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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Steve Shiffrin and Our Luck

Mike Dorf reports that Steve Shiffrin, an emeritus professor at Cornell Law and a leading scholar on the First Amendment, has died. I am particularly grateful for his books The First Amendment, Democracy, and Romance and Dissent, Injustice, and the Meanings of America and the excellent First Amendment casebook of which he was a co-editor, and for his articles Religion and DemocracyThe Pluralistic Foundations of the Religion Clauses, and The Dark Side of the First Amendment. One could add many more major contributions to the list. On a personal and a scholarly level, he will be missed.

One thing I didn't know about Steve, and discovered upon looking at his faculty page just now, is that he was a night student in law school, at Loyola Los Angeles, where he was editor of the law review and first in his class. He also did graduate work in "Speech Communication" at UCLA, but remained ABD. These are real accomplishments, and anyone who has taught night students will tell you they can be some of the finest and certainly some of the most serious and dedicated students one has the privilege of teaching. Nevertheless, they depart from the conventional paths to law teaching, then and now. His students, colleagues, and readers have cause to be grateful that this didn't stop him and that various people along the way must have seen his promise and offered him the opportunities of which he made full use. Sarah Lawsky's annual entry-level hiring report indicates that a decent number of people still emerge from elsewhere than the usual schools and fellowships but that the usual suspects remain the norm. What we get from looking under the lamppost, as we do so often when hiring, is not so much brilliance as it is safety and efficiency (as well as conventionality, although I'm not sure this is something law schools are actively seeking by putting students through the standardization process of fellowships; it may be more of a side-effect). What we lose is the potential reward of simple chance and raw promise. It's a loss to be lamented, and a reason both to look more widely when hiring and to reconsider the deadening effects of the high tenure rates that prevail in American law schools. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on May 31, 2023 at 05:00 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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