We are pleased to announce that Adam Griffith, a graduate from Claremont McKenna College in California, is the winner of the 2019 ChapmanAlbin Law School Scholarship Essay Contest. Mr. Griffith’s essay was selected from over 200 entries. He will be awarded $1,000 to be used towards tuition and/or expenses at UCLA Law in Los Angeles, California.
The lawyers of ChapmanAlbin all came to their law careers from different backgrounds and passions, but they share a commitment to upholding the integrity of the law and an inherent sense of morality. This year, scholarship applicants were asked to write an essay about a movie or novel in which someone had to make a difficult moral choice and explain why they were for or against the character’s choice.
Read Adam’s winning essay below.
The greatest works of fiction are saboteurs. They’re unassuming partisans that you invite into your life, not knowing that they’re about to blow a gaping hole in your preconceptions. The last of these subversive pieces I invited into my life was the film Gone Baby Gone, directed by Ben Affleck. It’s the best modern example of a film that wrestles with a moral debate between following the law and vigilantism in a difficult situation.
Gone Baby Gone follows private eye Patrick Kenzie while he investigates the disappearance of 3-year-old Amanda from a home with a neglectful, drug-addicted mother. Ultimately, Kenzie learns it was the local police police captain, Jack Doyle, who kidnapped Amanda, trying to “give a little girl a life.” Kenzie considers leaving Amanda in Doyle’s hands, but decides instead to call the police and have Amanda returned to her mother. In the final scenes, Amanda’s mother continues to be abusive, and the film implies that Kenzie has simply dumped the girl back into a life of hardship. But, any serious thought tells us that returning Amanda was the only morally permissible choice. The alternative is rank vigilantism.
Humans, when left to make decisions about important matters, are like ships in a storm, buffeted by competing emotions, biases, and misunderstandings. That’s why we make laws – firm moorings that help us run society justly and fairly. Ignoring just laws to chase after what “feels right” is only an effective way to cast oneself back into the turbulent sea, and to open yourself to making errors that hurt people.
Some will say that there are many unjust laws, and it is not automatically immoral to break those laws. I agree. It is sensible to resist laws that spit in the face of justice. But that’s not the situation in Gone Baby Gone. It’s important to note that there are legal avenues to have a child removed from a bad home. But the film makes explicit that Police Captain Doyle never called Child Protective Services to investigate Amanda’s mother. Instead, he stole her from her bed because he decided that he knew what was best for her. And hopefully we can all agree that a law that forbids the theft of children from their parents is not an unjust law.
Consider the message that Police Captain Doyle’s actions, if accepted as just, send to society. It is correct and good, he thinks, to steal children and give them to other parents if it improves the life of the child. The same logic was used for centuries by Europeans to justify stealing and rehoming Native American children who were seen as savage by bigoted colonists.
From Batman to Taken, vigilantes are some of the most popular characters in movies and books that I love. But watching Gone Baby Gone highlighted for me the dangerous immorality of taking the law into your own hands to reshape the world as you would prefer it.
The investor rights attorneys at Chapman Albin, LLC congratulate Mr. Griffith and all who participated in this year’s Essay Contest. If you are a current or incoming law student, be on the look-out for our next scholarship opportunity in Spring 2020.
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