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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A storm brewin'

I've been tipped off by a couple readers about the storm developing in New Haven regarding the Yale Law Journal's decision to publish a symposium contribution -- entitled Control Mechanisms for Quasipublic Executives:  The Intersection of Corporate and Constitutional Law -- by Kiwi Camara and a frequent (and valued) commentator on this blog, Paul Gowder, who was a classmate of mine in law school.  I'm not sure how Paul got to know and co-write with Kiwi -- though perhaps they overlapped in law school and were introduced as among the youngest graduates of HLS in history -- but I'm pretty sure he wasn't responding to this unusual invitation by Kiwi.

The background story, in brief, is that a few years ago Camara used an offensive term in an outline that he posted on the HLS internet outline bank. As a result, Camara was at the center of controversy at HLS; I think there was even a New Yorker story about the tempest that his comment and subsequent response caused.   Now, post-clerkship with Harris Hartz on the 10th Circuit, Camara is at Stanford as an Olin Fellow.  He has written the above-mentioned piece with Paul, which they submitted to the YLJ for a symposium, and which was accepted on its merits.  (In this respect, kudos to Paul, who doesn't have an academic posting yet.) 

After the YLJ's acceptance of the piece, the YLJ's editors discovered Camara's earlier statements and  considered rescinding their offer to publish the piece and the invitation to speak at the symposium.  In the end, they decided not to rescind the offer.  And sure enough, there's now a blog that hosts discussion about the incident, mostly by Yale Law students.  Many of the comments on the blog are anonymous, which itself raises interesting questions.  Importantly, Paul denies that Camara is a racist, and recently forwarded an apology from Camara, which is pending publication on the blog.  (Update: I have received a copy of the apology which you can download here.)

Ultimately, much as I think Camara's comment was mean-spirited and bone-headed, I think the YLJ's decision to not rescind the offer to publish the piece is correct.  Camara hasn't commited a crime, and even if he had, I don't think the YLJ should be in the business of googling or ferreting out the bad actions of every person they decide to publish.  Many law profs have spots on their moral pasts and it would be surpassingly odd (and unfortunate) if good moral character had to be proved before publication in a law review could eventuate.  It's true that the YLJ is not a public forum and the editors have broad editorial discretion; such discretion may lawfully be used to publish only fellow travelers or non-offensive speakers.  But the question here is about moral judgment.  And it's a tough one. 

As one comment noted, Heidegger was a Nazi--does that mean we shouldn't assess the arguments he made?  No.  Would it mean the YLJ (or some comparable journal in philosophy and social thought) should publish Heidegger simply because of the work's contributions? Not necessarily.  But to the extent that the YLJ shouldn't publish scholarship by Nazis, it's worth noting that Camara's comment doesn't make him the moral equivalent of a Nazi.  Paul, whom I know somewhat, engages the topic at length in the comments to the blog and vouches for Camara as a non-racist; Paul is, as readers of this blog know from his comments, a left-wing civil rights lawyer, and half-Black.  His endorsement carries some weight with me, especially since he has offered to pull his name from the piece if any other evidence of Camara's racism comes to the fore.   Along with the other comments, the discussion at the blog provides a worthwhile read.

No doubt this event is frustrating for Paul--though I doubt it will have any long-term effect on him.  Camara is another story.  Notwithstanding his evident work habits, Camara will have to make a convincing mea culpa before the academy welcomes him in it on a full-time basis and  I suspect some law firms and/or law schools will be or have been hesitant to interview Camara because of this entire incident. 

Update: Camara has issued his apology (I received a copy of it from Paul, so I assume it's authentic).  I'm quite certain that it won't mollify everyone, but it might persuade some.

Posted by Dan Markel on December 20, 2005 at 12:36 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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To my mind, the real question is not whether the YLJ should publish the piece: they absolutely should if it's a good piece of scholarship that deserves, on its merits, to be published. The question is whether, in light of all this, whether Camara deserves to ever hold a job in the academy.

I eagerly await the text of Paul's e-mail from Camara that contains an apology, because the only retraction I've so far seen ("Mr. Camara remarked that it was a 'mistake and a miscalculation.' Asked if he would use such racial slurs in the future, he commented: 'I will make a much more conscious attempt than I have made not to do so. I can't guarantee it.' -- blackprof.com) is nowhere near the level of apology that needs to be made. It was a mistake, it was not a miscalculation, and there needs to be much more than "trying" to not say things like this in the future. Hell, to not *think* things like this in the future!

If it turns out that he's really made a real apology and that people like Paul, who know him well, truly believe he's not a racist, then that is certainly evidence that he's matured a bit since his HLS days. At this point, though, I'm perfectly happy "convicting" him and sending him to the wolves: let him find a "real" job.

Posted by: Jason | Dec 20, 2005 8:55:44 AM

I agree that YLJ should publish the piece. I also agree that members of the YLS and YLJ communities should feel free to come and protest Camara. And I wonder whether he'll ever get an academic position.

But Dan, please. Calling his comments "bone-headed" and "mean spirited" is absurd. His comments were nothing other than racist.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Dec 20, 2005 9:35:17 AM

Hillel, just to clarify, by calling his comments bone-headed and mean-spirited I was not saying his comments were not racist. Something can be racist (and boneheaded and mean spirited). I'm not defending what he said in the slightest.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Dec 20, 2005 9:57:07 AM

Dan:

I know that you weren't DENYING that they are racist. But it seems to me that hte most apt--and most important--description is plainly that they were racist. They were "bone-headed" and "mean-spirited," but that has nothing to do with why people are upset. People are upset because they were racist.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Dec 20, 2005 11:24:01 AM

I'm not terribly convinced that Gowder's no doubt sincere praise and personal knowledge adds up to much. I witnessed a lot of soft racism in college (Texas A&M), and one roomate in particular made a quite serious, to his feeble mind, distinction between "nigs," the same word used here, and "good" black people. It's quite possible that given the facts of the case he was commenting on Camara made a similar distinction: black people aren't the problem, just a certain sort. If that's what's going on Gowder's half-black bona fides are harmed not only harmed by the "half" but by his HLS degree. Clearly he's one of the few "good" blacks to someone of this frame of mind who doesn't behave like the "nigs."

This is, of course, quite speculative. Camara may be either worse or better than this supposition. I simply note that quite a lot of racism is more subtle, hidden, and hypocritical these days. Have a kind word for a black friend or acquaintance says little about how many people feel about blacks in general.

Posted by: Dylan | Dec 20, 2005 12:04:01 PM

I wish these Yale students would quit spending time playing Who Can Be Most Sensitive in Public and start doing a little pro bono. There are innocent people in prison right now. But actually working to help actual victims of racis is hard. Oddly, most of these same students preaching messages of justice and equality will soon sell their souls to the higest-paying corporate masters. I guess justice and equality are good things to seek - just not at the expense of a life of material comfort.

Posted by: Mike | Dec 20, 2005 1:26:13 PM

It's funny that you class *all* Yale students in that boat, Mike. What if the students protesting are exactly the same as the students who will end up working for the ACLU, an Innocence Project, etc.? Do you have any information that the students protesting are the very same who will be bolting for Hale, Dorr on graduation?

Posted by: Jason | Dec 20, 2005 4:20:23 PM

There probably are some YLS students who are only concerned with material comfort. But I can attest that many--if not most--commit much of their time each day to helping those in need. We bloggers at SHANGRI LAW, for example, spent most of our waking hours the last two weeks with clinic work (advocacy for children, asylum claims, prison work, TRO project, etc). I'm very proud to know that my fellow YLS students act on their convictions rather than "play Who Can Be Most Sensitive in Public."

Posted by: La Dulcinea | Dec 20, 2005 6:20:04 PM

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