July 15, 2010

University of Wisconsin lawprof Victoria F. Nourse has been nominated to the 7th Circuit.

Congratulations to my esteemed colleague!
Nourse was special counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1990 to 1993, where she was staff drafter of the Violence Against Women Act. She was also an appellate attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice from 1988 to 1990 and assistant counsel for the Senate Committee to Investigate the Iran-Contra Affair in 1987 and 1988.
Here's the Accuracy in Media report on her role working on the Violence Against Women Act, written in 2007, when then-Senator Joseph Biden was running for President:
... Biden has just released a book acknowledging that he wasn’t the sole author of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This bill was Biden’s signature legislation. It resulted in tons of favorable publicity for him. But the book, Promises to Keep, reveals on page 240 that a female staffer was actually involved in drafting the legislation.

“The staffer, Victoria Nourse, and I wrote” the legislation, says Biden. However, his presidential website gives Biden sole credit for the legislation. It quotes Biden as saying that “What I’m most proud of in my entire career was writing the Violence Against Women’s Act because it is evidence we can change people’s lives, but the change is always one person at a time.” The term “writing,” as commonly understood, means that he wrote it. His office sent out a release calling the senator the “author” of the legislation. But “author,” like the term “writer,” has a definite meaning....

It’s true that Biden “introduced” VAWA. It is also accurate to say that he sponsored it. But to have paraded around the country for many years claiming to be the “author” or “writer” of the bill diminished the work of the female staffer who had been doing the bulk of the work behind the scenes. Later in the book, Biden refers to Nourse as his “lead staffer” on the bill, but that description, too, diminishes her work in this area.
This seems like a pretty minor criticism of Biden, but Nourse is honored to receive the recognition.

But — you may be asking yourself —wasn't the Violence Against Women Act held unconstitutional? The act had many provisions, and one of them — giving private citizens a federal tort claim against other private citizens — was held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision in 2000. It does not manifest a lack of legal expertise for Nourse to have thought that this provision was constitutional back in 1994 when the act was passed. That was before the Gun Free School Zones Act case in which the Supreme Court, for the first time in over half a century, found that Congress couldn't rely on the Commerce Clause to legislate in a particular area. You may argue about whether VAWA was a good use of federal power and whether it was a good idea to use the federal courts to handle gender-based violence cases. Was VAWA good federalism and the wise allocation of judicial resources? But, I think, VAWA reflects well on Nourse, Nourse is an excellent nomination of the sort one would expect Obama to make, and Obama is the President with the judicial appointment power.

39 comments:

rhhardin said...

So she's pretty much without flaws.

MadisonMan said...

It's nice to see she didn't go to Yale or Harvard law.

HDHouse said...

We can only wish her well in this climate. I won't comment because some on here will go negative on her if I say something positive .. and then again, some will just go negative anyway.

HDHouse said...
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AllenS said...

The provision that was held unconstitutional was probably the only thing that Biden contributed to the Act.

Calypso Facto said...

No nitpicking of Vicky (yet): congratulations to her!

Just taking some exception to Ann's comment: "Nourse is an excellent nomination of the sort one would expect Obama to make"

Maybe "one would have expected Obama to make" before he displayed a miserable track record of appointments (Holder, Brennan, Napolitano, Berwick, Geithner, Panetta, Koh, Allison, etc., etc.)?

Kirstin said...

I've always assumed that senators do not personally draft legislation (or write their memoirs) without a lot of help.

traditionalguy said...

Does President Obama ever appoint white male judges? Does he feel that white female judges are not threats to his aura of leadership like a white man would be as seen by the point of view of his political base? Interesting stuff, because his penchant has so far resulted in good nominations.

David said...

Is she a witch?

Ann Althouse said...

@ David I believe I've heard her say that the Rebecca Nurse of the Salem Witch Trials was an ancestor (and that the family respelled the name at some point in the past perhaps to achieve some distance from that history).

Mick said...

Great, another Academic, from Berkley yet. She teaches Con Law...hmmm, does she know what a Natural Born Citizen is? (Born in the US of 2 US Citizen parents, i.e born not subject to the jurisdiction of any other foreign power).

traditionalguy said...

Checking Nourse's bio reveals that she also held a distinguished Law Professor post at an Atlanta's Emory University, where she held the chair called the LQC Lamar Professorship( The Law School itself is oddly named the Luscius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar School of law).

West Chester Esq said...
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rhhardin said...

What sort of person would take an appointment from the Obama administration.

It's worse than being a Carter appointee.

Hagar said...

Pretty typical of Biden, and not so minor.

WTF Esq said...

This nomination seems about right for the Circuit Court of Appeals regardless of who the President is making the nomination.

She was one of the worst Professors I had at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Your classic ivory tower intellectual with no clue on the real world and no real courtroom experience. Like I said, about right for a Circuit Court of Appeals. Cut from the same cloth as Kagan and unfortunately most nominations in general.

virgil xenophon said...

I see WTF Esq has confirmed my immediate reflexive gut-reaction to almost ANYONE appointed to Govt from the Fawlty, er, Ivory Towers of U of Wisc-Madison from the liberal arts/legal side of the halls of academia. Ann is whistling past the graveyard here by polishing the liberal patina of her academic associate in her efforts at proper collegial friendliness amongst faculty members. Get the blinders off Ann!

WTF Esq said...

Just so we are clear. She was very smart and well spoken. However, she did a horrible job conveying ideas to her students and now that I have the benefit of real world experience, it is clear that like most professors, she had none.

And for the record, I got a very good grade in her class....

Jake said...

See what you could have accomplished Ann if you had worked at doing scholarship and publishing in your field and not just goofing off on the internet?

Jake said...

Though I know you enjoy cultivating and providing a home to your hillbilly followers.

Eric Muller said...

Those who love these sorts of trivial details will be interested to know that her father-in-law is also a judge on the 7th Circuit.

If she's confirmed (and I hope she is), will this be the first father-in-law/daughter-in-law combination to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals?

Jake said...

On those rare instances when Ann finds herself in the same room with Ms. Nourse I am sure the future judge has always been graciously self-deprecating and conversed with her about what is occurring on the current season of American Idol.

MadisonMan said...

See what you could have accomplished Ann if you had worked at doing scholarship and publishing in your field and not just goofing off on the internet?

Ann Althouse as a Court Nominee would be very bloggable.

Roux said...

So is it a good thing to have a judge that wishes to enact unconstitutional laws?

I'm no legal scholar but it just doesn't seem right.

Salamandyr said...

Congratulations to Professor Nourse! I must say Althouse's recommendation means far more to me than the good offices of the President.

I'm not a particular fan of the VAWA, but if one is working for a Democratic Senator, especially one like Biden, one is going to be tasked with some objectionable tasks. Let us hope it reflected Biden's priorities more than her own.

Kirk Parker said...

"But, I think, VAWA reflects well on Nourse"

Wow, I couldn't disagree more. The most it says is that Nourse has lots of company; but it's instant intellectual contempt for anyone and everyone who holds, in effect, that the Commerce Clause means Congress can regulate anything and everything.

atticus said...

Terrific choice. I was lucky enough to have a class with Professor Nourse, and I loved it. She's super-smart, accessible, and completely dedicated to her students. I liked her approach to legislation and the Constitution, which was grounded in government practice, not just abstract theory. I think this comes from her background _outside_ the ivory tower (and outside Yale & Harvard), which can be rare on a law faculty. Great professor, and she'll be a great judge.

Valerian said...

I thought Nourse was an especially good teacher. I suspect WTF Esq didn't agree Nourse's undisguised personal views, hence the dismissive "no real world experience" comment. She worked in the senate and she was a courtroom lawyer for years. That is the real world in our business.

If the criticism is that law school doesn't prepare us to be lawyers, I'm with you. But Nourse did whatever it is law professors do as well as anyone. She was nothing if not engaging.

cboygan said...

In checking, I find she is not listed as being a member of the Wisconsin Bar. I don't know anything about her, but inasmuch as she is getting one of the traditional Wisconsin seats on the 7th Circuit, it would have been kind of nice if she would have had at least some level of practical experience with Wisconsin law.

Ann Althouse said...

"Ann Althouse as a Court Nominee would be very bloggable."

As I've said for as long as I've been a professor (and would have said for longer if I'd thought of it): I lack judicial temperament.

abogadofeliz said...

Re bar membership: lots of UW law professors are not members of the Wisconsin Bar. Professor Althouse is an example. I would be surprised if all of the 7th Circuit judges are members of their respective state bars--especially Judge Posner, who has much less practical experience than Professor Nourse (but who is still a pretty decent judge!).

showbiz111 said...

Sorry but the fact that Nourse drafted and proposed this radical feminist socialist extremist (i could go on) legislation fifteen years ago is inexcusable and she should be filibustered. The last thing we need is another socialist activist on the bench.

WTF Esq said...

@Valerian

If not liking the political positions of a particular Professor disqualified them in my mind then their wouldn't have been a single Professor at University of Wisconsin Law School I would like. But to the contrary, despite vehement disagreements with a lot of Professors, I still think that they were very good teachers and many had a lot to offer. In fact, I am happy to say that I can call one or two of them my friends and mentors, even though we are no where near each other in the political spectrum.

The reality is that most Law School professors do not have real world experience, and no, working for a Senator or clerking for a judge is NOT real world experience. Those still involved very detached analysis of cases with very minimal interaction with little real world interaction with litigants and the actual effects cases and laws have on everyday people. It is a world of anecdotes and theories.

As I previously noted, Nourse was smart and well spoken and would even agree that she was engaging but in terms of her ability to teach and what it represents for real world analysis, it was lacking.

Kirk Parker said...

Althouse,

"I lack judicial temperament."

Sure, but wouldn't that really spice up the bloggability of the whole affair? :-)

traditionalguy said...

WTF Esq...You are asking for a lot of skills to meet your standards. The Law Prof is dedicated to the shared analysis of the Common Law, Statutory Law, and Case law and passing Bar Exams. If she can teach that, she has done her job. To ask that a Law Prof must be an expert on the daily grind issues of the practice of law before she meets your standards is like saying that she must also provide students with the 2 years experience in handling cases like a new law firm associate experience or a medical intern experiences. You expect too much.

abogadofeliz said...

I second that. I would also remind WTF Esq. that before starting at UW, Nourse worked (1) as a DOJ attorney, (2) in private practice, and (3) for the Senate Judiciary Committee (not "a senator"). Few law profs--or judges--can boast that rich a body of experience.

lucid said...

Of course, the whole violence- against-women riff is a piece of politically correct priivleged pleading by women. We should know this from Dim Joe Biden's involvement.

Women are in fact much less likely to be a victim of violence than are men. They need less special protection than men do.

Check the stats.

lucid said...
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SNourse said...

Ms. Nourse is, in fact, descended from Rebecca Towne Nurse of the Salem Witch Trials fame. She is also the granddaughter fo Chet Nourse, who briefly played for the Boston Red Sox.