Chapman University Fowler School of Law Professor Celestine Richards McConville has dedicated her long career to studying and teaching constitutional law, so being named the Henry Salvatori Professor of Law and Community Service was more than serendipitous.

“This professorship focuses on constitutional law, an area in which Professor McConville has made considerable contributions to the legal academy,” said Fowler School of Law Dean Matt Parlow. “She has distinguished herself in both the classroom and our community, and I am pleased that we are able to recognize her in this meaningful way.”

And though she is quite proud of her academic scholarship, McConville says being recognized for the “community service” aspect of the professorship is just as—if not more—important to her.

“I am so honored and privileged that the dean thought enough of me and my contributions to the law school to select me for this professorship,” McConville said. “It isn’t just scholarship. It is the recognition of the importance of legal education and service to the community.”

This isn’t surprising. Since McConville first joined the Chapman Law faculty in August 2000, she has been an active and engaged supporter of students, receiving the M. Katherine Baird Darmer Professor of the Year award four times, and has long served as advisor to the Chapman Law Review. McConville also held the position of associate dean for administrative affairs from June 2007 to May 2009.

“Truly, not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for my job, and I think that helps me walk in every day and try to do my best,” said McConville. “And now I have this wonderful, prestigious title that goes along with it. That’s a nice feeling.”

A Love for Rules and Structure

Early in her childhood, McConville knew she wanted to be a lawyer. “I like structure and rules,” she said. “A teacher in sixth grade overheard me arguing about the rules for a game we were playing, and he said, ‘you have to be a lawyer.’ I thought, ‘Well, that probably makes sense.’”

However, it wasn’t until her high school government class that McConville’s specific interest in constitutional law was fomented.

“I was just fascinated by the structure of our government—a constitutional government,” McConville said. “I don’t know that I could articulate it that way at the time, but I do remember my interest.”

After earning her B.A. from Boston University, McConville studied law at Georgetown University Law Center, where she served as an editor for the Georgetown Law Journal‘s Criminal Procedure Project and was selected for Order of the Coif. After graduating magna cum laude from Georgetown, McConville clerked for Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, California.

Her next move took her to Washington, D.C., to serve as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. Although she was excited by this rare opportunity, McConville says she also had to overcome some fear.

Celestine McConville teaching a law class.

Professor McConville has been voted “Professor of the Year” four times during her tenure at Chapman.

“It was daunting,” she said of clerking for Rehnquist. “I went into law school afraid of mediocrity. I was really worried coming from a non-Ivy League school that I wouldn’t measure up, and I think that just caused me to dig my shoulder in more and work hard. I took that same approach with the clerkship.”

McConville says she and her fellow clerks were not there “so much to help the Chief Justice,” but more for their own benefit. “We were the beneficiaries of his wisdom,” she said, “learning about these cases and getting to discuss them with him.”

Beyond casework, McConville says she also learned important life lessons from Rehnquist.

“He didn’t overwork his clerks,” said McConville. “He taught me about work-life balance before it was cool to talk about it. I needed to learn that lesson because I did not learn it in law school. I took law school seriously 100 percent of the time.”

McConville practiced law for three years as an associate with Shea & Gardner (now Goodwin Procter) in Washington, D.C., working primarily on litigation matters involving constitutional, labor, banking, and aviation law issues. After she and her husband relocated to her hometown of Cleveland, McConville took a part-time clerkship for Judge Donald C. Nugent of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, which left her time not only to care for her recently born son, but also to reflect on what she truly wanted to do with her career. She ended up applying to be an adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve School of Law.

“I remember teaching my younger siblings in the basement of our home when I was in elementary school, so I think [teaching] is something I was drawn to do for a long time,” McConville said. “So I tried it out and I loved it. It was so fulfilling to me, and when Case approached with a one-year visitorship, I jumped at the opportunity. That confirmed I needed to be a full-time teacher.”

The Right to Meaningful Representation

When the U.S. Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) in response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, it introduced new limitations on habeas corpus—the constitutional protection that provides a means for prisoners and other detainees to dispute the basis for their detention before the court. McConville says one particular provision caught her eye, prompting her to give it academic attention.

“The provision prohibited habeas petitioners from challenging the effectiveness of their state postconviction attorney,” said McConville. “I argued that if the government gives you a lawyer in a capital case on postconviction review, it acquires a constitutional duty to give you a meaningful lawyer, one who is trained and competent and monitored. In my view, the provision violates due process. If the government gives you something, then it needs to be meaningful. It can’t just be a meaningless gesture.”

That concern led to a research project spanning multiple years for McConville, reflected in such articles as “The Right to Effective Assistance of Capital Postconviction Counsel: Constitutional Implications of Statutory Grants of Capital Counsel” in the Wisconsin Law Review, “Protecting the Right to Effective Assistance of Capital Postconviction Counsel: The Scope of the Constitutional Obligation to Monitor Counsel Performance” in the University of Pittsburgh Law Review, and “Yikes! Was I Wrong? A Second Look at the Viability of Monitoring Capital Postconviction Counsel” in the Maine Law Review.

Fundamental Liberties

Most recently, McConville served as co-editor of the sixth edition of Federal Courts, A Contemporary Approach, with Donald L. Doernberg and Evan Tsen Lee—an opportunity that came her way through a connection with Doernberg, with whom McConville had worked on the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Federal Courts Section Newsletter.

One potential project that McConville says has been “on the backburner” for a couple of years explores “an issue relating to fundamental liberties, deconstructing the Court’s cases in a particular area, and trying to make sense of what seems inconsistent, showing that it might really have a consistent theme. In particular, I’m interested in abortion jurisprudence.”

For McConville, this kind of work—ensuring that laws are consistently applied and citizens are provided fair representation—is an extension of that schoolgirl who wanted to make sure the rules of a schoolyard game were being properly enforced.

“It’s really similar to what I’ve been doing with habeas,” she said. “I enjoy deconstructing the doctrine and figuring out what it means, whether it’s consistent, or how to make it coherent. That’s sort of the pattern in my scholarship, whatever area I’m working on.”