February 26, 2006

Listening to Supreme Court arguments.

A reader emails:
A few weeks back you mentioned in passing that audio of Supreme Court arguments are available at www.oyez.org In the context you seemed to imply that they would be of interest mainly to lawyers.

I went and downloaded one anyway. I picked one pretty much at random and listened to the pros and cons of whether executing a 17 years old was cruel and unusual.

I was hooked.

I have since listened to 10-12 cases including Kelo, the cases involving detainees in Cuba and SC, Grokster, Lessig on copyright, Barnett on medical marijuana and a few more. They are fascinating. I thought that they would be full of Latin and complex legal stuff but for the most part they are not. Even a layman like me can understand most of them.

For example, I was rabidly against the decision in Kelo (expropriation in New London) and still am. But now at least I understand the other side of the argument which I did not before. I can even see why it was decided the way it was.

I like the strict 30 minute per side format with each side having to give their best shot with no bloviating. I like the justices questioning each side and seeing what they are thinking. I've probably learned more about how the Supremes work than all the civics courses and books have taught me. It is so much more alive than just reading the transcripts.

The purpose of this note is twofold. First, to thank you for bringing this to my attention. Second, I think you should blog about it. There are probably others out there who might enjoy and profit from this.

If this question is too nosy please just ignore it. I have wondered whether you are a lawyer (in the sense of actually being admitted to the bar). I know that you are a law professor but does one need to be a lawyer to be a law professor? For example, I teach engineering but am not an engineer. I do not mean anything by the question, you certainly come across as knowlegable on the law. Just curiosity.
Great points. I think all sorts of people can benefit from listening to these arguments. People tend to react to the outcomes of cases, following their political preferences, and tend to assume that the Justices must just be voting politically. That's pretty much the way the press presents it. The arguments nicely demonstrate the legal dimension of the cases and can, as you say, make you appreciate the reasons that a case you don't like came out the way it did. And it is inspiring to hear a group of smart, intensely concentrating human beings discussing a difficult problem in such a precise and calm way.

To answer that question at the end: It's possible to be a law professor without going to law school, but I should think that any law professor that went to law school would have also taken the step of passing the bar, though perhaps not. In any case, I went to NYU School of Law and was admitted to the bar in New York, where I practiced law for two years (at Sullivan and Cromwell). I've been officially "retired from the practice of law" for many years.

ADDED: The reader is John R. Henry.

16 comments:

Dave said...

Isn't Milton Friemdan's son David Friedman a law professor? He never went to law school as far as I recall?

(No relation to me, BTW.)

John Jenkins said...

I'm not sure about the abstract question of needing a J.D. (or equivalent) to teach law school, but as a practical matter I think the chances are close to zero for anyone without a J.D. to get an appointment at a U.S. law school today given the competition for those slots.

Wade_Garrett said...

The Supreme Court oral arguments are great! I somewhat prefer the C-Span versions, which show photographs of the Justice or attorney speaking. At this point, I can pretty much identify what judge is speaking from the sound of their voice, but for non-lawyers, or for those who don't listen to these oral arguments often, it would be nice to know who's speaking.

Wade_Garrett said...

I would imagine that the non-lawyers on law school faculties would tend to have business/accounting backgrounds, and teach tax or business law from the tax or business perspective, or, perhaps at Notre Dame or Georgetown or something, a theologian to teach ethics in law. I don't think you'd ever have a non-lawyer teaching torts or Con Law!

Ann Althouse said...

Terry: You can get the hang of who's speaking by learning the voices after a lawyer calls the Justices by name. Considering that 1 or 2 are women, and easily identified, and that Justice Thomas almost never speaks, it doesn't take that long to get up to speed. Breyer has a very distinctive speech pattern, so he's easy. Rehnquist was very easy too: he had this oddly bored sound, to my ear. But it takes a while to be able to distinguish Scalia, Souter, Stevens, and Kennedy. And I'm not so sure about the two new guys. Based on the confirmation hearings, I don't think they are very distinctive.

Balfegor said...

Isn't Milton Friemdan's son David Friedman a law professor? He never went to law school as far as I recall?

Another famous law professor who does not seem to have a JD is Kip Viscusi.

I'm not sure about the abstract question of needing a J.D. (or equivalent) to teach law school, but as a practical matter I think the chances are close to zero for anyone without a J.D. to get an appointment at a U.S. law school today given the competition for those slots.

Maybe, especially for younger faculty. I expect if you have attained some other distinction over a somewhat lengthier career, though, you can still end up on a law faculty.

alkali said...

[Reader] ... does one need to be a lawyer to be a law professor?

I can name one exception: Steven Shavell, an economist who teaches law and economics at Harvard. I think Stanley Fish and Martha Nussbaum (who I believe are Ph.D.s in English and Philosophy, respectively) teach classes at the law schools at the university where they are professors, although I don't know if they are technically on the law faculty.

[Althouse] ... I should think that any law professor that went to law school would have also taken the step of passing the bar, though perhaps not. ...

I can name one who didn't: Duncan Kennedy.

bearbee said...

Thanks for providing the link. Listening to Kelo... suggestion of 'blight jurisprudence' by the lawyer seems to bring on the giggles.

tech question......I am getting an echo. Is that the audio or my connection (dsl)? Suspect it is my connection.

re: C-Span, what is the link to the various audios?

Wade_Garrett said...

Bearbee -- try the "oral argument mp3 file" link, instead of the "mp3/SMIL" link. That should take care of your problem for you.

bearbee said...

Terry- Thanks..perfect audio.

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Don't you think a link to your former employers would've been in order?

Ryan Hatch said...

If you like good oral arguments, check out J. Posner on the 7th cir. http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/fdocs/docs.fwx?dname=arg. He's the one with the high-pitched voice. Since these are panels of three judges, you might have to try a few before you get a Posner argument. One trick is to first check the opinion, which lists the judges, and then use the docket # to index the oral arguments.

Hey said...

Prof. Bainbridge is a law professor who isn't admitted to the bar in the state where he teaches, though from his statements he does seem to have passed the bar somewhere (it's not on his CV and I couldn't find anythign clarifying on his website). He mentioned this in a post on the failure of the Dean of Stanford Law to pass the California Bar Exam, saying how he was too chicken to even try the notoriously difficult California Bar.

Ann Althouse said...

Hey, well, I'm sure that's very common. I'm not a member of the bar of the state where I teach either.

Patrick said...

I went Yale and I had a number of professors who I don't believe were admitted to any state bar. They would do one or two years clerking and then immediately start teaching (so they could theoretically be teaching students with whom they had previosly taken law school classes).

These professors include Markovits, Amar, Yoshino, and Whitman. None of these professors list any outside legal experience or bar admittance in their online biographies.

Since Yale is generally not focused on teaching anything useful for practicing attorneys the lack of (nonclerkship) legal experience is not really a detriment.

I also had several professors that earned LL.B. degrees instead of a J.D. I am not really sure what the difference is and they are both law degrees.

Ann Althouse said...

Patrick: 3-year law degrees were originally called LLBs. Later, they just changed the term to get "doctor" into it -- a bit fraudulently, don't you think? LLM is still a higher degree than JD. Does that make sense?