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The University of Michigan Law School
by Momina Cheema

            I reached a critical moment in my ideological development the summer after graduating from college, when I read the landmark Supreme Court case Rasul v. Bush. On the question of whether Guantanamo detainees should be allowed to challenge their detentions in U.S. Courts, Justice Breyer observed: “It seems rather contrary to an idea of a Constitution with three branches that the Executive would be free to do whatever they want, without a check.”

            His remarks inspired me with the belief that the American legal system was, at its heart, designed to ward off the tendency toward what Giorgio Agamben had described as the Sovereign who was both above the law and yet possessed the power to suspend it. To me, the source of American exceptionalism is an impartial judiciary that is rational to a fault, and I would be honored to participate in our legal system in any manner–from the most mundane to the most groundbreaking.

            As a graduate student, I participated in the 2008 “Lawyers' movement” for an independent judicial system in Pakistan. Despite having emigrated from Pakistan as a baby, I maintained a connection to my birthplace as a result of growing up in a multilingual household, speaking in Urdu and Punjabi with my family. My own cultural identity became tied up with and affected by the post-colonial South Asian experience–the corruption, gross inequality, and chronic instability that was endemic to the Third World.

            Pakistan had been under martial law for over half of its 60-year existence. But when the latest military ruler, General Musharraf, declared a state of “Emergency” and ousted the country's Chief Justice, the people had had enough. They began to realize: there can be no democracy without respect for the rule of law. The struggle for a constitutional separation of powers ultimately forced a dictator to step down. I was overjoyed as I witnessed the deposed Chief Justice awarded a Medal of Freedom–the highest honor conferred by the Harvard Law School–previously given only to Thurgood Marshall and Nelson Mandela.

            I am certain that I can add to the diversity of thought within the Michigan Law community. I look forward to the intellectually rich atmosphere of the law school and a chance to share my perspectives as I engage my classmates in spirited debate. I am eager to know what they think: Is the law supposed to reflect the morality of a people? Is it a self-regulating system? Are there universal human rights? The study of law is absolutely inexhaustible, and I cannot wait to embark on this spectacular journey.