What I Loved Most About Law School

There’s a lot of useful advice going around about how to succeed in law school, how to take advantage of its myriad opportunities, and how to set yourself up for a happy and productive career.  I have written about how to create a good law school outline, and how to read critically by using deductive reasoning.   What is most enjoyable to relate, however, is why law school was the most enjoyable educational experience of my life.  I loved law school so much.  Every year I force myself to revisit the extraordinary experience of law school in order to better understand my students.  What follows are some of the reasons law school was such an educational treat.

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Evaluating and Treating the “Campus Free Speech Problem”

A few weeks ago, Vox ran an article arguing, based mostly on a preliminary study by Georgetown University’s Free Speech Project, that the campus free speech crisis is overblown.  The article, like many popular media pieces describing academic research, is a bit misleading and overstates the conclusions of the studies it cites.  The article also downplays the scope of the campus free speech problem, even given the data.  But the article does require those of us who care about free speech values to reflect on the true nature of the “campus free speech problem.”  I think its true nature lies in chilling self-censorship, partially caused by the extent to which schools lack meaningful intellectual diversity and cultivate an atmosphere where social justice exists in tension with genuine academic pursuits.

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Which 1L Class Are You?

Have you ever wanted to know which first-year law school class epitomizes your personality?  (I bet you do now.)  Take this quiz and find out.

  1. Your favorite genre of television series is:
    1. Gritty crime series
    2. Reality TV
    3. Businessperson intrigue shows
    4. Feel-good human dramas
    5. Quiz game shows
    6. Westerns
  1. Your favorite subject in school growing up was:
    1. Philosophy
    2. English literature
    3. Math
    4. History
    5. Foreign languages
    6. Biology
  1. For fun, you like to:
    1. Write dark poetry about justice
    2. Play pranks on friends
    3. Negotiate at flea markets
    4. Debate unanswerable questions
    5. Play strategy games
    6. Browse real estate rentals
  1. Which of the following sounds like the most interesting topic to discuss:
    1. Does free will exist?
    2. How much would someone have to pay you to cut off a finger?
    3. Should we legalize the sale of organs like kidneys?
    4. Should language evolve to incorporate incorrect uses of words?
    5. Does every hero need a villain? Does that make the Joker less evil?
    6. What does it mean to own something?
  1. Which line from a song most resonates with you?
    1. I fought the law, and, the law won.
    2. I didn’t mean to hurt you…I’m sorry that I made you cry.
    3. If you can make a promise, if it’s one that you can keep, I vow to come for you, if you will wait for me.
    4. Bring me a higher love. Where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?
    5. I am not throwing away my shot. I’m just like my country; I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot.
    6. Ah, home, let me go home. Home is wherever I’m with you.
  1. One of your weirdest qualities is:
    1. Obsession with serial killers.
    2. Laughing at inappropriate times.
    3. Loving to make charts and graphs, or quantify everything.
    4. Perennially indecisive.
    5. Fascination with very specific details.
    6. You love obscure terms that have almost no relevant usage today.
  2. How do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?
    1. Depends where I am.
    2. However is most efficient and fair.
    3. According to the specs I decided beforehand.
    4. However I want!
    5. The optimal way to get me motivated for the day.
    6. The way my family has done for generations.


Results are below the jump.

  Continue reading “Which 1L Class Are You?”

“Good Orthodoxy” and the Legacy of Barnette (draft), Posted on SSRN.

The latest draft of my Essay, “Good Orthodoxy” and the Legacy of Barnette, is posted on SSNR.  Here is the abstract.

This Essay applies the much-revered case of West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, which held that public school students may not be forced to stand and salute the American flag, to what I call the “good orthodoxy” context.  In so doing, I hope to build a bridge between partisans on issues of free speech.

In good orthodoxy cases, the individual claiming a right against compelled speech seeks to overturn a law or policy that was designed to remedy the harms committed against or to otherwise benefit historically marginalized groups.  These good orthodoxy cases are both similar to and different from Barnette, where the Supreme Court held that the state cannot compel “unanimity of opinion” in support of patriotism or nationalism.  Using examples such as public accommodations laws that compel production of expressive goods, union dues for public sector unions, and diversity statements at public law schools, I will demonstrate how new groups of dissenters are created in response to policies designed to protect historically marginalized or disadvantaged groups — instead of laws designed to compel respect for authority.

Because of the differences between Barnette and the good orthodoxy cases, I argue that courts should be cautious before holding that the modern cases implicate pure speech, as opposed to expressive conduct or unprotected conduct.  However, when pure speech is implicated, these laws or policies should be generally overturned as failing to satisfy strict scrutiny.  Specifically, dignitary interests designed to protect individuals’ sense of acceptance in the community should generally not be considered sufficient to compel unanimity of opinion, and indeed, dignitary interests often indicate that what is being imposed is conformity to particular values.

Here is the link.

The Truth, Lies, and Extremes of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Stunning “Who is America?”

Sacha Baron Cohen’s new show, “Who is America?” has been almost enough to shake me from my devout political moderatism.  As someone already worried that society’s critical thinking skills are dwindling, I was still shocked by the illogic of the politicians interviewed, especially those on the political right.  As someone who believes that we are not forthright and measured enough when championing certain political causes, I was still stunned by the deception, displayed by both those interviewed and Cohen himself.  The combined effect was almost enough to allow me to embrace the very thing the show ultimately condemns — angry, hateful extremism and the stereotyping of others.

After watching four episodes, I cannot endorse all of Cohen’s tactics, but I am glad someone out there (but only one person) is successfully using them.  Some of the tactics likely do not expose real truths that outweigh the exploitative nature of lying to interview subjects, but instead reveal an all-too-human deference to authority.  Other tactics of Cohen’s seem to expose something true, and truly grotesque.  In this blog, I explain the differences between several of Cohen’s tactics, and how these differences affect my conclusions about the show.  Also, do watch the show for yourself, and let’s have a conversation about it (or, if nothing else, watch this rap battle).  This blog contains some spoilers.

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3D Printable Guns as Free Speech?

Yesterday, a federal judge in Seattle issued a temporary restraining order preventing Defense Distributed, an organization championing open source code to make guns available to the public, from publishing its blueprints for printing plastic, working 3D guns.  Defense Distributed had posted the code several days earlier, prior to its stated August 1 release, but the code was removed immediately following the restraining order’s issue.  The temporary restraining order was issued after eight states and the District of Columbia sued the State Department for reversing course and settling with Defense Distributed after prohibiting the distribution of the Computer Aided Design files as a violation of gun export laws.

In an initial lawsuit, the federal government wished to block Defense Distributed from posting its open source code.  The State Department had opposed a temporary restraining order sought by Defense Distributed against enforcement of gun export laws.  A federal district court and the Fifth Circuit agreed and refused to issue Defense Distributed the restraining order, thereby temporarily blocking the posting of code by Defense Distributed until a resolution at trial.  However, in what several states and D.C. deem a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Tenth Amendment, the federal government recently settled and permitted the posting of Computer Aided Design files.

Leaving aside the questions of whether the government’s reversal of position unconstitutionally infringes upon state police powers or is arbitrary and capricious or ultra vires, Defense Distributed’s underlying First Amendment claim exposes some uncomfortable and conflicting truths about the First Amendment.  Speech can lead to harm but is not itself physically harmful.  This very attenuation between speech and harm is what gives speech its special protection.  Arguments that speech leads to harm (such as in cases of violent song lyrics or incendiary political views) are generally rejected by courts hearing First Amendment challenges.  If speech can be regulated because it ultimately causes harm, very little speech would be protected.  However, if the government has a compelling interest in regulating speech and a law is narrowly tailored to serve that interest, courts will (rarely) allow a government regulation of speech in order to prevent harm.  This mixture of necessarily principled protection of even harmful speech with harms balancing in extreme cases makes this particular scenario, involving open source gun code, a hard, unpredictable, and important test case.

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How to Talk About Immigration, Hate Crimes, and #MeToo, or Being a Moderate Academic Among Political Extremists

Moderates are vilified, even in mainstream political discussions, for contributing to any number of social ills, simply by touting principles such as open-mindedness and civil discourse.  Too many see important issues as involving only one side.  They take the unhelpful (and logically fallacious) view that unless you’re fully supporting a cause, you are undermining the cause.  Just this week, my signing up for an email list that advocates for immigrants’ rights directed me to a fundraiser denouncing moderates for their willingness to “listen to both sides.”  Two other links sent to me by friends this week – one on the hate crime charges against the man who yelled at a woman for wearing a T-shirt depicting the Puerto Rican flag, and one on the accusations against author Junot Diaz – are good opportunities to reflect on how ever-vanishing moderates can help save our political discourse and culture.

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First Amendment Cynicism, The Janus Dissent, and the Soul of the First Amendment

A strong form of legal realism, or the view that judges analyze and interpret the law to achieve the policy results they want, can be a self-fulfilling prophesy.   Believing that judges disingenuously use the law for their own political aims makes people support judges who disingenuously use the law for political aims with which they agree.  When it comes to constitutional interpretation, principled people can easily become partisans if they believe that their political opponents are using the Constitution in a partisan way.  A vicious cycle ensues.  The perception that the Constitution has been captured by the left (say, the Warren Court) leads the right to want to interpret the Constitution in a partisan way (say, the Burger Court), causing the left to perceive this politicization and want to capture the Supreme Court.

This cycle is especially corrosive in the First Amendment arena.  The vitality of the First Amendment requires judges to create standards for First Amendment protection that are independent of speech’s viewpoint.  However, if the First Amendment is either contracted or expanded in a partisan way, to achieve other policy goals (say, social justice or the dismantling of unions), First Amendment cynicism threatens our most uniquely American right.  If the First Amendment is read too narrowly, we lose critical free speech rights.  However, if the First Amendment is read too broadly – to invalidate laws that don’t actually implicate speech — we lose respect for the Amendment’s guarantees.  This lack of respect, or First Amendment cynicism, ultimately threatens our speech rights as well.

When even the American Civil Liberties Union has retreated from its principled defense of First Amendment protection, the soul of the First Amendment is in jeopardy.  Below are some reasons for our First Amendment cynicism and some thoughts on how to reinvigorate rule of law values.

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Justice Kennedy’s Imprint on Masterpiece Cakeshop and Becerra

The Court today in Becerra held invalid California’s laws requiring pro-life “crisis pregnancy centers” to alert customers that (1) the state provides low cost family planning services, including abortion services, in the case of licensed pregnancy-care facilities, or (2) that the facility is unlicensed, in the case of unlicensed facilities. Becerra is a speech case, and Masterpiece Cakeshop, decided earlier this month, was predicated on religious animus grounds (although really should be thought of as a speech case).  However, the two cases seem greatly influenced by Justice Kennedy’s antipathy towards the state’s deciding, in a heavy-handed (perhaps arrogant) way, what is best for its citizens to think.

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