The Catholic University of America

Get to Know President John Garvey

Colleagues Note His Expertise as Educator and Lawyer

When John Garvey was named dean of Boston College Law School in 1999, Fred Schauer, then a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, described him as “one of the two or three most important law and religion scholars in the United States … a constitutional and political theorist of the highest order.”

Rutheford B. Campbell, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, noted that Garvey was “one of the brightest and most decent people I have met in this profession.”

Related Links  

> CUA names Garvey as 15th president

> Fast facts about Garvey

> Profile focuses on family and faith

> Warm welcome from campus community

> News articles and writings

> Q&A with the new president

> Post a message on the Guestbook


Over the course of his career as an educator, lawyer and writer, Garvey has consistently earned such accolades. An expert in constitutional law, religious liberty and the First Amendment, he has won distinguished fellowships and teaching awards, served as the 2008 president of the Association of American Law Schools, published five scholarly books and argued several prominent cases before the United States Supreme Court.

His colleagues in higher education consistently describe him as a teacher of integrity and compassion. In announcing Garvey’s selection as law dean, Boston College President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., said he “cares deeply about the important role that law plays in American society … He is also well known for his commitment to a legal education that integrates classroom instruction with clinical experience and social justice.”

Over the years, his Catholic faith and his belief in the Catholic intellectual tradition have played a central role in his teaching and scholarly research.

“I think the Catholic intellectual tradition is the Church’s great gift to higher education,” Garvey said. “ In my own thinking about legal issues I often find that my ideas and principles derive from that tradition — ideas about the forms and limits of criminal punishment, the welcome we owe to immigrant populations, the need for adequate health care, the value of nascent and senescent human life, our attitude toward developing nations.”

Garvey’s scholarly bent was apparent during his undergraduate days at the University of Notre Dame, where he participated in a program then called the Committee on Academic Progress. The program waived major requirements for a few exemplary students, enabling Garvey to read political science, philosophy and French and to take courses of his choice taught by the best professors in music, English, art history and German.

At Harvard Law School, where he earned a J.D. in 1974, Garvey served as treasurer of Harvard Law Review.

His love of learning continued long after he left Harvard. Garvey recalls that he “benefited greatly” from his friendship with Patricia Smith, a former chair of the philosophy department at the University of Kentucky, where Garvey taught law from 1976 to 1994. “She would listen to my questions about free will, or action theory, and recommend books for me to read,” he said.

Garvey proved himself a skilled administrator during his 11-year tenure as law dean at Boston College. He hired 20 new faculty, established an Alumni Association and Board of Overseers, rebuilt the administrative infrastructure, launched the law school’s first-ever capital campaign, and confirmed an institutional sense of Jesuit, Catholic identity.

Along with his responsibilities as dean, Garvey also taught a first-year constitutional law class annually to 90 students. This past spring semester, he taught a seminar on law and religion. During the 2008-2009 academic year, he taught a financial crisis course to law school students and graduate students from Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.

As a lawyer in 1983 and 1984, he argued several prominent cases before the United States Supreme Court, including Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corporation and Heckler v. Campbell, which addressed disability regulation within the Social Security Administration. Between 1981 and 1984, he also briefed more than 20 cases before the Supreme Court, including Mueller v. Allen, which addressed the issue of aid to parochial schools.

Kenneth Geller, managing partner of Mayer Brown and a leading member of the firm’s Supreme Court and appellate practice, said: “John is a terrific person and a terrific lawyer. He was a great member of the solicitor general’s office, an excellent brief writer and a superb Supreme Court advocate.”

Career Highlights

Positions Held

Dean, Boston College Law School, Chestnut Hill, Mass., 1999 – 2010

Professor, Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame, Ind., 1994 – 1999

Professor, University of Kentucky College of Law, Lexington, Ky., 1976 – 1994

Assistant to the Solicitor General, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., 1981 – 1984 

Honors and Awards

Catholic Press Association Award, Sexuality and the U.S. Catholic Church, 2006

Alpha Sigma Nu Book Award, Religion and the Constitution, 2004

Duncan Faculty Award, University of Kentucky, 1993

Professional Service

President, Association of American Law Schools, 2008

Board of Governors,
Caritas Christi Health Care System, 2008 – present

Judicial Nominating Commission, Commonwealth of Massachusetts,  2005 – 2007

Supreme Judicial Court Pro Bono CommitteeCommonwealth of Massachusetts, 2002 – 2005

Task Force on Terrorism, American Bar Association, 2001 – 2002