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Saturday, November 14, 2015

Are you kidding me, ABA-LSD Moot Court edition

I just read the record for the next National Appellate Advocacy Competition, sponsored by the ABA's Law Student Division. The case involves prosecution of a police officer under the federal hate crimes statute, arising out of a racially charged shooting during a traffic stop; the issues involve Fourth Amendment protections for an employee's work locker and the proper causation standard under the statute. In the "case," the district court denied a motion to suppress and convicted the officer in a bench trial and the court of appeals reversed.

Buried in the "opinion" of the appellate court is this: "We fear that Judge Marshall allowed his personal feelings as a black man to color his view of the evidence."

Are you kidding me? This is the worst kind of cable-news-legal-argument crap that we try really hard (often unsuccessfully) to get our students past. Did students put the problem together? Are there any adults keeping an eye on them?

Do they really believe courts are these overtly craven? Are they really lending credence to the offensive-on-its-face notion that a black judge would let his race cloud his judgment in some way that any other person would not (which of course necessarily means that a black judge could never hear a hate-crimes case with a black victim)? And even if you accept the offensive-on-its-face notion, do they really believe that a court of appeals judge would ever say this in writing in the opinion for the court? Do they really want students making this argument (or having to address questions about this from the bench) during the competition--after all, anything appearing in the court of appeals opinion should be a basis for arguing for affirmance? At the very least, they have forced the advocates into the corner of having to deal with something totally disconnected from reality. It is difficult enough to keep moot court competitions grounded in something that looks remotely like real life--adding this bit of Fox News fantasy does not help.

The great Judge Leon Higginbotham addressed, and destroyed, the argument that an African-American with a history of involvement in civil rights could not hear a race-discrimination case. He was forced to do that in response to a motion by a party--in 1974, the Dark Ages, relatively speaking. By contrast, when supporters of California's Proposition 8 argued that Judge Vaughn Walker (who is gay) should have recused himself, they went out of their way "to emphasize at the outset that we are not suggesting that a gay or lesbian judge could not sit on this case." Now the creators of an advocacy competition, sponsored by what is supposed to be the professional association for lawyers and judges, have a federal judge saying just that, in a published judicial opinion. [Update: A reader emailed to remind me that the imaginary court of appeals judge would have had to convince two imaginary colleagues to join him in accusing a lower-court judge of misunderstanding the case because he is black]

I should say that all of this is especially unfortunate, because the problem they came up with a is pretty good, especially the hate crimes part. It has become increasingly difficult to convict police officers of civil rights violations, given § 242's specific-intent requirement--so much so that the federal government does not try very often. Going through § 249 might offer a new strategy in certain cases.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 14, 2015 at 12:21 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

Isn't this pretty clearly intended to mirror the arguments made by Prop 8 proponents in the 9th circuit in 2011 re Judge Walker?

Posted by: johnq | Nov 19, 2015 2:46:11 PM

Totally unrealistic and totally offensive.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 14, 2015 5:20:47 PM

Isn't it possible - likely, even - that the students who wrote this don't think that a black judge would let his race cloud his judgment, but do think (incorrectly) that a court of appeals could think and say so, and are trying to put the contestants to the task of dealing on appeal with an offensive remark in a lower-court opinion? While it's extremely unlikely that a court of appeals would ever accuse a judge of allowing his race to cloud his judgment, lower courts do sometimes say some pretty stupid things, and dealing with that can be a challenge for both parties to an appeal.

Posted by: Asher Steinberg | Nov 14, 2015 2:32:22 PM

Completely agree. My school is canceling our participation as a result. Ridiculous!

Posted by: AnonProf | Nov 14, 2015 1:37:13 PM

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