February 27, 2007

I respond to letters about two NYT columns (on abortion and law school).

The NYT today has three letters on my Feb. 24 column, "Rudy & Mitt Hem & Haw on Abortion." And, check it out, the first one is from Floyd Abrams:
Ann Althouse’s apologia for the so obviously politically crafted shifts in position on abortion by Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney is undeserved....

Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney have a similar problem, one not to their credit. Running as Republicans in liberal Northeastern areas, both sought to reassure pro-choice voters that they had nothing to fear from their election.

Now, both seek to appease pro-life Republicans elsewhere in the country by assuring them that their views are truly conservative, that they will appoint “strict constructionist” (read anti-Roe v. Wade) judges and the like.

Neither candidate deserves what Ms. Althouse refers to as “decent sympathy” for their expression of complex views, since there is nothing complex about waffling.

Who knows, after all, what views either of these politicians ever actually had or has now? All we do know is how far both are prepared to go to be elected.
I certainly concede these political realities. I simply defend their statements in spite of that. Of course, politicians are political. Deal with it! But abortion is a difficult issue and those who craft complex positions deserve some sympathy. Otherwise, you're left with those who stay at the crisp extremes.

Basically, I like the sort of liberal(ish) Republican that can succeed in a blue state, and the point of the column is to show that their convoluted statements are not as ridiculous as they appear on first read.

The second letter is from Nancy N. Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, and she mainly (and unsurprisingly) stakes out the position in favor of abortion rights (which, remember, I support). But let me focus on the last part:
Unless a woman can make her own decisions about her life, she isn’t in control of her future. Allowing states to take away women’s fundamental human rights is not a “part of our freedom,” as Ann Althouse writes, but rather the tyranny she fears.
This refers to my discussion of Giuliani's garbled sounding comment about "how it’s 'part of our freedom' for the legislatures in the various states to make their own decisions about law." I say:
If Roe were overruled, [state] legislatures would decide how to regulate abortion. And decentralized legislation really is fairly called “part of our freedom” because the Constitution’s framers saw the balance of power between the national government and the states as a safeguard against tyranny.
All I'm doing there is explaining the sense of what Giuliani said. It isn't my preference to return the question of abortion to the states, and I don't think it's Giuliani's. But if Roe were overturned, the question would go back to the states, and there is a question what that would be like. What would happen?

In thinking about this eventuality, it is helpful to remember that the federalism has long been considered a structural safeguard that has something to do with individual liberty. As I have written here before, there is plenty of reason to be suspicious of how well that kind of safeguard could work, but my point remains: It was not incoherent or bizarre for Giuliani to connect federalism and freedom.

The third letter comes from a reader who is pro-life, Richard H. Escobales Jr. He says he "appreciated" my column, but: "I find that the muddled positions of Rudolph W. Giuliani and Mitt Romney on this critically important issue do not inspire confidence." So, he kind of didn't appreciate my column.

And there was a letter yesterday, by David W. Massey, about my Feb. 20 column -- "'A Skullful of Mush'" -- which recommended a revival of Socratic teaching in law school:
There is an underlying premise in Ann Althouse’s plea for traditional law school instruction (“ ‘A Skull Full of Mush,’ ” column, Feb. 20), and that is that law school graduates, drilled in the case method, will leave knowing “how to think like lawyers.”

My law school experience long ago taught me to challenge pious premises.

If law school teaches students properly, it can only begin to prepare them to confront the unexpected in advising clients, working with other lawyers and arriving at acceptable results.

Last year, while celebrating a college reunion, I wandered back to the law school, and in the same classroom where the Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. of my acquaintance practiced his particular brand of intimidation, I observed a different approach: where the professor respectfully listened to volunteers and didn’t dictate to his class how they should think, because he knew that there wasn’t one way for lawyers to do so.
There's a paradox here. Did he learn from the method or not? He admits he did, even as he admires another method. Yet I'm not so sure he learned how to read all that well, because he's seeing something in my column that was not there: an endorsement of the use of intimidation, disrespect, and dictatorial indoctrination.

I emphasized that I didn't know any law professors who were the Kingsfield type, so that it was rather nonsensical for us to worry about acting like that fictional character, who the "Paper Chase" author, John Jay Osborn Jr. admitted was an exaggeration. I said that we lawprofs ought to have some respect for our own tradition and concluded:
The students who come into our law schools are adults who have decided that they are ready to spend a tremendous amount of time and money preparing to enter a profession. We show the greatest respect for their individual autonomy if we deny ourselves the comfort of trying to make them happy and teach them what they came to learn: how to think like lawyers.
Note that I didn't say we should try to make them unhappy, only that we default in our central responsibility if we structure class around the idea of trying to make them happy.

Actually, I think they are more likely to end up happy if the class teaches them what they need to know. What I was rejecting was a class that is too much about students "telling their stories." I am willing to bet that most students don't want to spend too much of their time listening to the stories other law students have to tell.

As for taking volunteers instead of calling on people, I have to confess that I've usually done that in my 20+ years of teaching. But I think it is self-indulgent -- it's much easier! -- and it invariably leaves too few students doing too much of the talking. When you call on students, you find that they really are all quite capable of speaking and responding well to questions, and it is important to demonstrate this and to provide them all with this experience.

10 comments:

David said...

If I were attending Law School I would expect Paper Chase type classes. I would want to be prepared to argue a case in front of a Judge(s) who asked the hard questions and did not suffer fools well, if at all.

With the possible exception of Judge Larry of Anna Nicole fame, or Judge Ito of O.J. fame, I do not condone judicial tears and incompetence in formal proceedings.

If one is planning on entering the arena of jurisprudence he/she better be armed with something more tangible than white teeth, a come-hither smile, and designer suits. One of my favorite movies was Paul Newman in "The Verdict" and any law movie with Wilford Brimley.

Simon said...

Ann:
"It isn't my preference to return the question of abortion to the states, and I don't think it's Giuliani's."

On what basis do you conclude that?

The Drill SGT said...

Wilford Brimley

He was perfect in the penultimate scenes from "Absence of Malice". Even more relevant today than when it was made 25 years ago.

James A. Wells, Assistant U.S. Attorney General: Tell you what we're gonna do. We're gonna sit right here and talk about it. Now if you get tired of talking here, Mr. Marshal Elving Patrick there will hand you one of them subpoenas he's got stuck down in his pocket and we'll go downstairs and talk in front of the grand jury... Elliot? Jim?... Fine. All right, Elving, hand whichever one of these fellas you like a subpoena and we'll go on downstairs and talk in front of the grand jury.
District Attorney James A. Quinn: Gallagher's a government witness.
James A. Wells, Assistant U.S. Attorney General: Wonderful thing, a subpoena.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
James A. Wells, Assistant U.S. Attorney General: You had a leak? You call what's goin' on around here a leak? Boy, the last time there was a leak like this, Noah built hisself a boat.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
James A. Wells, Assistant U.S. Attorney General: Now we'll talk all day if you want to. But, come sundown, there's gonna be two things true that ain't true now. One is that the United States Department of Justice is goin' to know what in the good Christ - e'scuse me, Angie - is goin' on around here. And the other's I'm gonna have somebody's ass in muh briefcase.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
James A. Wells, Assistant U.S. Attorney General: What'd you figure you'd do after government service, Elliott?
Elliott Rosen: I'm not quitting.
James A. Wells, Assistant U.S. Attorney General: You ain't no Presidential appointee, Elliott. One that hired you is me. You got thirty days.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
James A. Wells, Assistant U.S. Attorney General: We can't have people go around leaking stuff for their own reasons. It ain't legal. And worse than that, by God it ain't right.

cokaygne said...

Appreciate your comments in this post on teaching law. I never went to law school, but I suppose it is like any other professional school. The student has paid a very high price to be there. In return they expect, of course, a certificate, but also a feeling of competence. It is expected that the teacher would provide instruction in the profession's knowledge base and classroom experience of applying that knowledge so that the student can walk out of school and competently practice that profession. I can't imagine why anyone would spend money and time listening to other students tell their personal stories while some big-bucks law professor "facilitates" the discussion.

You should call on more students, though. Part of success in any profession, especially the law I should think, is being assertive. You're going to have ideas about how things should be done and you'll have to advocate and defend those ideas with reference to your professional knowledge and experience. If you know you're going to be called on sooner or later, you'll volunteer when you have something to say, just to avoid being called upon when you have nothing to contribute.

Ann Althouse said...

Currently, I do call on students.

The Exalted said...

Abrams hit it squarely on the head. These guys want to get elected, they're willing to say whatever it takes.

Personally, I wager neither gives a hoot. What is so "complex" about this?

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I remember an attorney i had as a proffessor in my school days who once told the class that:

The LSAT has nothing to do with law school.

Law school has nothing to do with the Bar Exam; and

The Bar Exam has nothing to do with the practice of law.

Kinda of a whole string of moot points?

Richard Dolan said...

Ann says: "Who knows, after all, what views either of these politicians ever actually had or has now? All we do know is how far both are prepared to go to be elected. I certainly concede these political realities. I simply defend their statements in spite of that."

That seems too cynical by half, at least as to Rudy (I don't know enough about Mitt to have a view). No doubt, there are many politicians who stand for nothing, and are willing to say anything. But that's not a fair comment about Rudy. I think we know where Rudy stands on abortion, and I don't see any contradiction in his being pro-choice on the merits and anti-Roe on the constitutional question of who decides. That he is pro-choice is well documented, and even before audiences that are likely to disagree, he has said as much -- without all that much need for pressing him to do so. I don't know whether he is anti-Roe, but can well understand why -- like Roberts and Alito and before them Clarence Thomas -- he may want to keep his views on that subject personal. He says he's for "strict constructionist" judges. OK, that's clear enough -- so, of course, is Bush. And we still have no idea (and Bush probably doesn't either) how Roberts and Alito will vote in the next abortion case, or how they weigh stare decisis here.

As Ann notes, that politicians have political motives for what they say and how they say it, is a tautology. Of course they do. That explains what parts of his views Rudy may choose to emphasis; and it also explains why critics like Floyd Abrams, whose interest is in the dogmatic maintenance of a particular result rather than assessing fairly Rudy's views, dismisses complexity here as "waffling."

But Ann's bloggy-breezy dismissal about Rudy that "[w]ho knows, after all, what views either of these politicians ever actually had or has" seems unfair and unfounded.

The Exalted said...

would you engage in these mental gymnastics if, say, john kerry changed an opinion in order to run for president? would you try to probe the "complexities" of this changeabout?

hahaahahahhahahahahahaahhahaah

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