Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Is Criticizing "Judicial Engagement" a "Straw Man?"
The Volokh Conspiracy's move to the Washington Post website is a big deal, and I wish it (them?) luck in the new venture. It seems harder to sign up to offer comments, and in some strange way I miss the comment traffic of old; I also hope the page will be revamped to offer more color. That said, the blog gets more traffic on an off-day than we here do in a year, and its bloggers are prolific, unlike some people I could mention. The move is impressive.
One thing I noticed today is that the VCWP blog posts have captions or sub-heds. I noticed it because a post today by Randy Barnett, titled "'Judicial engagement' is not the same as "'judicial activism,'" has the sub-hed "Critics of George Will and Clark Neily's defense of 'judicial engagement' are attacking a straw man." That phrase doesn't appear in the text itself. That's fine, of course. But I can't quite tell if the post itself is arguing this proposition. If it does, it's wrong.
Part of the problem is that the "critics" referred to in the sub-hed turn out to be one person, Ed Whelan. To paraphrase, Whelan objects to Neily's effort to popularize the phrase "judicial engagement" because he is invested in the idea of objecting to judicial "activism." In this, he is sort of like the New Deal-era Justices who later objected to decisions or reasoning in rights cases that appeared to raise the specter of the Lochner era. I don't know whether Barnett wrote the sub-hed, or whether he had other critics in mind, or what those critics said. But I will take the very minor liberty of treating the sub-hed as putting Barnett's argument more or less as a facial challenge, so to speak. As such, it cannot be right. Clearly there are non-straw-man reason to object to the phrase "judicial engagement" and the effort to popularize it--reasons that apply equally to the phrase "judicial activism" and efforts to popularize it.
"'Judicial activism' was devised to be pejorative," Barnett writes, "but it has little content." (I find the "but" interesting there. Not "and it has little content?") He then goes on to argue that "what 'activism' really means is improperly invalidating a law that is not really unconstitutional." (The first emphasis is mine.) This is to be contrasted with "judicial engagement," which Neily and Barnett supply with a definition. He adds, "Instead of 'judicial conservatism,' which admonishes judges to put their thumbs on the scales to uphold laws, we favor 'constitutional conservatism' in which judges are restrained to follow the Constitution, whether this leads to upholding or invalidating legislation."
Is there a difference between "judicial activism" and "judicial engagement," or between "judicial conservatism" and "constitutional conservatism?" Sure. By definition there is--and I mean that phrase literally. Of course, there would be no difference if you defined both phrases to mean the same thing. And there would be a difference if you called one thing "turkey on rye" and the other "Grabthar's hammer." What it "really means" would depend on the content, not the label. Discussing the definitions is useful, kind of; discussing the phrases is not. Action X is good or bad, right or wrong, regardless of whether you call it, say, the "nuclear option" or the "constitutional option" or "the Corbomite Maneuver." Barnett (or Neily) solves the "little content" problem with "judicial activism" by supplying content. If he does not solve it there, then he sure as hell does not solve it for "judicial engagement." It certainly cannot be right in any terribly useful sense to write: "'Judicial engagement' is both a less pejorative and more accurate label for how a constitutionally conservative judge should act." It is not terribly useful to use one placeholder to define and approve another placeholder; and any pejorative qualities will come from factors entirely outside the "real" meaning of any of these phrases.
So, depending on who the "critics" are and what they have to say, it is certainly no straw man to disdain the use of the phrase "judicial engagement," or "constitutional conservatism," any more than it is to disdain the use of the phrase "judicial activism" or "judicial conservatism." All you have to do is prefer things to words, or grappling with problems and ideas to doing public relations.
I suppose I should add a caveat to my post. If you care about public relations, then you may indeed care about these issues. If you are engaged in advocacy, you may care about them. If you want to be a moral entrepreneur, you may care about them. But certainly caring about them is not an academic or truth-seeking function as such, as I understand those roles. (There is no "truth" about the "real" meaning of phrases like "judicial activism" or "judicial engagement.") An academic might be interested in analyzing those phrases, say as a matter of analyzing what moves or manipulates or crystallizes public opinion, or how phrases take on currency or lose it, or things of that sort; but an academic would certainly not, qua academic, be interested in pushing or popularizing a phrase for purposes that could best be characterized as propaganda. Richard Posner is fond of observing that in the intellectual realm, academics are less likely these days to be moral entrepreneurs. But I don't think he's making a value statement when he says that, and it may be a good thing on the whole that academics are less likely or less qualified to serve as moral entrepreneurs, or that the increase in the stringency and specificity of academic standards may hamper them from doing so.
I think people are entitled to argue about whether legal academics are closer to the advocacy side of things than other academics (at least ideally; obviously lots of academics in other fields are propagandists). They may also argue about whether academics can engage in propaganda (or norm entrepreneurship, or whatever you want to call it), or at least whether they should, and if so subject to what limits. Obviously many individuals engage in academic work and propaganda or political activism. I'm speaking only to the academic side. From that side only, it seems clear to me that there are valid reasons to question the intellectual value of the phrase "judicial engagement," or of the very enterprise of coming up with and pushing such phrases.
Monday, January 27, 2014
RIP Randy Bezanson
Brian Leiter's Law School Reports brings news of the passing of Randall Bezanson, a longtime professor at the University of Iowa College of Law; I'm writing this in transit and don't have the link, but Brian's item provides a link to the statement from the dean at Iowa. I just wanted to add a quick word of tribute. My first, temporary job was as a visitor teaching constitutional law at Iowa. It was a great experience for many reasons, but Randy's presence was high among them. As a colleague he was very helpful in giving me tips and materials for my first time teaching the class. As a colleague he was generous in his time reading a draft paper on our mutual love, the First Amendment, and more than happy to recommend major surgery on the piece. And, as the Dean's message notes, he was always a fun, provocative presence at the lunch table, ready to start things off with a topic or question of the day. I still draw heavily on his writings, especially those on freedom of the press; my latest piece cites him repeatedly and I very much enjoyed his recent print debate with Eugene Volokh on freedom of the press. He was and is an influence, and a friend. He suffered through a long and difficult illness, and doubtless things looked different from close up; but from far away, it seemed as if he managed to do so with his vitality much undimmed. I will miss him.
Sunday, January 12, 2014
Corbin on Abortion Distortions (and What's Missing)
As I said in my last post, it's easier to meet your commitments to blog more if you go the aggregation route! To that end, and because I found it very interesting, I note that my friend Caroline Corbin, who is an excellent and prolific scholar in the law and religion and compelled speech areas, has a new paper up on SSRN. It's called Abortion Distortions; as they say in Shakespeare in Love, "Good title!" Here's the abstract:
Two types of distortions often arise in abortion jurisprudence. The first is distortion of scientific fact. Too often abortion opponents distort medical facts and courts accept those distortions as true. Take, for example, the claim that abortion makes women depressed and suicidal. In fact, no reputable study supports any such causal link. Equally without scientific foundation is the claim that morning after pills like Plan B act as abortifacients. They do not.
The second kind of distortion that occurs in abortion jurisprudence is that the normal doctrine does not apply. Thus, despite the fact that compelling someone to articulate the government’s ideology is anathema in free speech jurisprudence, courts have upheld mandatory abortion counseling laws that force doctors to serve as mouthpieces for the state’s viewpoint. Similarly, despite the fact that for-profit corporations have never been held to have religious rights, several courts have stayed application of the new contraception mandate on the grounds that it might violate the corporation’s "conscience." This abortion exceptionalism is problematic for women and for First Amendment jurisprudence.
I enjoyed this paper. I agree with her point in general, and at least provisionally with her points about depression/suicidal claims and counselling laws; I am still(!) reaching my own conclusions about the mandate cases, although I don't think the corporate Free Exercise claim is as novel or impossible as some critics suggest, whatever limits ought to apply to it, but in any event I take no position on her argument in this section. It's a good, and short, read.
I'm very surprised by one element of the paper, however. This is not the first time that it has been argued that abortion tends to have distorting effects on judicial work and particularly First Amendment cases. It was a rather prominent feature of Justice Scalia's dissent in one of the abortion protest injunction cases, Madsen v. Women's Health Center, Inc., 512 U.S. 753, 785 (1994) (Scalia, J., dissenting), in which he wrote, "Today the ad hoc nullification machine [of abortion] claims its latest, greatest, and most surprising victim: the First Amendment." Similar claims have long been made that abortion works a distorting effect on First Amendment doctrine in another abortion protest decision by the Court, Hill v. Colorado, whose soundness will be tested by the Court this week when it hears McCullen v. Coakley. Forgive me if I am mistaken, and by all means correct me, but my quick read and search of Corbin's draft found no references to any of those cases or to the literature discussing them.
Of course Corbin may disagree with those criticisms, and of course the specific doctrinal issues she addresses are different, but I am surprised not to see a reference to them. This is especially true because the idea of some hot-button or significant factual/moral issue shaping, influencing, or distorting constitutional doctrine is hardly limited to abortion. Many splendid articles, including this one by Burt Neuborne, have been written about the "gravitational pull" of race on constitutional doctrine in a variety of areas. My recent (rough draft) article on New York Times v. Sullivan talks about the influence of race and the civil rights movement on that decision, and briefly references some of the literature alleging that abortion has a "gravitational pull" on the law. It seems to me that although a focus on particular doctrinal questions is understandable, there is also much value in focusing on, or at least fitting in and thinking about, how and why such phenomena occur in general and with what consequences; whether it is unavoidable and how; and just how bad (or good) these "distortions" are as a general matter. (There is such a thing, in my view, as overvaluing doctrinal coherence, or accepting its inevitable limits even if it is generally a good thing, or demanding more coherence from the Court than it can reasonably provide given the kinds of issues it deals with and their political and emotional valence.) I like the paper and recommend it to readers, and there is something to be said for modesty in scope. But I still found myself regretting these omissions. I encourage you to read this paper--alongside the other literature on this issue.
A Couple of Thoughts on Blogging
A belated happy new year, although I have posted one thing since January began. A quick apology for blogging so little in the past year and letting my colleagues, both guests and permanent members, do so much of the work. Some of the paucity has been due to personal and professional commitments of various kinds. In general, my not blogging is a net gain for both writers and readers, so an apology is probably unnecessary. But since I still occasionally get kind words from people I meet who say they effectively got to know me through the blog, I thought a word or two were due.
Anyone who has blogged for a long time knows it can be difficult to keep it up. Some of it has to do with the usual peaks and valleys of a person's life, including his writing life. A good deal of it has to do with the heated nature of many discussions and comment threads (including from professors), especially around legal education. I think there are good reasons for that, although it does not excuse absolutely any kind of rhetoric in my view. But heated discussions on any topic are more time-consuming to monitor, which I think one must, and can reach a point of exhaustion (both as to the discussion and as to the individual blogger involved) fairly quickly.
Much of it has to do with a simple desire not to be unduly repetitive. Some people manage to be both prolific and novel on blogs. Others maintain a high quantity of posts by sticking to the aggregation model ("Here's an interesting piece, news story, etc."). I tend to want to read something fully and be ready to comment on it before I link to it, and aside from being too busy to do so in a timely fashion sometimes, by the time I might be ready to post something I think the discussion has moved on and am much less willing to post at that point. And there are certainly many bloggers who don't seem to mind riding the same hobby-horse again and again: who think an issue or position is endlessly fascinating to themselves or others and worth repeating many times, or who get a charge out of high moral dudgeon in general or attacking some real or imagined Internet adversary in particular. And our "service" threads on hiring and publishing are very popular, although I'm not always crazy about them. I don't fall into those categories by way of inclination, and I increasingly think that if you don't have something that's especially worth saying to a general audience, you should remain silent. That's not very consistent with the general model of blogging, unfortunately!
Although this point is sooo 2008, Facebook is another reason. When we started blogging, some of us especially dilettantish or thin-line-between-professional-life-and-everything-else sorts thought we would mix up posts on law and law teaching with posts about how great Hem is, or why Gavin Harrison is such a great drummer, or why Broadchurch is such a funny show, or what have you. But Facebook seems to fulfill a lot of those needs, without either requiring one to blog on such matters for a slightly more professional audience or to flyspeck the post for errors of fact or tone deafness. Professors moaning about how unpleasant grading exams is, for example, is an extremely self-indulgent enterprise, even if it's a natural personal reaction. When law blogs started, that kind of thing was more common in the blogosphere. It has since rightly died down a great deal. (I should say that I got an earful from my students this week about how long professors take to grade exams, how foolishly long the grading deadlines are at many schools, how much it interferes with choosing and dropping courses, decisions to withdraw while tuition refunds are still at full-rate, and how the students themselves must and do meet their own deadlines. They were quite right and I am frequently quite guilty.) On Facebook, however, it's more possible to do that sort of thing (although I don't, I think) without anyone assuming you're engaging in anything other than a first-person description of your own life, or without airing a totally minor gripe to an audience of understandably impatient students. And you can post pictures of cats, and your fabulous meals, and hilarious memes about offensive coordinators, and news of your above-average offspring! Or curse a blue streak. Or joke about shooting your children. Given the long list of lawprof friends that one amasses on Facebook, it may be that this is equally professionally damaging in the long run. (I have only shot my children in laser tag, I should clarify.) But it is marginally safer and more intimate. So I feel free to post half-baked and/or cultural stuff there, or ride the occasional hobby-horse, while saving the most well-worked-out, non-repetitive stuff for this blog. Which means blogging a lot less, as I said. I probably ought to cut down on or cease Facebooking too. But it can be a nice outlet and is very useful for purposes of local political organizing (which Tuscaloosa always needs) and maintaining a sense of local and professional community. Plus, cats and Lane Kiffin.
Anyway, I hope to blog more this year, and I suspect that my work on a book this year (on social class and the American legal academy--write me if you're interested or have some input or insights or experiences) will give me more occasions and energy to do so, but I would also be perfectly happy with extended silences. I suppose I could add that if you miss my brand of nonsense you're welcome to send me a request at Facebook, although I assume those of you with lives have other things to do and those of you without them have already done so.
Monday, January 06, 2014
Happy 50th Anniversary of the Oral Argument in New York Times v. Sullivan
Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the oral arguments in one of the landmark cases in the history of the Warren Court and the jurisprudence of the First Amendment: New York Times v. Sullivan. An Oyez project page with links to, among other things, the oral argument itself is available here.
I usually sit on my draft papers a bit before posting them to SSRN, but given the anniversary I thought it would be a good day to post a newly completed (rough!) draft paper of mine on the subject, despite its obvious flaws. The article is titled Institutional Actors in New York Times v. Sullivan. It was written for a symposium at the University of Georgia School of Law marking the case's fiftieth anniversary. (Alas, I was unable to attend in person; I'm sure I missed a great conference, not to mention a hell of a college town.) The Alabama Law Review will be hosting its own fiftieth anniversary symposium later this year; it's not surprising to me that two states in the Deep South, which figured so prominently in the outcome of the case, have felt duty-bound to revisit it. Here's the abstract:
This Article was written for a symposium held at the University of Georgia School of Law marking the fiftieth anniversary of New York Times v. Sullivan. It has two primary purposes.
First, it examines this landmark First Amendment decision through the lens of the institutional actors that were prominent in the case. Most academic treatments of Sullivan, and of the First Amendment generally, focus substantially on the state and/or public officials. This Article turns its focus elsewhere, to three other key institutions in the case: the press, social movements (in this case, the civil rights movement), and courts--both the state courts and the Supreme Court itself. That institutional focus helps revive certain aspects of the case that are easily neglected over time; helps make clear why the Supreme Court was willing to act so aggressively in this case, both in constitutionalizing defamation law and in insisting on independent appellate review of the facts; and reminds us that the decision was not just about mistrust of government, but was also about preserving the vital role that non-state actors such as the New York Times or the civil rights movement play in monitoring and checking government and contributing to public discourse and social change.
Second, it offers some exploratory thoughts on why, as I think is true, New York Times v. Sullivan has lost some of its luster and canonical status in the intervening years. Sullivan is still obviously a hugely important case, and it has always been subject to criticism. Still, it was once highly and widely celebrated. Now, even among those who are not especially critical of the decision, it is more likely to be met with a shrug than with praise. It is not an object of ongoing political contestation like other landmark cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education; it is simply there. I suggest that Sullivan has undergone a sort of bifurcation that has diminished its canonical status. On the one hand, its broad pronouncements have largely been assimilated into First Amendment doctrine, so that citations to the case are almost more decorative than substantial. On the other, its specific pronouncements concerning defamation law have been submerged in the complex details of defamation law itself, which has returned to the preserve of specialists. To these factors, we can add two others: the direction of First Amendment law itself, with its profusion of fairly schematic anti-discrimination rules; and, relatedly, the general focus in First Amendment doctrine on the government as the central actor, and the relative lack of interest in the specific speakers, institutional or individual, that come before the courts.
Taken together, these factors have made New York Times v. Sullivan a case that continues to be cited for general principles, but that fails to capture the attention and imagination of either constitutional law experts or the public as it once did. A focus on the press, the civil rights movement, and the courts as institutional actors in Sullivan helps remind us of the high-stakes nature of the case at the time it was decided, and the past and present importance of certain institutional actors in our social structure.
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Prof. Niblett on Jeopardy
Friday, December 06, 2013
Mandate-ory Weekend Reading
I'm not offering up all the links here, but those interested in the contraceptive mandate cases should definitely check out:
1) The extensive series of posts Eugene Volokh has put up at the VC this week canvassing most if not all of the issues and angles in the cases.
2) Nelson Tebbe and Micah Schwartzman's arguments on Slate and Balkinization that accommodating the claimants here would violate the Establishment Clause.
3) Marc DeGirolami's post on the Center for Law and Religion Forum's website disagreeing with Nelson and Micah.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
It's an oversimplication, to be sure. But the title of this post seems to me to be the answer to the question, "How many cases does it take to turn a fan of non-formalist balancing into an advocate of formalist categoricalism?" Those two cases are the contraceptive mandate cases, on which the Court has just granted cert.
The balancing-versus-categoricalism debate in constitutional rights adjudication, which often tracks the non-formalist-versus-formalist divide, is a longstanding debate. (See here for some background.) American constitutional doctrine has gone back and forth between the two. In more modern constitutional legal systems, however, the emphasis tends to be on balancing. It is aided in part by the different textual structure of those constitutions and their rights provisions, which contain both stand-alone rights guarantees (ie., "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: . . . freedom of conscience and religion. . .") and explicit balancing clauses (ie., "[The Constitution] guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."). It is also probably undergirded by faith in judges, by the relative homogeneity of those judges and their political views, and by the force of some charismatic judges along the way, notably Aharon Barak (who did not even have the benefit of that kind of textual clarity, or any actual constitutional text at all, to work with). Under this approach, the general legal tendency has been to define the right broadly, and do most of the work at the balancing stage. (Advocates of this approach also frequently favor a similarly broad approach to potential preliminary categorical barriers such as standing.)
Generalizations are just that and should be taken with a grain of salt. But I think it's still broadly true to observe that many legal liberals favor the modern style of constitutional adjudication, believe in judicial balancing, and are less inclined to support categoricalism or formalism as a means of constraining rights claims.
Until the contraceptive mandate cases (and Citizens United), that is. It would be possible to decide such cases by taking a broad approach to the categorical questions and finding that such a right exists, even for corporations, while holding against the corporate plaintiff on balancing grounds. But many of the initial responses to these cases seem to be more formalist and categorical in nature, rejecting a Barakian or Breyereseque balancing in favor of a more formalist up-front exclusion on who (or what) can claim a constitutional right to freedom of religion (or expression, in something like the Elane Photography case) at all. A lot of people suddenly seem fonder of formal categorical exclusions, and more leery of judicial balancing, than they used to!
I admit to some ambivalence here. Skepticism of the judicial capacity to balance rights against state interests is a good thing. Skepticism of Barak's passion for proportionality is a very good thing. And I am apparently not opposed to categorical approaches! But I think balancing emphatically has a role to play in rights adjudication, and I think these cases could be sensibly decided at the balancing level rather than engaging in categorical exclusions at the preliminary stage of the rights claim. For what it's worth, I tend to think that many entity plaintiffs challenging the mandate should lose at the burden or state interest stage of the analysis. I would rather have the decision occur at that stage than by denying the possibility of an entity claim altogether. But I'm still thinking about those issues. In the meantime, I'm interested in what the mandate cases and the reaction to them say at a higher level about fair-weather allegiance to balancing versus categoricalism or non-formalism versus formalism.
Two additional points. First, in response to a comment on FB on this issue, I'm thinking mostly about the Free Exercise (or, under RFRA, Free Exercisish) aspects of these cases, not the Establishment Clause aspects. The Establishment Clause presents its own questions, and it is not always as easy to situate thinking about the Establishment Clause on one side or the other of the categoricalism/balancing divide, in part because of underlying uncertainty about whether the Establishment Clause itself is a rights provision or a structural provision.
Second, there is also a similar reversal or tension on the formalist/judicial conservative side, although again this is a very rough cut. For reasons probably having to do with general priors than with a particular unified legal theory, many people who might be characterized as judicial or political conservatives, who are fonder of formalism and less fond of balancing, are also supporters of a robust regime of religious liberty. Given their fondness for formalism and skepticism about judicial balancing and judicially ordered exemptions, many of them have reconciled themselves over the last 20 years to the Supreme Court's formalist decision in Employment Division v. Smith. Yet they object to the broad application of civil and human rights statutes and provisions like the contraceptive mandate to religious entities. There may be some ways to address this without sacrificing formalism. One is to exploit the requirement that a law be genuinely neutral and generally applicable. Another, of recent vintage, has been to emphasize the quasi-jurisdictional idea that churches themselves are entitled to a broad scope of internal freedom. That worked in Hosanna-Tabor. But how broad should that categorical approach be? Should it really work when applied to for-profit corporations, for instance? (And why, incidentally, once we've gone down that road, shouldn't the formalists re-examine their general rejection of categorical Press Clause rights?) Doesn't it require courts to undertake the kinds of inquiries about "who is a church" that they think courts aren't generally qualified to engage in? Finally, I suppose a third possibility for people in this camp is to take a broad view that everyone, including all sorts of claimants, is ostensibly entitled to bring freedom of religion claims, while dealing with the mess at the balancing stage. Which perhaps puts them closer to the Barak/balancing camp than they would normally want to be; hence the tension on the other side of the debate.
Comments welcome, of course; as I said, this is a pretty rough cut and I don't think it's the whole story, although I do think looking at things this way reveals some pretty interesting methodological tensions. And see also this related article by Perry Dane.
Friday, November 22, 2013
Interesting Somin Post on Federalism and Rights
An interesting post--I think it's by Ilya Somin [see update below], although it appears at Concurring Opinions, which would be unusual for him--on the Elane Photography case. Its basic point, to put it rather briefly and bluntly, is "New Mexico: Love it or leave it." As he writes:
If Huguenin wants to turn a profit in the economic atmosphere the State of New Mexico provides her, the citizens of that state have declared that there are certain business decisions she may not make. The good news for those who want to discriminate nonetheless is that relatively few jurisdictions in this country have public accommodations laws that forbid sexual orientation discrimination. Right next door to New Mexico, Arizona has such laws only at the local level in Tucson and Phoenix. There is also a paucity of public accommodations protections in neighboring Texas and Oklahoma. It should thus be relatively easy for Huguenin to find her way to a place where she is truly free to marry her business practices with her religious convictions.
I appreciate the strong argument that our interpretation of constitutional rights should be influenced by conditions of federalism. For reasons that have been well stated elsewhere, as in this article, I don't think "voting with your feet" is an adequate substitute for or response to the side-constraints on law provided by individual constitutional rights. But I'm grateful for his willingness to make this argument.
[Update: I am told the author is actually Richard Storrow, although given the author's strong emphasis on voting with your feet as a remedy in rights cases, I still think my confusion was understandable.]
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Wheat, Chaff, and Law Reviews
I really thought I could stay out of this Liptak-law-review discussion. I agree that Liptak's piece, with due respect to him, was not great. But there is always a risk that criticizing a piece leads to an over-defense of the current system of law reviews and the scholarship that appears in them. Preserving the baby doesn't mean we need to keep the bathwater, necessarily. There is a lot of bathwater in law reviews!
In any event, what moves me finally to write is Dan Solove's post in (partial?) defense of law reviews, and especially his responses to commenters. Dan writes in one comment:
The issue is . . . whether the peer review system is worth the time and effort to implement in these days where there isn’t a scarcity of publishing opportunities.
Quite frankly, I’d rather spend my time reading pieces I know are good and working on my own scholarship than doing a lot of peer reviewing. I can tell rather quickly if a piece is going to be any good, and I can quickly move on if it isn’t. And if I don’t know whether a piece outside my field is any good, I can ask professors in that field whom I trust or see what pieces they recommend on Twitter and in blogs, etc. . . . Life is short, and I’d rather not spend my time this way, and I bet many law professors think the same.
A commenter writes to chide him for this: "Peer review in other fields is considered one of the things that responsible academics do. Annoying and boring perhaps, but it helps separate the wheat from the chaff, and multiplied over all the people who have to do their own personal peer review every time they are looking for an article saves net time." Dan responds:
I think you’re missing my point. Peer review would matter if there were a scarcity of publishing opportunities. But there isn’t. So why bother putting so much time into front end review when there isn’t scarcity anymore and anyone can publish? Why not devote more time to other things?
The argument that responsible academics just do peer review doesn’t really answer my point about why pre-publication evaluation is important and why post-publication evaluation won’t be sufficient.
People can readily find the wheat from the chaff by looking at commentary on already-published works. Basically, being published just doesn’t mean much anymore, and I being published never was a particularly precise proxy for being good. It has been a proxy better than random, for sure, but not a precise one, and not one I’d rely heavily upon — even with peer review.
I think that most debates about peer review seem to be stuck in a bygone mentality where publishing opportunities were scarce. We’re living in a very different world now.
I agree with Dan that chaff is inevitable in scholarship and sorting is always necessary. I also agree that the lack of scarcity and the availability of venues like SSRN raises interesting questions. But I disagree with much else here. In particular, let me offer two comments.
First, I don't think the inevitability of chaff tells us enough about whether the current system is problematic or not. In particular, we might consider whether the current system overproduces chaff, and what systemic consequences that might have. I can think of several possible negative consequences. It raises the search costs, because of the time and effort involved in finding the few needles in an ever larger haystack. It's true that experts like Dan can do this efficiently, but not costlessly. Meanwhile, the law is full of generalists, especially in the judicial ranks, and the search costs for them have grown. It also increases the potential error costs: the possibility that some reader will give undue credence to a poor or erroneous piece. Even given that there is always lots of chaff and some wheat, we might still have reasons to want to avoid having too much junk out there.
More interestingly, perhaps, the abundance of poorly policed publication opportunities may create or support bad incentives for law professors and the legal academy. I don't disdain theoretical or interdisciplinary work, but neither do I disdain straight doctrinal work. The plethora of publishing opportunities and the poor pre-publication gatekeeping may encourage more professors to do more "ambitious" and less doctrinal work, to focus on articles over treatises or PLI pieces or other doctrinal work. Moreover, because publication is treated as a core part of the job of full-time faculty, and standards of pre-publication judgment (not to mention tenure and promotion standards) are weak, it may lead to or at least enable not just an overproduction of non-doctrinal work, but an oversupply of full-time law faculty altogether, as opposed to adjuncts and other teachers with a stronger ongoing connection to particular practice areas. Perhaps if there were stronger pre-publication standards and a concomitant decrease in the number of seriously regarded publication slots, we would have a smaller, stronger professorial corps, or a more efficient distribution of resources in law schools, both between doctrinal and non-doctrinal professors and between full-time and part-time faculty.
In short, lack of scarcity is not everything. There are still independent reasons to want to separate the wheat from the chaff earlier in the process, and to encourage more faculty to work on more narrow and doctrinal pieces rather than take a flyer on more high-flying pieces (on the view that the piece will surely be published somewhere, and might just be published somewhere great).
I also think Dan shrugs off the point about peer review and related academic work too casually. For the reasons I've offered (and other reasons too, I'm sure)--e.g., the risk of overproduction of chaff and the associated risks of general readers overrelying on poor work--I think there are reasons "why pre-publication evaluation is important and why post-publication evaluation won’t be sufficient." And, both for practical reasons and more abstract, virtue-centered or vocational reasons, I think the commenter is right that services like peer review are a fundamental part of the academic's responsibilities and should not be dismissed as unnecessarily burdensome. Part of the academic's job is to make sure not just that her own work is sound, but that the general body of scholarship in her discipline is sound: that the well is not poisoned or diluted, that some level of minimal disciplinary standards are maintained and enforced across the board, and so on. She should also not want her colleagues, especially junior ones, to spend an undue amount of time on work that need not or ought not be done at all; she shouldn't want her junior colleagues to overproduce poor work, secure in the knowledge that someone will take it, when that scholar could be encouraged at an earlier stage to abandon a poor or unnecessary project and use her time and talents more usefully. I should add that I see no reason to doubt that Dan takes on his full share of these burdens, no matter how wearisome he may find it. But whether it's wearisome or not, it strikes me as serving practical purposes, as ultimately doing a kindness both to one's colleagues and to the overall body of scholarship, and as a meaningful part of the package of rights and responsibilities that make up the scholar's vocation.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Thanks to Colin for telling us about his interesting piece on "The Virtue of Obscurity" in Supreme Court opinion writing, with specific reference to (surprise!) Justice Kennedy. We're glad to have him here. I appreciate that it's a short piece, but let me make a couple of critical or questioning remarks about the piece, if only because I would appreciate hearing more of his views on the subject, here or in longer work.
The questions are related and I'm not sure it matters which comes first. But as a preliminary matter, and without wanting to be too cute about it, I would appreciate getting a clearer definition of what Colin means by "obscure" or "obscurity." He seems to define it mostly as by negative implication, as the absence of qualities such as clarity and specificity. As a matter of everyday language, or even casual professional talk about judicial opinions, I have no problem understanding the term, and absolutely no problem locating it somewhere in the vicinity of Justice Kennedy. In the case of an article that gets some charge out of the counter-intuitive move of praising obscurity, though, I would like to know the author's own definition of the term, and maybe something on how we can tell deliberate obscurity from something else.
Second, and this admittedly is what struck me first, I'm surprised not to see reference to Cass Sunstein's work on judicial minimalism. Again, it's a short piece, and I appreciate that and am glad Colin wrote it, and discussed it here on Prawfs. But I think Sunstein's work on minimalism would be very useful to this project--indeed, his primary work on minimalism focuses at length on many of the same cases--and might add some clarity to the definitional question I asked above. Although in his writing on minimalism Sunstein generally favors opinions that are both narrow and shallow, he points out that these categories are capable of various combinations, and that we can (favorably) imagine some opinions that are "shallow and wide," or "deep and narrow." Others have written even more favorably about those possible categories. Donald Dripps has argued that in criminal procedure, broad but shallow opinions are often highly desirable. In a piece written back when my hair was a different color, I argued in favor of the uses of what Sunstein would, I think, call deep but narrow opinions. Both of these kinds of cases, it seems to me, can be thought of as involving different kinds of judicial "obscurity" in service of different kinds of needs. In short, I think it's probably necessary to say more about the different forms that judicial "obscurity" can take, and the occasions for which they are more or less well-suited.
I suppose there's a third point that relates to the questions I asked at the end of my first point. Sometimes obscurity is necessary, but not for the public. Sometimes it's necessary to cobble together a majority, or a large majority in those cases in which something more than a plurality or bare majority is thought to be important. So before praising Justice Kennedy (or anyone else) for obscurity, we would have to consider whether that obscurity was part of a longer-term project or a concern for the public, or whether it was just a means of smoothing over differences on the Court itself.
Again, notwithstanding or perhaps because of these questions, thanks to Colin for posting on his article.
Tuesday, October 08, 2013
Skipping the Post is Not a Big Deal
A couple of words, if I may, on the widespread, if totally ephemeral, criticism of Justice Scalia, occasioned by his statement in this week's New York Magazine interview* that he only takes the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times, and gave up the Washington Post because it had become too "shrilly liberal." A fairly standard example, with one important exception, can be found here: http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/07/scalias-echo-chamber/?_r=0. Those words are: Big deal. Now let me expand slightly.
1) What should really upset us is not that Scalia gave up the Post, but that he reads the Washington Times, which is a transparently lousy newspaper.
2) He already reads the Journal, which, editorial pages aside, is neither especially conservative nor especially different in terms of the background or perspective of its reporters or editors. Perhaps the Justices would do us all a favor by picking a paper at random from the non-coastal United States and reading that every day.
3) The Post has gotten pretty thin in the past few (say, 15) years.
4) Of course the Post is liberal! I doubt shrill is an apt description, or that it's more shrilly liberal now than it was in the past, but obviously it's a liberal paper.
5) I do believe epistemic closure exists and afflicts some more than others. Perhaps it afflicts Scalia greatly. But if a liberal Justice said he or she read only the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker, I doubt half as many people would be calling them epistemically shuttered for failing to pick up the Daily Caller (also lousy, incidentally) or the National Review. (Here, in fairness, is a note of difference between the standard-issue criticisms and Lapidos's piece in the Times: at least she calls out the President for purportedly only reading the New York Times.)
6) This all seems very American and parochial. Maybe the more important question is why all the Justices aren't reading Le Monde, Bild, El Pais, the Guardian, and the Times of London.
* I note that I don't especially think that he ought to have given the interview, or that Justice Ginsburg ought to have given the interview that occasioned headlines of its own this weekend.
Sunday, October 06, 2013
What the Difference Between Clothes and a Fig Leaf?
The question occurs to me after reading this snippet from Richard Posner's new book, Reflections on Judging, which strikes me as pretty minor Posner but still has its moments. The snippet takes place in the context of a discussion of what he believes is judges' "refusal . . . to confront, even to recognize, the challenge of complexity" posed by technology and other challenges:
Many lawyers are technologically challenged, just as the judges are, and so are drawn to the same avoidance techniques that judges retreat behind, while those who know better are anxious about deviating from the orthodox methods of legal argument, or fearful that judges will feel insulted to be spoon-fed appropriately simplified descriptions of the technological background to a case. I can assure the reader that we will not be. What would anger most judges would be a lawyer's telling them that it's time they dropped the pretense that judicial decisions are based on faithful adherence to statutory and constitutional language and to precedent. That's a fig leaf that almost all judges want to continue wearing.
I'm generally sympathetic to Posner's views on such matters and that's the case here, although I wonder whether it doesn't apply more to litigators, especially appellate litigators, than to lawyers in other areas.What I wonder is: If the kind of legalism he's referring to is a fig leaf that everyone insists on wearing, is there a point at which it becomes something other than a fig leaf? It's a truism that constitutional law, and perhaps other forms of law as well, is "just" a constrained or conventionalized form of politics. Is there a point at which the constraints are meaningful and accepted enough that they become more than "just" a concealed or constrained method of doing something else, and deserve to be taken seriously in their own right?
A fig leaf is a form of clothing that, at least in the biblical story, does nothing but conceal--and doesn't even do a good job of that, in God's eyes. Its only real function, in the end, is to reveal its own shameful and ridiculous nature. And yet there are vast industries devoted to taking clothes perfectly seriously, and occasions on which clothes serve a useful purpose. Is law, or the kind of legalism Posner is talking about, especially in constitutional interpretation, closer to the fig leaf or to what we generally think of as perfectly meaningful and heavily rule- and convention-bound clothing?
A couple of ways to think about this come from taking the metaphor seriously and thinking about (or, really, riffing on) the evolution of clothing. First, there is this possibility, which I think is an implicit theme of the chapter from which this quote is taken. Some clothing actually serves a useful function, particularly guarding us from injury--from scratches, freezing, and so forth. Clothing designed to serve that function might look quite different and work much better than clothing that purports to serve that function but really serves no functional purpose, either because it's not functional at all or because it has been designed for some other function. (I have bought some beautiful leather gloves for winter wear, in shops selling them as winter wear, that were largely useless for that purpose.) Perhaps legalism, in Posner's view, is similar. Obviously some very smart people have spent years working on better and better versions of textualism, originalism, and so on. These days some very smart liberals are working on very elaborate versions of the same thing. Some of this work seems pretty attractive. But, like working on a better pair of thin leather gloves, it might still be a massive waste of resources--wasted because it wasn't really undertaken with the underlying function in mind, overinvests in roundabout ways of achieving the actual function, and still doesn't do that great a job. It's like spending millions of hours and dollars working on a really scratch-resistant, durable, temperature-sensitive fig leaf, when what you really need is a decent piece of cloth and a string--or just plain nudity.
Another way to justify all this investment in legalism is more or less the way we justify most of what goes on with clothing. It serves little functional purpose physically speaking, but it does a variety of other things we care about: helping to signify social rank, or to preserve and extend moral norms, or to discriminate between or against different people, or to provide us with pleasure. It helps us to coordinate our actions, too, although it may do so inefficiently or improperly. Serving these kinds of convention can be a function, too, and one that matters a great deal to us, whether it should or not. Even if it should, of course, it can still do so badly, especially when we end up forgetting that we're really serving convention and pretending that we're doing something that's practically functional, or ask too much of those conventions, or hold on to them after they've served their purpose and another end is needed. This, too, seems like a pretty good description of legalism. I suspect Posner has little patience for this kind of justification. I have more patience for it than Posner does, although not all that much more. Certainly, in the final analysis, I am not inclined to be any more romantic about it than I am about the necktie or the codpiece, and I doubt that a good deal of legalism is any less wasteful than your average bowtie or periwig.
Thursday, October 03, 2013
Casey on Law School
Via Brian Leiter, here is a speech by Chicago Law's Anthony Casey addressing incoming law students. I agree with Brian that it's an excellent and thought-provoking speech, and rather than excerpt it I will simply encourage you to read the whole thing. It did leave me with a few questions and observations:
1) Casey writes: "People quite ignorant of what a good lawyer does will tell you that law school should be shorter, that law school should teach students how to pass the bar, that law students learn too much theory." Although I agree with his disagreement, I don't think his talk tells us how long law school should be, whether the combination of undergraduate education and law school could or should be restructured, and other details.
2) Law professors reading this as a general defense of the status quo would be mistaken. Even if Casey is right about the intellectual features that he thinks should be a part of legal education, that doesn't mean we always (or generally) succeed in providing them, or doing them well. If you agree with Casey's general vision of legal education, you ought to view it as a demanding standard and ask how well you are (I am) meeting it, rather than just standing pat on it.
3) I wonder how and whether Casey's vision comports with something Mark Tushnet writes in his (most) recent book, In the Balance: Law and Politics on the Roberts Court. I don't have the full quote here (it's on page 98), but Tushnet writes from experience, and not in a critical way, that "lawyers learn different--other--things in less elite schools." That is consistent with my experience at a variety of law schools as well. It often makes sense, although there is emphatically room to think that lawyers at elite law schools ought to learn more immediately practical things, and that lawyers at "less elite schools" sometimes ought to get more of the kind of instruction Casey is talking about. (I'm sure both happen sometimes.) I don't have a straight answer here, and I think the kinds of things Casey is talking about are a valuable component of a professional (or maybe a liberal) education, but one must note that his experience is more narrow than the experience of some teachers, and think about how to adapt the kinds of things he is talking about to different contexts.
One doesn't have to accept every line of Casey's talk to find it interesting and thought-provoking, however, and it is beautifully written to boot.
"Enduring Hierarchies in American Legal Education"
My colleague Andrew Morriss, along with Olufunmilayo Arewa and William Henderson, has posted on SSRN an article titled Enduring Hierarchies in American Legal Education, forthcoming in the Indiana Law Journal. It sounds interesting! Here's the abstract:
Although much attention has been paid to U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of U.S. law schools, the hierarchy it describes is a long-standing one rather than a recent innovation. In this Article, we show the presence of a consistent hierarchy of U.S. law schools from the 1930s to the present, provide a categorization of law schools for use in research on trends in legal education, and examine the impact of U.S. News’s introduction of a national, ordinal ranking on this established hierarchy. The Article examines the impact of such hierarchies for a range of decision-making in law school contexts, including the role of hierarchies in promotion, tenure, publication, and admissions, for employers in hiring, and for prospective law students in choosing a law school. This Article concludes with suggestions for ways the legal academy can move beyond existing hierarchies and at the same time address issues of pressing concern in the legal education sector. Finally, the Article provides a categorization of law schools across time that can serve as a basis for future empirical work on trends in legal education and scholarship.
Why We Can't Have Nice Things, Part 743
For those who are interested in law and religion issues, or national security, or education, or languages, or insanity, here is a story about Alabama parents objecting to an Arabic language class being taught in their local high school.
Why are they objecting? Because, as one parent said, “This is America, and English is our language, and while I understand the alleged premise of offering Arabic at our high school, I don’t agree with it. . . . “It is not just another language; it is a language of a religion of hate. I’m concerned about our taxpayer dollars going to fund such a program, because I don’t believe it has a lot of foundational value. . . . It just concerns me that we’re headed down a path of further eroding our society to a Muslim-based society, or Sharia law (the moral code of Islam), and I’m not willing to let that happen without … something to say about it.”
As another parent helpfully added, "They’re trying to indoctrinate our children with this culture that has failed. . . . .Why should we want to teach our kids a failed culture when we have a culture that has been successful? All we have to do is follow our Christian culture, which has brought this nation to the pinnacle of success. … I don’t see why they would want to teach this.”
Thursday, August 29, 2013
"Theory and Praxis," God Help Me
I have been a little busy with local politics and university activities lately, for my sins. I won't give a rundown on events, but a quick Googling of "Tuscaloosa," "election," and such quaint terms as "wristbands," "beer," "limos," and "Machine" will give you an idea. I've offered my direct thoughts on these matters elsewhere, but, hell, I am an academic, and I wanted to take a moment out for an academic reflection.
I remain pretty attached to the classic view of academics as people who do academic things in academic ways for academic reasons. Although I think there is more room for different approaches within the broader universe of higher educational institutions than he does, I generally sympathize with Stanley Fish's injunction to save the world on your own time. In both good and bad ways, I'm more a "theory" guy than a "praxis" guy.
But in the past day or so, I've been moved to reflect that there is actually a through-line between what I write about as an academic and what I've been involved with lately on a local level. It's not one I thought about as I acted, but it's there. I write a lot about institutions and institutionalism and their relationship to the First Amendment. I argue that a number of institutions, including universities, play a vital infrastructural role in our social structure and in public discourse. I believe their autonomy is important and that, in a sense, they should be viewed as partners in the First Amendment and not just subjects, and given substantial deference by courts. But I have always argued that there is a tradeoff or obligation here. Those who champion institutional autonomy must also take personal responsibility for the proper stewardship of those institutions: participating in governance if they are inside them and monitoring these institutions if they are not, encouraging those institutions to do the right thing as institutions, and criticizing them when they do not. "Faculty governance," "academic freedom," "church autonomy," and other such phrases are not just slogans to wave against outside interference; they are first and foremost burdens and responsibilities for the members of those institutions, and for the public at large. My piece "Act III of the Ministerial Exception" talks a great deal about this; so does a forthcoming piece I've written on the Fisher affirmative action case. And so, especially, does my book "First Amendment Institutions."
Again, I didn't really think about this as a precursor to my public involvement in the past couple of days; I just got involved because I felt I had to. But I *am* an academic, and so it was interesting to me (if no one else) to reflect on the relationship between what I write as an academic and what I have been doing "on my own time" in recent days, and to share those reflections. If a couple of books get sold too, I'm okay with that. Best wishes to all.
Monday, August 26, 2013
One More Thing on Ginsburg and Retirement
I'm grateful for the discussion on my post about Justice Ginsburg's interview with the Times--especially the criticisms. I had one more, related observation I wanted to make, which is less about the interview and more about the "retirement" issue. I should acknowledge up front that it involves some generalizations and premises with which people might disagree. Obviously I think I have a valid point to make, but it is at least a little speculative and not perfectly worked out. If I'm out on a limb here, I don't think I'm alone on that limb: Sandy Levinson has made some similar observations. But that doesn't mean either of us are right, of course.
As I have read the discussions about Ginsburg and retirement, I have seen two conflicting themes. 1) Ginsburg's retirement--or anyone's retirement, including Justice Breyer, although she is older and has been through various health scares, and it seems unlikely that such an invitation would be productive if addressed to the Court's conservatives--ought to retire now, while the Democrats might successfully secure her replacement, because if she retires later her place might be filled by a conservative, risking further damage to what liberals view as the proper direction for the Court. 2) This suggestion is impertinent at best, sexist or outrageous or both at best. Of course Justice Ginsburg shoudl retire when she thinks she should retire and not be pressured to step down early. This view is usually accompanied by various encomia to Justice Ginsburg, her role on the Court, her important work on behalf of equality rights for women, etc.
There are also, in my view, two sub-themes running through this discussion. The first is a liberal concern with (liberal conceptions of) justice, rights, the importance of the Supreme Court to these and other fundamental issues, the direction of the Court and the country, and so on. Of course this is the motivation for theme 1) above, but certainly these values are shared by most of the people voicing theme 2), and are often voiced in passionate terms.
The second is the tendency toward hero worship in prominent sectors of the American legal world, most definitely including both the "political"--here in the sense of legal liberals vs. legal conservatives--and the legal academic worlds. (Of course there's a lot of overlap here, but there are plenty of non-academic legal partisans.) This isn't surprising in an environment that is both sentimentally attached to history and largely run on connections, credentialism, and a love of prestige. But it's still striking in a profession that also makes noises about the importance of critical, dispassionate analysis. I don't know whether it's more true here than elsewhere, but elite (or at least well-credentialed) American lawyers are a hero-worshipping bunch if I've ever seen one. Perhaps it starts before law school, but it is certainly encouraged by the arrested adolescence that characterizes the law school experience. It is further maintained and encouraged by the arrested adolescence that similarly characterizes the clerkship experience. It extends to Janet Reno dance parties, black-tie FedSoc dinners with Justice Scalia, and so on. It never seems to die.
Whether on the surface or just beneath it, a lot of the angry defenses of Justice Ginsburg's entitlement to sit as long as she chooses seem to involve a heavy dose of hero worship. I'm sure she's earned it! (More because of what she did as a practicing lawyer than what she has done on the Court, in my view, but opinions may differ.) But it should be recognized for what it is.
I just don't think that motivation sits well with the other sub-theme, the theme that emphasizes the crucial importance of liberal legal views and their protection or advancement by the Court. If you don't think that the Court is that important, or don't care that much about rights or legal liberalism, or just think of the Court and its work as an "intellectual feast," or just really value hero worship, then the view that Ginsburg should feel free to retire when she feels like it makes sense. On the other hand, if you're really serious in thinking that the cause of legal liberalism matters a lot, and that the fate of the Court matters a lot, then you should care a lot more about that than you care about the entitlements of your heroes. You should care about the cause, not the privileges of its leaders. And if justice, rights, and that kind of stuff is your motivation, then it seems to me that you should be on board with the view that these things would be advanced by the immediate retirement of Justice Ginsburg (and/or Breyer).
Of course people may have multiple interests and motivations, although that doesn't seem like a full response, since you're still going to have to balance them at some point or conclude that one concern is more important than the other. For myself, absent a change in the nature of federal judicial tenure, I'm fine with Justice Ginsburg serving as long as she wants and is able, and thought the "pressure" for her to retire was a little silly as well as futile. But I am not as passionately motivated by legal liberalism and its causes, or as inclined to think of the Supreme Court as a palladium of liberty, as some of Justice Ginsburg's most vocal defenders are.
Perhaps it's worth their considering whether they are not, in fact, more motivated by hero worship, and a concern for the prerogatives of the hero, than by a strong concern for legal liberalism.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
Two Cheers for the President's "Two-Year" Proposal
I seem to be more favorably inclined toward President Obama's proposal to make law schools two years than Matt, who posts below. I think he raises some sensible concerns and that there is nothing wrong with doing so. I agree with his urging us to consider questions of pedagogy, although 1) law schools, which still insist in the main on hundred-percent end-of-semester finals, are a little spotty on serious consideration of pedagogy, and 2) when Matt writes that "choices about the required program of legal education should be based on pedagogy," I'm less certain that this should be the only consideration. I can appreciate the logic of his speculative statement that "with increasing legal complexity, most of us would likely need more education, rather than less, to be properly prepared," although 1) it's not self-evident to me that this education necessarily needs to take place within the law school, and 2) as Matt acknowledges, we must still ask whether the costs of this additional education outweigh its benefits. In short, I think he raises some valuable cautions, but they are just cautions; and I tend to have a more positive view toward two-year legal education than Matt appears to have.
Why only two cheers, then? I withhold one cheer because of the seemingly uniform nature of the President's proposal. ("Typical command-and-control Democrat!") I tend to think that there are a variety of different models that law schools could pursue if they went to a two-year program. And I tend to think that there is equal room for a variety of other approaches, including traditional or modified three-year programs, programs that perhaps involve very little classroom time at all, and even doctoral or doctoral-type programs that involve longer stays. Assuming that proper information is publicly provided about these programs, their price, their purposes, their employment outcomes, their different costs and benefits--and that is a huge and probably currently unwarranted assumption--then I think there is room for diversity, differentiation, specialization, and competition here. (I agree, of course, that questions of cost and the sources of financing are also highly relevant.) I think the arguments for a uniform three-year program are weak and am more sympathetic to a two-year program than Matt currently seems to be. But I think the best answer to the problems the President raised is unlikely to be a single answer or another uniform proposal.
Unnecessary and Inappropriate
That, in brief, is my take on this interview Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave to the New York Times for today's paper. In it, she made clear that she was unmoved by pressure from some liberals for her to step down while a Democratic president can appoint her successor; said, according to the Times's paraphrase, that "her retirement calculations would center on her health and not on who would appoint her successor, even if that new justice could tilt the balance of the court and overturn some of the landmark women’s rights decisions that are a large part of her legacy," although she suggested that she did not think this was likely to happen; and criticized the activism of the current majority and several specific decisions.
The interview was unnecessary. To whom was she speaking? Her colleagues on the Court already know what she thinks, and she has ample alternative means of sharing her views with them. I doubt that conservatives off the Court will be moved much by her interview one way or the other. That leaves two liberal constituencies aside from the general public: the administration, which already knows she won't shove off; and establishment legal liberals of the ACS type, whom she can easily address more directly in person. That leaves, in my view, little serious point to this interview. If she had had something novel to say, I would be more charitable about her doing the interview, but she doesn't. Given my view that the interview was unnecessary, given the obviously political overtones of her charges, and given my general view that judges should not absent extraordinary circumstances or special needs make public political statements, I conclude that the interview was inappropriate.
One friend whose views I respect praised the speech as an instance of "speaking truth to power." I confess I almost always resist the use of this phrase, which I think is mostly both overused and misused. Much of the time, what people hold out as examples of "speaking truth to power" involve people who are themselves powerful; don't involve instances of the speaker actually directly addressing a powerful person with whom they disagree, but rather involve addressing an audience (often a powerful one) that already agrees with them, and to whom they are careful to say nothing disagreeable; and in any event don't involve speaking novel and disturbing truths, but well-worn and banal statements. All those things are true here. Whatever else one could call the interview, I don't think "speaking truth to power," especially with its (unduly, mostly false) romantic overtones, captures it.
For the most part I leave aside the question whether she should retire, and why she rather than someone else should be the target of efforts to get her to retire. I tend to think justices shouldn't serve forever but are free as a matter of present fact to serve as long as they wish, regardless of what it does to the long-term health of their jurisprudence. At the same time, however, I don't think "I really admire X" or "X has done so much for us" is a sufficient basis for the conclusion that "as far as I'm concerned, X can serve as long as he or she wants." If you think law and the Supreme Court matter, and you share Ginsburg's political views concerning the Court, you should probably conclude that the cause of justice would be best served by her retiring soon. On this view, Ginsburg's adamance is more selfish than justice-seeking. And, indeed, there is no doubt that a certain (no doubt well-earned) sense of high self-regard infuses the interview. But one needn't take this view of the Court or its importance, or the importance of a liberal version of politics or justice.
The bottom line, for me, is that the interview was unnecessary, and when you combine the fact that it was unnecessary with the political nature of her advocacy in the interview, it was perforce inappropriate. I don't doubt that some will applaud the interview because they like her, or like what she said, or both. Neither those reasons, nor the general goal of pleasing or rallying the base, are sufficient reasons to justify it. Justice Ginsburg insists in the interview that she is still fully capable of making decisions. I have no reason to doubt it. But her decision to do this interview was itself unwise and more than a little self-indulgent.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Three More Takes on Novelty Claims in Legal Scholarship
I've written here before about the tendency of law review articles, and especially their abstracts, to make what I tend to think are highly exaggerated claims of novelty. Of course, novel issues or problems are bound to arise from time to time in the law in response to events, and they're worthy of attention. The first time someone is assassinated by drone, or the first time an important new piece of legislation comes along, it makes complete sense that it ought to be written about. That is one sort of novelty. It must be said that the first articles to take on these issues generally apply existing legal tools and modes of thought; the topic may be new, but the thinking isn't. (It also often turns out that even the new topic often turns out not to be as new as everyone thought, so that it's the job of a second generation of articles to come along and argue that the first generation of articles ignored earlier events. And so on.) Occasionally, to be sure, articles will come along that contain genuinely new ideas. These are very few and far between.
None of this seems to stop a wave of articles from coming out every year whose abstracts trumpet, almost always inaccurately, "This is the first article to...." As you can probably tell, it kind of irks me--mostly because any such exaggeration in scholarly work irks me, but also because some of these articles seem to trade on their alleged novelty for what counts in the business as high placement.
(Incidentally, I am unreliably informed that some authors, having achieved a decent placement through an overclaiming abstract, will then prune back the novelty claims before publication. Or I am told that this would be a sound strategy on the part of authors, whether the informant does it or not. For the most part, as far as I can tell, the overclaims of originality in SSRN abstracts seem to make it into the published articles, so it doesn't look like many people actually do this. If they do, I would consider it a violation of what I quaintly think of as scholarly integrity.)
In my ongoing effort to make sense of this in something other than a purely strategic and cynical sense, here are three quick observations about the phenomenon. (Assuming, of course, that you agree it exists.)
1) It struck me in thinking about it today that there is a kind of unspoken agreement at work in this little game concerning Critical Legal Theory. One theme of Critical Legal Theory is that legal argument commonly consists of a set of conventional polar positions or mutually opposed moves. Those moves are present, if sometimes submerged, in just about every set of arguments on just about every kind of issue. Some romantics may hold out hope that this process will result in genuine dialectical advances from time to time; others may think the response should be to reject the standard moves altogether. Many just think that these moves will continue recurring indefinitely. This is a for-blog-purposes-only caricature of this theme, of course. But that seems somewhat appropriate, because it's more or less at exactly this banal level that the theme is generally accepted, to the extent that some ideas in CLS have become normalized in the legal academy.
What struck me is that, while I think something like this idea of the existence of continually recurring standard legal moves is fairly widely accepted by self-aware legal academics, there seems to me to be a corollary rule: Though Shalt Ignore Critical Legal Theory For Purposes of Law Review Abstracts. In the abstract, it is never the done thing to say something like, "I will be making standard move X in this article," or "In an important recent article, so-and-so used theory to examine new issue Y. As expected, I will now use policy." To say something like that is self-destructive at worst and gauche at best. Instead, thou shalt pretend that no one else has ever done before whatever it is that you're doing--while quietly acknowledging your predecessors, and thus demonstrating your scholarly credentials while reassuring the reader that the idea is not so original that it lacks credibility and a pedigree, somewhere around footnote 10.
I find this striking for two reasons. First, as I wrote, I think the basic cycling-of-standard-legal-moves idea is pretty widely accepted--everywhere, that is, but in law review abstracts. Second, many of the articles that I see making extreme and erroneous claims of novelty, and sometimes placing very well as a result, are all too happy to make extensive use of CLS and other forms of critical theory in the body of their papers.
2) In doing a little reading around this, I again came across two articles that I think are required reading. I suspect the first has gotten too little attention, partly because its interesting conclusions are put quite gently, and partly because of the publishing cycle of the journal in which it appears. The first is Mark Tushnet's recent article in the fiftieth anniversary volume of the Supreme Court Review, in which he re-reads two articles from the first volume. He observes that "[t]he articles show that the questions that scholars today regard as deep were already reasonably well understood fifty years ago." The only thing that's missing from the same discussions of the same issues today, he laments, is a "scholarly temperament of engaged detachment."
The second is Richard Posner's recent reply piece in the Georgetown Law Journal on the state of legal scholarship today. (The discussion is around pages 848-50.) Posner is agreeing here with a point made by Pierre Schlag about this arguably being an age of "normal science" in legal scholarship, an age between revolutionary moments. He writes that in such an age, in which teachers are always needed but scholars perforce must also do scholarship in order to get ahead, the "academic enterprise" becomes "afflicted with perversities." There is "pressure on faculty to publish even when the scholarship that is published has no value; hence the straining after novelty, the drive for specialization, the quest for rigor, the adoption of a technical vocabulary—all methods of signaling quality that may, however, have no effect except to turn off students and other readers." That seems half-right to me. The other half, though, is that it's just these kinds of qualities in legal scholarship, including the "straining after novelty," which will attract some "students and other readers." Those readers include some articles editors at highly ranked law reviews, who understandably would like to think that they are important and live in interesting times.
I wonder if we couldn't just print out and distribute to all current law review editors a simple sign to be placed above the slush pile. It would read: "WARNING: We are currently in an age of normal science. Unless it is actually examining a new set of facts, the article you are about to read is almost certainly not novel. Note: The facts probably aren't all that new either."
3) Tushnet's article, in particular, makes me reflect once again on the fairly stunning lack of a sense of disciplinary institutional memory in the legal academy. In part, I blame Westlaw and Lexis, whose archives barely extend back to the Reagan presidency. In large measure, I think it has to do with the lack of a deep canon in legal scholarship, or of much of an education in that canon by most law professors. Whatever the reason, I wish more law professors--and articles editors--would spend less time polishing absracts and more time reading Ecclesiastes.
Friday, August 16, 2013
Chris Lund on Legislative Prayer
My friend Christopher Lund has a fine piece on Slate (how rare it is that I get to string those words together!) on legislative prayer, and specifically on the upcoming Supreme Court case of Town of Greece v. Galloway. I suppose it contributes to my enjoyment that I am in substantial agreement with Chris that Marsh v. Chambers was always a problematic case, that it is easy to do legislative prayer "wrong,"* and that the questions and difficulties involved in doing it "right" may themselves raise insuperable problems. As I write in The Agnostic Age, although I think Marsh is wrong as a matter of sound constitutional law, I would be willing to let sleeping dogs lie. My concern with Galloway--and the Second Circuit opinion in the case was not a perfect decision, to be sure--is that a poor vehicle has been chosen that will end up with a majority doing more mischief than Marsh alone accomplished. Views differ on this. Regardless, however, Chris has done more and better work on this subject than anyone I know, and the Slate piece is very good.
* For an example of its being done "wrong," see this story, which involves my own state of Alabama and Twinkle Cavanaugh, the head of the state's Public Service Commission and a living reminder that all that twinkles is not gold.
Fascinating Canadian Story on "Academic Freedom"
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a fascinating story (subscription required) on Dennis Rancourt, a quondam physics professor at the University of Ottawa who has, for some time, been disputing his dismissal from the university before an arbitrator. Rancourt argues that he was dismissed for his political views. The university suggests that he was dismissed for numerous departures from his proper academic duties--among them, hollowing out an offered course from the inside, transforming it from a course in physics to a course on how science relates to "power structures," a move he called "academic squatting"; inviting ten-year-old twins to sign up for a course, and then assisting them in grieving the university's refusal to register them before a human rights commission as age discrimination; promising all his students in one class an A before the class started, more or less as a protest against the usual pedagogical norms of grading; and so on. While he was at it, he called a black law professor who wrote a report for the university its "House Negro." As it often does around Rancourt, protracted litigation ensued. His Wikipedia page is here; although it is one of the more self-serving entries I have seen there, it does contain useful links. Stanley Fish wrote about Rancourt here, and has an amusing discussion of him in a forthcoming book on academic freedom.
I was inclined to think Fish made too much of the Rancourt case, since Rancourt is so clearly an extreme case. On the other hand, I never would have dreamed that it would take as long as it has to resolve his dispute with the university, or that as many silly rulings would result along the way. Rancourt's case seems to me to do two things. It shows just how badly academic freedom can be distorted and misdefined, especially when its meaning is extended and politicized beyond all recognition. And it shows how damaging the involvement of both labor law and human rights commissions has been in Canada for a proper understanding and treatment of academic freedom. A couple of the figures quoted in the Chronicle story suggest that labor and human rights law have strengthened "academic freedom" in Canada. They have done nothing of the kind, unless you have an absurd definition of the term.
Wednesday, August 07, 2013
Tushnet on Denning & Kent, Legal Scholarship, and the Next Great Law Professor Mystery Novel
On another scholarship-related note, Mark Tushnet has a lovely post up praising a recently published piece by Brannon Denning and Michael Kent on anti-evasion doctrines in constitutional law. I always enjoy Tushnet's occasional pieces on legal scholarship, both for the generosity with which he praises others and for his willingness to talk about the stupider sausage-factory aspects of the publication process.
Incidentally, Tushnet ends his post by making several "disclosures." One is that he rarely publishes over the transom anymore, and he confesses that the last couple of times he did, his submissions were "unsuccessful." I admire him for saying so! His last disclosure goes like this: "(4) I think I'm not going to make the fourth disclosure." As a teaser ad might say: What is the fourth disclosure? I haven't the slightest clue, but if I were the kind to work on mystery novels involving law professors, I would certainly rush to start a draft of a novel titled The Fourth Disclosure.
In the LA Review of Books, Dominic Pettman has this review of Michael Marder's recent book Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life. In the book, to quote the review, Marder "not only attempts to conceive of and communicate what we might call the ill-understood and under-appreciated plantness of plants, but also to hold the plant up as an aspirational role model, one which operates in stark contrast to our own self-centered activities." It's a little difficult to tell just how firmly Pettman's tongue is located in his cheek in this review--or perhaps it's stamen-in-pistil--in this one. Judge for yourselves. (Kudos to Pettman for quoting from Withnail and I, by the way--specifically, Monty's line that flowers are "mere prostitutes for the bees.")
Incidentally, for some reason the review motivated me to do a search for the number of law review articles found on Westlaw that use the word "alterity." The answer is 366. (Most of them, however, seem to come from interdisciplinary journals and European reviews, not main or secondary American law reviews.) Is it terribly wrong of me to think that that's about 300 too many?
Saturday, August 03, 2013
The State of "Lively Discussion"
An interesting pair of comments on Outside the Law School Scam, in response to a post about the ABA Task Force's release of its working paper on the future of legal education. Because the language is a little lively, I've put both comments after the jump.1) Comment from Anonymous:
HEY ABA - TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE.
You ignored this shitstorm for years. You personally ruined my life by letting your biglaw buddies and your professor buddies and your judge buddies perpetuate this scam, taking $100,000 of my student loan money and ripping me off with your useless degree and fucking me by not holding up your part of the 95.6% employment promises.
So FUCK YOU.
Fuck you, ABA. I don't give a shit about your paper. I don't give a shit about your solutions, all of which are self-serving and five years too late.
You see the writing on the wall. You see the law school system crumbling and your profession turning to shit.
But GOD DAMN IT I WILL NOT LET YOU CRY UNCLE NOW!
You made this fucking filthy bed. You pissed and shit all over it. You made me lie in it. And if it's the last thing I do, I'll make sure you fucking sleep in it too.
Don't you dare reflect back the same solutions we proposed five years ago. That time has come and gone.
Right now, the only solution is seeing law schools collapse and seeing the profession drown in its own sewage. I'm not throwing you fuckers a life vest. I'm going to put my foot on your head and push you down.
Go fuck yourselves, lawyers and professors and judges. Fuck you.
2) Reply from Anonymous:
This is one of my favorite scamblog posts. Thanks stranger. I am with you. I will revel in these fucks going down in flames. And thanks to you all for hostIng this site. It gives everyone a sounding board where Campos led off. Someone give me a cheer for Campos, even though he was forced out.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
New Podcast on First Amendment InstitutionsI'm very grateful to the folks at the Liberty Fund for recording a podcast with me on my recent book First Amendment Institutions. (Ten percent off at Amazon! Makes a Bennington Battle Day gift!) The talk was very interesting (for me, at least) and it was a pleasure to get a very different perspective--a sympathetic but still critical one--on the book. It is available here. Download it for your next jog or car trip. Enjoy!
Saturday, July 27, 2013
A New Hypo for the "Is Religion Special" Debaters
More than a hypo, actually. In a well-known academic freedom case, Axson-Flynn v. Johnson, an acting student at the University of Utah refused on religious grounds to say the word "fuck" or take the Lord's name in vain during an acting exercise and was criticized by her instructors. She ultimately brought suit. The Tenth Circuit held that Axson-Flynn had raised potential free speech and free exercise claims. After remand to the district court, the case was settled, with the parties announcing "the planned implementation of a policy that will allow students an opportunity to request exemptions from specific curricular exercises they feel go against their 'sincerely held religious beliefs.'"
Now the Chronicle of Higher Education has run a story (subscription may be required) about a music student at Northwestern who refused to sing a verse by Walt Whitman, on the grounds that Whitman made several racist statements toward the end of his life:
As a result, Timothy L. McNair, a 25-year-old aspiring opera singer, failed the course. His stand, taken at the end of the spring quarter, has put at risk his ability to finish his master's degree at Northwestern's Bienen School of Music.
The university has backed the professor who failed Mr. McNair and says that it expects students to complete the work assigned to them.
Here we have a nice new example for those who have argued that religion is not special--that there is no compelling reason to treat strongly held non-religious beliefs, when it comes to granting or refusing to grant exemptions, differently from strongly held religious beliefs. Enjoy.
Sunday, July 07, 2013
Oulde Fields, New Corn-cerns
I've been on the road this week with my family, so I apologize for not having said anything yet about the resignation of my dean, Ken Randall, or his new position at InfiLaw. I've seen a couple of comments elsewhere suggesting that this deserved more attention than it had gotten so far. I think that's quite right. (On both sides. I was surprised that the scamblog types didn't write more about it this week as well.) In any event, given that I teach at Alabama and have written some about law school issues, it seemed right that I should say something, at least. Some added reason for doing so certainly is supplied by Paul Campos's post about this, which I heard about at The Faculty Lounge. As usual, I think he makes a good and legitimate point among several weaker ones.
I view the two things--Ken's resignation and his new job--distinctly. My colleagues have already laid on the praise elsewhere. I'll try to give some particulars rather than offer another general encomium. On a professional level, Ken was a tremendously successful dean at Alabama, certainly by the conventional and contestable measures but also by most others. In particular, given that most of our graduates stay in the southeast and don't go to megafirms, I'm glad that tuition and class sizes have remained relatively low. He has also done great things in terms of personal contact with students, faculty hiring (obviously I have a bias here), fundraising in the face of declining state funding, relations with the larger university, attention to detail, and strongly improving the reputation (and ranking) of the law school. He's been innovative, resourceful, and entrepreneurial in a host of ways. Any innovation or entrepreneurial moves are always open to question and discussion, but I think he has done so in a way that respects both our students' needs and interests and our academic mission. In general I think it's fair to conclude that he's done as good or better a job than deans at his peer schools have, and I'm very grateful. On a personal level, I always found him to be very energetic, supportive of my work and needs, and kind to my family. I sincerely appreciate it.
Ken has been interested in entrepreneurship and venture capital for a while, and began teaching in that area a few years ago. (That's why I didn't set much store in any rumors about why he stepped down. He's been dean for a very long time, and has been interested in new challenges for a while.) I have no personal knowledge here, but I assume that the InfiLaw venture is a way of developing that interest while still getting the benefit of his considerable professional experience in legal education.
I hope and assume that in his new position he'll try to balance innovation with considerations of student needs and core educational mission. And, provided there's institutional diversity and a core of traditionally functioning schools out there, I'm not a purist about what higher education should look like or whether profit-seeking can or can't be a part of that. But, like everyone else, I worry, if I may put it gently, that the InfiLaw consortium schools educate too many at too much cost for too few prospects. I sincerely wish Ken the best in this and any other venture, but I still worry about these things a lot. Those concerns aren't unique to for-profit schools, but they're certainly highly pertinent in their case.
Like I said, I view the two things distinctly. All of us who have worked with Ken are grateful for our time with him and think he deserves praise for his deanship. I wish him well at InfiLaw. But I do harbor general concerns about that venture, concerns that have nothing to do with his own role in it. My hope if anything is that if anyone can, he will find better ways to balance student needs against investors' interests in such an enterprise. But I worry about how well those schools have done so thus far.
Given Ken's success at Alabama, and his move from a traditional public university to an unconventional venture, I think anyone who thought this move deserved more commentary--including expressions of doubt or criticism--was right. Whether it's good or bad, it is certainly noteworthy. I can't say whether it carries a deeper message for law schools or "law school crisis" issues in general. It may, but there's some reason to doubt it. Ken had a preexisting interest in entrepreneurial work and venture capital; this move may be more about developing his own interests than about anything systemic. But it's still noteworthy.
To that extent, I think Campos was quite right to call attention to it, and so were some recent commenters on The Faculty Lounge. We've now had enough time to commend Ken for his performance in his old job, and it's not untoward at this point to concern ourselves with his new one. And if such a move is worth noting, I certainly think there must be room for criticism--of the move, or of InfiLaw itself, or some combination.
On the other hand, most of us who worked with Ken were still processing his departure from Alabama, and expressing appreciation for his work there, before we'd had much of a chance to learn or say anything about the InfiLaw position. To the extent that Campos's post elides events, makes it seem as if the folks who were praising Ken were making a statement about his new job rather than giving him his due for two decades in his last job, and follows his custom of casting himself as Diogenes, it is misleading if not false. And I think those of us who worked with Ken and believe he did a great job as dean would feel awkward about trying to hit both notes at the same time: acknowledging our relationship with him and praising his work to date, but still registering our preexisting doubts about whether many law schools, emphatically including for-profit ones, are benefiting their students. It takes a long-winded Canadian to try to do both, diplomatically, in a single post. (Although I did try to keep my sentences shorter, for once.)
Still, I do think the two events are distinct. Praising Dean Randall for his work at Alabama doesn't require us to have no concerns about InfiLaw. Having doubts about InfiLaw doesn't require us to be silent about Ken's many accomplishments to date. That people who worked with him over two decades made our appreciation known this week shouldn't be cause for surprise or criticism. But the fact that he went from that job to this very different new venture is certainly noteworthy. It's fair if that includes concern or criticism.
Saturday, June 08, 2013
A Meta-Post on Tenure
When posts disappear, people notice and wonder why. We had a post up the other day with some sound advice on getting tenure in the legal academy. This is a group blog, and not all decisions are made collectively, so I was personally surprised when it disappeared. My general understanding is that the reasons for taking it down were specific to the institution of the writer, which I can understand. It was not taken down because it raised sensitive issues in general, or because some people felt it revealed some kind of dangerous truth about law teaching. But I also understand the issues some readers had with it. This is, after all, a pretty sweet job, and certainly a much sweeter one than having no legal job at all. But it obviously ought to be possible to talk candidly about getting tenure, and give realistic advice about it, without being (or being accused of being) insensitive. So let me take another, somewhat repetitive, crack at it, because I'd feel bad if there were no record at all of our having weighed in on it, or if it were assumed that we were backing off of the issue generally. Also, it gives me a chance to add some of my own thoughts on getting tenure, and on the meta-issue of whether it is somehow improper to write about this subject at all.
To summarize the previous post, some of the following advice was given: 1) Don't get to your scholarship too late in the tenure clock. 2) Don't co-author too much pre-tenure. 3) Be sufficiently social with your colleagues locally and in your field. 4) For tenure purposes, be aware that tenure will depend mostly on scholarship, not teaching or service. There are thus dangers in "overinvesting" in teaching before tenure. The author made quite clear that he personally "over"-invested in teaching and was happy that he did so, and that his advice was meant to be realistic, not approving. This wsa the point that arounsed the most negative responses elsewhere. 5) Make sure your projects, including books, are compatible with your tenure clock.
My thoughts follow after the jump.The first thing I'd say is that most of this advice strikes me as sound given the current set of norms. Like others--like most of us in law teaching, I suspect--I worry about many of those norms. But given general norms in the legal academy, the advice seems reasonable.
I would still say, and have said here before, that for the most part, as the post noted, tenure is not a huge concern in American law schools, either in absolute terms or in comparison to other sectors of the academy. Getting a law teaching job is much tougher than getting tenure itself. And, I think, some tenure denials in the law schools end up being easy cases in which, by the time the tenure decision comes around, it's evident to everyone that the individual just can't get things written, or is generally ill-suited for the job, or what have you. There are definitely exceptions; there are cases of people who clearly would merit tenure at some or most law schools and yet still didn't get it, for local institutional reasons. I don't mean to ignore such cases or be insensitive to those individuals. But they do not represent the common run of cases. And my anecdotal sense is that fewer institutions these days end up making highly contentious and politicized tenure grants or denials than they did at the height of the factionalization of the legal academy.
I think this matters. Of course, even those who seem to be doing all the right things, at an institution that appreciates them, may feel insecure about tenure and may welcome sound advice about how to get it. But just as we have to be realistic about the present norms surrounding tenure, so we have to be realistic about the fact that tenure is, for better or worse, hardly an extraordinary challenge in the legal academy. Consider the bar exam. I tell students that they ought to take it seriously, budget their study time carefully, take plenty of practice exams, not let it all wait till the last minute, and so on. But I also tell them that for most students who are capable of graduating from my law school, if they do all those things there's no reason to get into a state of panic about it. I would say roughly the same thing about law school tenure. The amount of energy many pre-tenured profs expend worrying about tenure still seems to me disproportionate to the actual grounds for concern. Law professors should worry about tenure enough, but not way too much.
A broader point I have made about tenure here before is that this is supposed to be a profession and a vocation, not just a sweet job. (Although it surely is that.) For all the talk one hears from (some) law professors about speaking truth to power, speaking independently and courageously, and so on, I don't hear half as much talk about how professors seeking tenure should worry first and foremost about those things, and not about securing tenure. I don't buy the view--which I see much less of these days, although there are still vocal proponents of it--that anyone capable of getting a job in law teaching could easily switch over into a lucrative job in private practice. That might have been true when one started law teaching, but not by the time one has invested several years in teaching and out of practice. But I doubt the choice is generally between teaching or nothing for most. In any event, to the extent that one believes that law teaching ought to be a vocation and a profession, that shouldn't be the deciding factor in your choices as a teacher and scholar pre-tenure.
Thus, my best advice for entering law professors is still: Decide what kind of teacher and scholar you want to be, and--with due humility and willingness to take advice from others--be that kind of scholar and teacher. If that means you feel compelled to write a book before tenure, maybe you should. If it means you want to co-author some pieces, perhaps you should. If it means you feel compelled as a scholar to write about a controversial issue, then by all means do so; there's no guarantee that the courage you lack now will suddenly appear after you've been tenured. I'm not saying to ignore the realities of the tenure process under current norms, or to refuse to accept prudent advice from older and wiser colleagues. There is a difference between being intrepid and being ignorant or blind. Still, it is important to cultivate a sense of yourself as a scholar and teacher from the outset, to have a sense of self and integrity, to focus on your vocation rather than on job security, to care about the work rather than the job, to do what you believe you must. If that involves risks, those risks are quite acceptable, and fall under the category of "first world problems"; and the percentage of tenure grants at law school suggests they're usually not huge risks anyway.
That said, the advice given in the earlier post and summarized above is generally sound and should be kept in mind. But I do have some questions about it. In particular, some of the advice about getting pieces out, co-authoring, and book writing seems a little behind the times. The hiring model has increasingly moved away from one in which the entrant has little experience teaching and writing before entering the legal academy. Most schools insist on prior publications, and in many cases the entrants are given partial tenure credit for at least one of those pieces. And many people entering the legal academy come from fellowships, in which they've already demonstrated an ability to write and publish (and, in some cases, already started up working up their teaching notes). For someone who already has a couple of pieces out and one or more in the pipeline, the advice not to co-author yet or to wait on a book seems less apt. We should consider whether the changing way in which we hire is changing, or should change, the advice we give (and the norms and standards we apply) to those seeking tenure. That's double-edged, perhaps; maybe we should expect more of the writing of junior scholars who already have substantial writing and teaching experience. But it may also mean that there's more room for flexibility in the choices those individuals make in their pre-tenure years.
Let's talk about the "don't overinvest in teaching or practice" point--which, again, was made in a spirit of realism, not commendation. Some responses, here and elsewhere, suggested that this revealed everything we need to know about law schools and law teaching. I get the reaction, but I think it's wrong. First, I could imagine similar advice being given across the academy. Second, whatever "overinvesting" in teaching means, the original post suggested--correctly--that most junior law professors do it; and I think he was right that most of us are happy we did so. Your colleagues are not the ones standing in front of a room of students, who have reasonable expectations that you'll know how to do your job; you are. And you do have an obligation to them. Third, he didn't recommend underinvesting in teaching, or define what an appropriate investment in teaching is. As I understand it, what he said, in effect, was: you ought to teach well, but you ought to be aware that your colleagues will judge you more for your scholarship than for your teaching, for better and worse. That is accurate--again, for better or worse. The best advice I can give is that the way to resolve this is not to invest less in teaching, but to be willing to invest more in late nights and foregone personal time so you can also get your scholarship done. That's not too much to ask, given the terrific job you have.
I am more interested in a different question: not whether law teachers overinvest in teaching pre-tenure, but whether they underinvest in it later. I don't have a sense of how much this happens. My own experience, over ten years of teaching, was that I invested heavily in teaching in the first few years, went through a period where I invested less than I should, and for the past few years have tried to retool and increase my investment in teaching. I confess I still have more to do on this front; I've changed my evaluation approach a lot, and altered chunks of all my courses, but I would like to increase my class prep time and ought to think about switching casebooks again. I'm pretty confident I'll get there, and then go through the cycle again. I suspect other teachers go through similar cycles over the course of their careers, and that this isn't different from the up-and-down waves that all people experience in their careers. But the incentives to invest in teaching do go down after tenure. It's important for law teachers, including those just starting out, to remind themselves that every few years, the best thing to do with a really good set of class notes may be to throw them out and start over, to reinvest in one's professional training as a lawyer, to rethink what works and doesn't pedagogically, and so on.
Another question the earlier post didn't address much head-on is how we should feel about the current norms. I'll just say I think it was evident that the post was at least ambivalent, if not critical, about some of those norms. I would add that I think junior professors, even if they take the earlier advice on board, are not excused from rethinking those norms and speaking out about them. And part of the reason I feel this way is that I think it's easy, once one takes those norms for granted, to start imposing them thoughtlessly once one is tenured and voting on tenure decisions. I worry that pre-tenured professors who do things a particular way because "that's the way it is," while saying that of course they don't agree with the way things are, will end up imposing the same norms once they're entrenched in the academy: that they'll turn an is into an ought without thinking much about it.
Leaving aside institution-specific questions, is it or should it be impolitic or impermissible to talk about an "appropriate" investment in teaching given prevailing norms, or to talk about the burden of grading exams, or in general to talk about the ups and downs of being a law professor? My general answer is: God, I hope not. But I would add two things about that.
First, it is accurate to say that these are not huge concerns and that they in no way outweigh the many, many privileges and advantages of the job. Complaining about grading exams can seem like complaining that your other car is in the shop or that it's hard to find good help these days. I worry that what this means in practice is that any such post will have some obligatory, boilerplate preface or caveat, that this will have little to do with real candor or sensitivity, and that some readers will draw wildly oversensitive conclusions about the callousness of the writer if the standard formula is skipped. And I worry that people will just stop writing about those matters altogether. But I agree that there is room for recognition that these are not the biggest or most challenging problems in the world, even for the law teachers who write about them.
Second, I think there is room for a recognition that any job also involves mechanics and personal considerations; that some people--law teachers, obviously, and would-be teachers, and other academics, and even law students--may be interested in those mechanics; and that it's not per se unreasonable or insensitive to write about them, even in an era of "law school crisis." There must surely be people out there who take their jobs--or their nice cars or nannies or what have you--for granted. But writing about the mechanics of one's life or job does not automatically mean that one takes these things for granted or lacks any perspective about them.
I imagine there are surgeons out there who discuss what music they like to play in the operating theater, and may even do so publicly. In a one-on-one conversation with my own surgeon, I'd probably prefer she not bring it up unless I raised the question first. But I might indeed be curious about that question, and I wouldn't assume that because she's interested in it herself, she doesn't care about the patient or the surgery. Nor do I think all surgeons should be obliged to pretend they don't care about it, that every minute they spend in the OR is taken up thinking about their patients' hopes and dreams, that it never crosses their minds that their feet are tired or that some particular procedure is routine or a pain in the ass. In talking about the mechanics of our job, we should be sensitive. But that's not the same thing as concluding that it's always insensitive to talk about them. That's not reasonable sensitivity.
If I may offer an example closer to home, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article--under a pseudonym, alas--titled: "I Don't Like Teaching. There, I Said It." The author's point was not that he or she hates the job altogether, or that anyone should pity him or her. Nor was it that he or she would phone it in from now on. It was a simple human admission that, even in plum jobs, there are times in one's career when one gets more or less personal rewards or has more or less warm and fuzzy feelings toward that job or some aspects of it. The author concluded (my emphasis): "Too often we look at whether a colleague or a prospective colleague seems to like teaching, and then use that as a proxy for whether they are good teachers. We should look at whether they engage in the right behaviors."
I didn't agree with the whole article, by any means. But I didn't think it was insensitive--especially in a journal that is primarily read by an academic audience (as this blog is). It is true that there are plenty of people who would love to have that person's job. It is also true that there are plenty of humanities students who would like to have better teachers--or less crippling debts, or some kind of job upon graduation. That's true for law schools too, and we should think about, write about, and (the hardest part) act on those concerns. It's also true that on a straight utilitarian measure, if it were insensitive to ever write about anything other than the worst problems, we would all be better off writing about (and moving to) Syria or Haiti rather than anything having to do with American law professors--or American law students. I take Luke 14:26 and Matthew 19:21 very seriously, and I don't care for readings of those verses that domesticate them. Most people fail that standard, of course; certainly I do. It's a good, if brutal, standard for moral self-judgment. It's not a very good standard for judging others. And it's not a very realistic standard for choosing writing subjects either.
Thursday, June 06, 2013
"Alternative" Alternative Careers for Lawyers
Two stories about former lawyers caught my eye recently. Suffice it to say that these are not what I would call useful models for alternative careers for lawyers! It was the facts in both cases that I found interesting.
In the first, a two-year-old story I came across recently details the move of former legal academic Clare Dalton from law teaching to acupuncture, of the "Five Element" school. (From the story: "If I’m treating a patient with a migraine whose home element is fire I might choose different points than someone with a migraine whose home element is water.’") Dalton's name may ring bells for fewer people today, but at one time she was quite the cause celebre in the legal academy.
The second story comes from that classic running inventory of hilarious stories about dubious trends, the New York Times style section. It involves so-called "space clearers," whose work purports to consist of clearing the bad vibes from a space--a service for which, apparently, some people are actually willing to pay decent money. One of the stars of the story, Bhakti Sondra Shaye, describes herself as a former corporate lawyer.
Both interesting, if fairly inconsequential, stories. For my money, Shaye's new profession is less harmful than Dalton's, although opinions doubtless will vary. Obviously, the punchlines about whether either of these new professions are less harmful than practicing or teaching law write themselves, so don't bother.
Could There Be a "Good" Version of "Deals for Wheels?"
Lines or queuing are much in the news these days, as if Michael Sandel didn't already have enough work. A particularly horrible-sounding and much-Facebooked example was the recent story about wealthy families "hiring disabled people to pretend to be family members so that they can skip lines" at Walt Disney World. The optics were bad enough, but it certainly did not help when a parent allegedly said, "This is how the 1% does Disney."
My reaction was the same as pretty well everyone else's. After talking with a friend, however--and please send your wishes for bad karma in that person's direction, not mine--I'm wondering whether people would feel differently about it if such a system were set up differently. What if a matching system were set up, in which families with financial resources and without disabilities could match up with families without financial means and in which one or more children have disabilities, with the first family getting the advantage of line-jumping and the second family getting an opportunity for a paid vacation they otherwise would not be able to afford at all?
Obviously there would be logistical questions. I'm just wondering whether people's moral intuitions would be different with respect to such a system. Would this be more acceptable? Still morally objectionable? Are your moral views about such a system different from your views about a system in which some company sets up rental access to the same small set of disabled children who would be well paid to visit Disney again and again? Is the latter system really so terrible? Not that throwing the word around settles any questions, but would the former (matching) system be less of an act of commodification than the latter (rental) system? Just curious about people's intuitions and reactions.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Lemon is Dead
The New York Times yesterday published the obituary of Alton T. Lemon, "a civil rights activist whose objection to state aid to religious schools gave rise to a watershed 1971 Supreme Court decision." That case, of course, is Lemon v. Kurtzman. Lemon died in Pennsylvania on May 4 at the age of 84.
Lemon's biography itself is interesting; I did not know, among other things, that he was African-American and a civil rights activist. He remembered playing basketball with Martin Luther King at Morehouse College. He was also, interestingly, the first black president of the Ethical Humanist Society of Philadelphia. The obituary concludes: "Mr. Lemon attended the Supreme Court argument in his case, but he found the experience a little alienating. 'When your case gets to the Supreme Court, it’s a lawyer’s day in court,' he said. 'It doesn’t matter to the justices if you are dead or alive.'" Certainly Lemon's name is famous today for a generally applicable legal test, not any personal details about the man.
The title of the post is, of course, not meant disrespectfully. It is the title of Michael Stokes Paulsen's famous article about Lemon v. Kurtzman, an article that also focused (understandably) on the test and not the man.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Helping OklahomaJust a quick PSA-type post from this Tuscaloosan: Here are a few sites with suggestions about how to direct your aid for the victims of yesterday's tornado in Oklahoma.
Monday, May 20, 2013
Beware of "Town of Greece" Bearing Gifts
The Supreme Court has granted cert. in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a case out of the Second Circuit involving prayers given by guest chaplains before monthly town board meetings. Here is the SCOTUSBlog page, and here's the Second Circuit opinion by Judge Calabresi.
There has been a good deal of circuit court action involving legislative prayer, but the Supreme Court has basically not touched it since Marsh v. Chambers. Prediction is pointless, so I'll just say the following.
1) I talk about legislative prayers and similar cases in my book The Agnostic Age. I characterize the rulings in this area as "constitutional easements" over the Establishment Clause and argue that they are constitutionally problematic, at least, although I suggest that we might be better off letting sleeping dogs lie. (Andy Koppelman criticizes Marsh in similar terms in his excellent recent book, Defending American Religious Neutrality and says clearly that it should be overruled.) It would appear that the dogs are awake and hungry.
2) There is a good deal of consensus and friendship among law and religion scholars these days, at least in my view. The friendships will remain, I'm sure. But this is one case that will reveal the differences among us more starkly than many recent cases. I look forward to friendly disagreements with colleagues like Rick Garnett and Marc DeGirolami.
3) The best scholarly work in this area that I am aware of is by Christopher C. Lund. If you're interested in this case and these issues, you ought to read Chris's work. I hope we can get him over here for a timely guest stint at Prawfsblawg.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
First Amendment Institutions in the Law and Politics Book ReviewMy most recent book, First Amendment Institutions (it makes a good Victoria Day gift!), is reviewed in the latest issue of the Law and Politics Book Review by law professor Ruthann Robson. It's a tough but fair review. I welcome the criticism, and hope I may be forgiven for cherry-picking a couple of generous lines: the book "provides the most sustained, nuanced, and well-reasoned argument for an 'institutional turn' in First Amendment jurisprudence," and "admirably achieves" the goal of "open[ing] a conversation about First Amendment institutionalism, . . . providing a book that is worth reading, considering, and debating." Obviously, I hope people will read and even buy the book, and take part in that conversation. But it's very much meant to be a conversation, and Robson's criticisms are a valuable part of that. Read the whole review (and the book, of course!).
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
A Jot on "Balkan Ghosts"The latest con law "jot" from Jotwell: Pat Gudridge on Reva Siegel, balkanization, and equal protection. Enjoy!
Freedom of the Church Without Romance
I'm happy to share my latest draft paper, Freedom of the Church Without Romance. It was written for a symposium at the University of San Diego's law school called "Freedom of the Church in the Modern Era," and I must say that the articles coming out of that symposium, mine excepted, are very strong and will constitute excellent resources for those interested in the increasingly popular subjects of "freedom of the church," religious institutional autonomy, the ministerial exception, and related themes. Some of them are available for download here, and see also these pieces.
Every scholar has articles they're more or less proud of for one reason or another, and I'm quite proud of this one, for two reasons: (1) it takes an idea I have championed and associated myself with and subjects it to critical analysis, rather than simply defending it one more time; and (2) it makes the important (I think) point that church-state legal scholars ought to do much more with the substantial literature on the economics of religion. I hope others enjoy it, and I welcome comments. Here's the abstract:
This Article is part of a symposium issue titled "Freedom of the Church in the Modern Era." Freedom of the church, roughly, connotes the independent nature or sovereignty of the church. The most dramatic moment in its development was the eleventh century Investiture Controversy, with its confrontation between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV at Canossa, but it has a long prior and subsequent history. Recently, with the renewed scholarly interest in the institutional rights of churches and religious organizations and the Supreme Court's decision affirming the "ministerial exception" doctrine in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC,the idea of "freedom of the church" has taken on new champions--and critics.
This Article, from an author who has written supportively about freedom of the church and/or religious institutionalism in prior work, takes a deliberately unromantic look at freedom of the church. It evaluates it through two useful disciplinary lenses: history, and the economics of religion.
Both historical and economic analysis of the concept of"freedom of the church" suggest the following conclusions: (1) The concept should be treated carefully and with a full awareness of its mixed history, without undue romanticism on the part of its champions--or a confident conclusion on the part of its critics that it is no longer necessary. (2) Whatever the concept of "freedom of the church" means today, the present version is decidedly diminished and chastened, a shadow of the medieval version. Supporters of freedom of the church should welcome that fact. Freedom of the church persists, and may have continuing value, precisely because it has become so domesticated. (3) There are solid historical and economic grounds for some form of freedom of the church or religious institutional autonomy. In particular, religion's status as a credence good, whose value and reliability is certified by religious agents such as ministers, strongly suggests that state interference with religious employment relations can be dangerous to a church's well-being and long-term survival. (4) The history and economics of religion also teach us something about the optimal conditions for freedom of the church--the conditions under which it is likely to do the most good and the least harm. In particular, they suggest that champions of freedom of the church ought to welcome religious pluralism and a strong non-establishment regime.
The Article closes with some speculation about why there has been a recent revival of interest in freedom of the church, including the possibility that its resurgence, even if it is fully justified, also involves an element of rent-seeking by religious institutions.
There are two broader underlying suggestions as well. First, there are good reasons to support some version of freedom of the church, but it deserves a more critical and nuanced examination by friends and adversaries alike. Second, legal scholars writing on church-state issues have paid far too little attention to the literature on the economics of religion.
Two Moving TestimoniesHere are links to two recent powerful pieces of personal testimony, both dimly but only dimly law-related. The first is this moving letter-cum-tribute between law professor Charles Barzun and his illustrious grandfather, Jacques Barzun. The second, even more powerfully personal, is this piece by lawyer Tony Nitti, about suffering and recovering from a brain aneurysm, in which he observes and explains why, "when recovering from a life-threatening ailment, the real challenge often doesn’t begin until the healing is complete." Both are well worth reading.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Sunstein on Albert Hirschman
In the new New York Review of Books, Cass Sunstein has a very enjoyable essay on Albert Hirschman, jumping off of a recent biography. Hirschman's classic book Exit, Voice and Loyalty is well known to legal scholars, with some 870 cites in the Westlaw legal periodical database (including a good new piece by Heather Gerken in the Duke Law Journal). Indeed, I assume many of the authors who cite it have actually read the book! But Sunstein usefully shines a spotlight on other major works by Hirschman, which seem like natural reads for legal scholars but have gotten less attention from them. (In particular, Shifting Involvements, which has 54 cites, and The Rhetoric of Reaction, "a study of the reactionary’s tool kit, identifying the standard objections to any and all proposals for reform," a subject of central concern to much reform-oriented legal scholarship, which has only 84 cites.)
I found the following passage from Sunstein's celebratory essay especially valuable:
Hirschman was a great believer in doubt—he never doubted it—and he certainly doubted his own convictions. At a conference designed to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of his first book, who else would take the opportunity to show that one of his own central arguments was wrong? Who else would publish an essay in The American Economic Review exploring the “overproduction of opinionated opinion,” questioning the value of having strong opinions, and emphasizing the importance of doubting one’s opinions and even one’s tastes? . . . [Hirschman suggested] that doubt could be a source not of paralysis and death but of creativity and self-renewal. One of his last books, published when he was about eighty, is called A Propensity to Self-Subversion. In the title essay, Hirschman celebrates skepticism about his own theories and ideas, and he captures not only the insight but also the pleasure, even the joy, that can come from learning that one had it wrong.
This sounds, alas, like the exact opposite of the behavior and incentives of junior legal scholars (and too many senior scholars) today, as well as the law review editors to whom they often cater. I've complained here before about the apparent rise of excessive novelty claims in recent legal scholarship, including articles published in many leading law reviews, which in turn will only encourage that trend. Too many articles today claim, on dubious grounds, to be the "first" or "only" paper to consider some issue or make some argument. Combine that with the frequency of "unified theory" approaches in legal scholarship and the general overconfidence that prevails in the field, and you get a lot of hubris. Some of this is surely strategic; I've heard privately from various scholars who acknowledge that their articles and abstracts overclaim but swear they'll cut out those claims by the time the article has been accepted and moved into the editing process, a move I find questionable as an ethical matter and one they don't always follow through on anyway. But much of the hubris is genuine, and even when it's not it's still there in the articles and may leach into the writer's thinking.
It's possible that this is just a particular phase in the life-cycle of these scholars, just a function of brash youth and careerism, and that they will think better of it when they get older and wiser. Having built their careers on an insistence that they have offered a "new" and/or general theory, however, I fear that these scholars will only get older, not wiser, and that they will be boxed in by their earlier claims and by the trend in legal scholarship that they helped to encourage and benefited from. How many of them will come back to the work that launched them and consider whether it was wrong? If they do, will those sober second thoughts be prominently published, or noticed at all?
As a personal note, I should add that I have been guilty too, not so much of overclaiming as of providing sweeping general theories and approaches. And yet, the most fun I've had in my work recently has been on two pieces. One gives a more positive assessment to the use of equality in law and religion doctrine, about which I've been skeptical before. The other is a clinical and critical examination of "freedom of the church," of which I've written quite positively in several articles. Any idea worth championing is surely worth going back and reconsidering critically. Indeed, I would think a serious scholar has a positive obligation to reconsider and sometimes disclaim his own past work. I worry that the pace, structure, and incentives of legal scholarship don't much encourage this. Perhaps Ross Davies could start yet another legal journal, this one called "The Journal of Law and Second Thoughts."
Friday, May 03, 2013
Weekend Non-ReadingThis weekend, Yale Law School's Information Society Project will be holding a phenomenal conference on freedom of expression. The list of speakers and papers is here and it looks just great. I wish I could be there, but if you're in New Haven, stop by. (Why not, if you're in New Haven? You have someplace better to be?) Unfortunately, the papers are password protected, hence the "non-reading" in the title. Given that these are drafts I quite understand, but I hope the authors will be posting them on SSRN soon, or that the organizers will provide the password in a comment to this post. I hope everyone has a good time.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Tamanaha on Class and Law School Reform
Brian Tamanaha has posted on SSRN a short and enjoyable piece on my current favorite subject, apart from law and religion: social class and the legal academy. His paper, "The Failure of Crits and Leftist Law Professors to Defend Progressive Causes," is specifically about the failure of "progressive law professors" to do or say much about the problematic conditions Tamanaha explored in his book Failing Law Schools. From the abstract:
The pricing structure of legal education has profound class implications. High tuition will inhibit people from middle-class and poor families more than it will deter the offspring of the rich with ample resources. Law school scholarship policies, for reasons I will explain, in effect channel students with financial means to higher ranked law schools, reaping better opportunities, while sending students without money to lower law schools. A growing proportion of elite legal positions will be held by people from wealthy backgrounds as a result. For students who rely on borrowing to finance their legal education, the heavy debt they carry will dictate the types of jobs they seek and constrain the career they go on to have.
Liberal law professors often express concerns about class in American society — championing access to the legal profession and the provision of legal services for underserved communities. Yet as law school tuition rose to its current extraordinary heights, progressive law professors did nothing to resist it. This Article explores what happened and why.
This is offered in the spirit of critical legal studies — as a critical self-examination of the failure of leftist law professors. The Crits were highly critical of complacent liberal academics of their day, arguing that they had a hand in perpetuating an unjust legal system; here I charge liberal legal academia — including the Crits — with perpetuating the profoundly warped and harmful economics of legal education. What follows will offend many of my fellow liberals. It may even lose me some friends. Liberal law professors must see past their anger to reflect on whether there is a core truth to my arguments, to take personal responsibility for what has happened, and to engage in collective action to do something to alter the economics of our operation. If not, the current economic barrier to a legal career may become permanent.
Without endorsing it in whole, it's a worthwhile and certainly entertaining (if that's the right word) read. A couple of points. I'm not sure what kinds of personal responses Tamanaha has received to his book and other writings on law school reform, but he has made his point about potential personal costs before, and I'm not sure it needs to be made in general terms anymore. That's just a quibble, however. More important, I'm not sure why he focuses on the Crits and SALT. He makes his points about them well enough. But I would have thought that plain-vanilla liberals, including those who insist on calling themselves progressives, constitute a much, much larger and more influential sector of the legal academy than genuine members of the left. If their failures are less glaring and entertaining, their attention, embarrassment, and commitment are probably more important for purposes of actual reform.
Finally, as noted above, Tamanaha writes that "[l]iberal law professors often express concerns about class in American society." I would say in response: Not that often! As far as I can tell, they much prefer to write about other kinds of inequality and identity issues than about class. Understandably, perhaps. "Write what you know," the old adage goes. This is not an issue that the legal professoriate, and especially the elite legal professoriate, is likely to know as much about. I read and enjoyed, more or less, Duncan Kennedy's book on legal education, but I learned more, and more viscerally, about class from this critical review of the book than from the book itself.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
ABA Committee Discusses Tenure Requirements and Law School Accreditation
An interesting article here. The gist: the ABA law school accreditation committee is looking at several alternatives to the current requirement that all ABA-accredited schools have a system of tenure or comparable security for full-time faculty.
I fail to see the point of the third alternative the committee is considering, which basically strikes me as a rent-seeking move by clinical faculty. But the second alternative seems like a reasonable move to me: "[T]o move away from any tenure requirement. Schools would afford all full-time faculty some form of security of position, but each would decide what system that would be. (The interpretation of the standard stipulates that schools at minimum must have a system of long-term renewable contracts of at least five years.) Schools could adopt different rules for different types of faculty."
Of course, the even shorter gist is probably accurately contained in the only comment currently posted on the NLJ story: "If you're betting on this question, bet on the ABA committee to avoid anything controversial. Really, bar association junkies, how often does any such committee do anything bold?"
Monday, April 29, 2013
The New York Times on Friday ran a long and detailed story about, to put it simply, political- and profit-driven laxity and fraud in the payout of the settlement fund in the Pigford litigation alleging discrimination against black farmers in federal lending. The story is well worth reading. Once nice anecdote, among many (and yes, the story also provides real data), involves a speech given at a Baptist church in Little Rock by the head of something called the "Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association," in which he boasts "that he and his four siblings had all collected awards, and his sister had acquired another $50,000 on behalf of their dead father." He concludes: "Let’s get the judge to go to work writing them checks! They have just opened the bank vault."
Two observations. First, as the story notes, the political and moral pressure that led to the substantial and often nonsensical payouts in the black farmers' case is also influencing parallel litigation involving women, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Here's an excerpt about the latter category of litigation, in which the Obama administration began settlement negotations in 2009 despite the fair prospect of victory if it had proceeded to ligitation:
Only 4,400 people filed claims, with 3,600 winning compensation at a cost of roughly $300 million. That left $460 million unspent — of which roughly $400 million under the terms of the settlement must be given to nonprofit groups that aid Native American farmers.
Ross Racine, the director of the Intertribal Agricultural Council, based in Montana, said his organization, with an annual budget of just $1 million, is perhaps the biggest eligible group. But many others are lining up to share the windfall, he said.
“Everybody is looking at this money on the table and saying, ‘Give me some because I am a good guy,’ ” he said.
The remaining $60.8 million will go to the plaintiffs’ lawyers, led by the Washington firm Cohen, Milstein, Sellers & Toll. In court papers, the firm argued that the size of the payment was justified partly by the fact that the settlement nearly equaled the maximum estimate of economic damages. Joseph M. Sellers, the lead counsel, acknowledged the unspent amount was unexpectedly big. But “absent a court order,” he said, “we don’t intend to return it.”
Second, I was curious about how legal scholars had treated this settlement. It's not my area, but I would assume that problems with this litigation and the settlement fund were or should have been well-known by anyone working in the field. Certainly, given the vagueness of the proof requirements, the political pressure to settle generously, the incentives of plaintiffs' lawyers, and the common use of distributions of massive amounts of money to public-interest groups as part of the buyoff process, it would be no surprise to anyone that both individual fraud and what we might call public interest graft are possible side-effects of such settlements, and this should be especially interesting to those working on reparations issues. My search of the literature was less than scientific, but for the most part the discussions I found were either neutral or positive, with little or no acknowledgment made of these potential problems. Nor have I seen much on the legal blogs yet about this story. I trust that the Civil Procedure & Federal Courts Blog and the Native American Law Blog, among other obvious sites, will take note of the story.
Friday, April 26, 2013
What Happened to Occupy?
The Financial Times has a well-done roundup review of several books about the Occupy Wall Street movement, mostly by people involved in it. The short version: "A sympathetic reader of these books will end up with the slightly exasperated feeling that Occupy wasted its chance as a political movement." A couple of observations:
1) Past Prawfs guest Bernard Harcourt of Chicago appears in the review, with a quote from his essay in one of these collections. This is just a guess, but when the dean at the University of Chicago Law School sent a memo to the faculty urging them to assist the efforts of its students and recent graduates to occupy Wall Street, I doubt this is what he had in mind.
2) I love this quote from Michael Taussig, a Columbia anthropology prof who also wrote an essay for a collection. As the review puts it, "Taussig hails the coming together [in Zucotti Park] of a 'community defining itself through a new language and sense of collective': this, he reflects, is a problem for politicians and experts who 'want to channel the messianic and transgressive impulse into their own need for pathological fame and power'." The use of "pathologicial" is especially nice here; why let people think for themsevles when you can just insert a pseudo-diagnostic adjective? But I would have thought that politicians and experts who wanted to pursue fame and power would have been delighted by the Occupy movement.
3) There are probably lessons in here for the popular front of the law school reform movement.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Interesting Reading on Current Events
Two interesting posts from VC in the last day on current events in Boston. The first, from Stewart Baker, asserts that the ACLU and EFF were wrong about thing #1, and concludes that they therefore must also be wrong about thing #2. The second, from Eugene Kontorovich, laments (I think) that the two Chechen suspects "have succeeded in turning Boston, America’s cradle of liberty, into a prison," a situation that shows "that it is not just the civil liberties of terrorists at stake, but also those of millions of innocent civilians." He adds that, if these suspects are actually part of the group of Chechen Islamic terrorists from abroad and if that threat has come to the United States, then "dealing with such a threat would also be impossible with a politically correct approach to counter-terror that, for example, turns away from talking frankly about the terrorists['] profiles and motives," which would mean, well, I'm not sure what, but it sure would be better than "obscene lines and searches at airports."
Search me if I can figure out exactly what the hell either of them are talking about. But, like I said, interesting posts.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Blackman on "History" and Biochemistry
In an enjoyable and well-written post, Josh Blackman asks whether originalist questions present anything more difficult or different from other complex questions the courts are called on to resolve. He writes:
A common attack on originalism is that judges are not trained historians, and lack the skills to understand the nuance and context of history. I have never found this argument particularly compelling, because judges are frequently called on to understand complicated disciplines outside the law. . . .[M]y point goes more to methodology than substance. Judges are called on to understand difficult concepts. Relying on briefs by attorneys who specialize in these areas, judges, by their best lights, come to an answer. . . . History seems to be even closer to the area judges train in than biochemistry. Considering the competing briefs of historians allows for an adversarial review of the original public meaning of certain concepts.
With respect, I think this is not yet a sufficient response. For one thing, judges could of course do both badly. The fact that judges are (or consider themselves) called on to decide complicated issues in other fields doesn't mean they do it well, so it doesn't tell us whether it's a problem with respect to history; it just tells us it's not a unique problem.
For another, in many such areas there is a substantial administrative agency structure in place to allow first-order evaluation of these questions by experts with significant experience in the field. Much of the question for judges then becomes what level of deference to apply and when. That's less true of history; there's no Federal History Agency taking a first stab at these questions. Yet again, the questions that arise with respect to biochemistry may have readily falsifiable answers that help to weed out clearly wrong opinions; the questions that arise in history may not.
Blackman is right that it's ultimately a question of methodology, certainly. But that also suggests a difference. Courts, or courts in concert with the administrative state, may seek ways to avoid having to decide difficult technical questions outside their expertise. But originalism, of whatever variety, is an approach to constitutional law that actively forces judges into a field in which they arguably lack expertise. It increases rather than decreases the epistemological problem. If you were looking for a judicial methodology of constitutional interpretation that avoided putting judges in a position for which they're ill-suited, presumably you would focus on what judges do well and often--crunching doctrine--rather than on an approach that requires them to do history. Originalists argue that they are required to do some form of history because that is what legitimate constitutional interpretation requires. Presumably, then, they would argue that whether they can do it well or not, it's what they're called upon to do just the same, and Article V will serve as a safety valve. Fair enough, if you accept the premise (I don't). But it's still an odd ex ante choice of method if what you care about is comparative institutional expertise.
A slightly different but related answer, and I think an accurate one, is to say that originalist judges aren't "doing history" in any sense in which actual historians would describe their own field. They're doing a legal activity that consists of deriving present meaning from text based on the original public understanding of language. They're doing so in a way that is constrained in various respects in terms of sources, goals, selection effects (the fact that judges are trying to answer a specific question about a contemporary legal issue, and so will be affected by presentist concerns, rather than at least taking on a broad question with less of an interested starting-point), and so on. The results of that method may be judged in various ways; of these, historical accuracy is one but hardly the only measure. Historians, and historians' briefs, may aid them in this endeavor, but not much and rarely definitively. (And do judges really listen to historians anyway?) What they do may be closer to etymology than history. I doubt they have much expertise here either. But it's at least valuable to have a more precise understanding of what they're doing, rather than use "history" as a catchall label or judge their efforts by the standards of a related but different field altogether.
The ultimate question is whether originalism is required of judges engaged in constitutional interpretation or not; I can't answer that question here. But if it is, it won't matter much whether they're good or bad at it, or whether they're any better or worse at that than at deciding cases involving biochemistry. Still, we recognize in all kinds of ways that judges are lousy at biochemistry and seek ways of avoiding the necessity of doing so, or of limiting their work in this area to questions and methods they're capable of dealing with. Originalism does the opposite: it requires judges to dive headlong into an area of inquiry--but don't call it "history!"--at which they're arguably not especially able. I doubt the comparison between history and biochemistry is entirely apt, for the reasons I've given; but if it is, I don't see why it should comfort us any.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
OMFG It's the Michigan Law Review Books Issue
The annual books issue of the Michigan Law Review is always one of my favorite law review issues of the year. (Yes, some of us still think in terms of law review "issues.") For one thing, I love books and am glad to see them get attention in the legal periodical literature--especially now that I've written a couple of the suckers. For another, too many law reviews, for totally understandable reasons that have to do with getting cite counts rather than actually serving the cause of legal scholarship, do too little book reviewing. Also, from a sheer reader's perspective, book reviews are often among the best-written things in law reviews, both because they can skip over the usual massive literature review section and (I am now coming to think) because the format tamps down on the need for ridiculously overextended "novelty" claims.
Anyway, this year's issue is now out and available online. It includes my review of Brian Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools and Walter Olson's Schools for Misrule, but it also has many good pieces. Enjoy!
Symposium on When the State SpeaksMy friends at Concurring Opinions are running an online symposium this week on Corey Brettschneider's book, When the State Speaks, What Should It Say?: How Democracies Can Protect Expression and Promote Equality. I'm participating and have a couple of posts up--one a set of general questions, and the other more focused on Brettschneider's discussion of religious liberty. By all means, surf on over and check out those posts and others, including Brettschneider's responses as he posts them.
Wednesday, April 03, 2013
The [tk] State of North Carolina
Here is a nice story about a House bill in North Carolina that declares that "the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion," and that the "North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion." It has eleven sponsors so far, all Republicans.
Note that the bill does not appear to be making the "jurisdictional" argument that the Establishment Clause does not prohibit state establishments and has been wrongly interpreted to do so through incorporation. Rather, it appears to be based on some kind of bouillabaise of nullification, popular constitutionalism, something like federalism, and denial of the power of federal judicial review. It says:
The Constitution of the United States does not grant the federal government and does not grant the federal courts the power to determine what is or is not constitutional; therefore, by virtue of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the power to determine constitutionality and the proper interpretation and proper application of the Constitution is reserved to the states and to the people. . . Each state in the union is sovereign and may independently determine how that state may make laws respecting an establishment of religion.
The bill does not say anything about whether its theory of interpretation and authority applies to any other federal constitutional provisions, such as the Speech Clause. It also does not actually require establishment, nor does it say which religion the state would establish if it went ahead and did so. Here's hoping it goes with Islam, in the spirit of using states as laboratories of experimentation.