP leadership — as it continues to be ignored today.

Charlie was our attorney in Indiana Policy Review vs. the State of Indiana. Therein he challenged the Indiana Supreme Court to explain how the state Constitution could specifically prohibit multi-issue legislation but the Legislature could pass multi-issue bills as a matter of course. The court declined to hear his argument.

Charlie also represented us in a free-press matter before the board of Fort Wayne Community Schools, a statist outfit and proxy of  the Indiana State Teachers Association. Members of the board majority, not knowing with whom they were dealing, challenged his credentials before he could even begin his testimony. Charlie’s response reduced them to a muttering claque.

Later that day, as we walked him to the car, he thanked us. “For what?” one of us asked, “The assassination of your character?”

“No, for this wonderful guerrilla theater,” he said.

Charlie Rice loved a fight and didn’t much care what people thought of him. He was born to meet resistance of all kinds and from whatever direction. He was that rare man — strong in mind and body, unyielding on his principles, combative when necessary but never a bully, and always ready to embrace a reformed enemy as a true friend.

Mostly, he was a Christian man — the kind who has become all but invisible in our uber-feminized, politicized and secularized culture.

Only a few days after Charlie died, the leader of a foreign government addressed a joint session of Congress. So it was left to someone holding only diplomatic credentials to defend U.S. interests and values against our lawless executive branch. No American was up to the challenge.

Charlie would have been up to it.



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