November 21, 2010

Jan Crawford interviews Justice Scalia at the Federalist Society annual dinner.

David Lat reports:
Crawford asked Scalia if he ever found himself in a situation where he was torn between his personal conscience and his professional duty as a justice. He said no. After Crawford expressed a hint of incredulity — you’ve never encountered such a situation, in your many years on the bench? — Scalia quipped, “Maybe I have a lax conscience.” The resulting laughter cleared the air nicely.

Conversation turned to whether the Supreme Court’s opinions offer adequate guidance to the lower courts and litigants — a topic recently raised in this fascinating New York Times article by Adam Liptak, which Crawford explicitly referenced. Scalia appeared to agree with the general thrust of the piece.

“You can write a fuzzy decision that gets nine votes,” Scalia said, “or a very clear decision that gets five votes.”
On the subject of putting Supreme Court oral arguments on video, Scalia said he disapproved. He thought it would mainly lead to out-of-context clips. He thought he'd look great in those clips though: "I could ham it up with the best of them on television... I’d do very well." Lat calls that boasting, but I see modesty. Best of them implies that he doesn't think he is the best oral-argument entertainer. But he is!

On the subject of attending the President's State of the Union Address, he said: “It is a juvenile spectacle, and I resent being called upon to give it dignity…. It’s really not appropriate for the justices to be there.”

On the subject of hiring clerks from Harvard and Yale law schools:
"The best minds are going to the best law schools. They might not learn anything while they’re there [laughter], but they don’t get any dumber."
I should reprise that Vonnegut quote from my 10:20 post. What if you had to argue that they do get dumber? I'll bet you could.

Lat says:
Note how Scalia did not use politically correct terminology. The PC approach calls for referring to the “highest ranked” law schools rather than the “best” law schools.
I must chide Lat for not seeing the political incorrectness of saying "the best minds." Or has Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" made "best minds" seem like a standard phrase? "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked...." That's not innocuous. "Best minds" should prick up our attention and make us feel that something is not right.

Surely, the applicants that Harvard and Yale smile upon are not really our "best minds." Perhaps they are the "best minds" that are applying to law school in any given year, but I don't think even that is true. You have to do too many things right, too diligently, too early in life to hit the law school application sweet spot and get into the most selective schools. The best minds will have resisted acquiring the conventional indicia of career promise.

Come to think of it, Lat is also wrong to say that "highest ranked" is the preferred terminology for law schools. In academia, "highest ranked" implies highest ranked by U.S. News, and it is the proper thing to loathe U.S. News. It lacks the nuance to perceive the subtle qualities that make our favorite law schools so damned special.

Seriously... I think Scalia, being a good writer and speaker, simply believes that short, simple words are... best.

38 comments:

ricpic said...

Judge Scalia: Excuse me, I have to hang my coat up befo....

Joan Crawford: Wire hangers! Wire hangers!! Wire hangers!!!

kcom said...

I've always thought that short, simple words were highest-ranked.

tim maguire said...

You have to do too many things right, too diligently, too early in life to hit the law school application sweet spot and get into the most selective schools.

Good call. Being best able to impress the selection committee is not necessarily the same as being the best mind. The CYA society that we are becoming (have become?) does not usually reward risk taking.

New "Hussein" Ham said...

Harvard ... best minds?

Huh?

Didn't Harvard graduate Barack Obama without his having written a single law review article?

Is he the best mind they could come up with? Pffft.

My fifth-grade daughter is smarter than Barack Obama is.

Any President of the United States who would bow down to a Saudi King is a fucking moron.

Harvard graduates pussies - not men.

somefeller said...

You have to do too many things right, too diligently, too early in life to hit the law school application sweet spot and get into the most selective schools. The best minds will have resisted acquiring the conventional indicia of career promise.

Ah, yes. The old cliche about how students at elite law schools and grad schools are just dull grinds without any real creativity rears its head once again. Always a hardy perennial. Maybe another way of looking at it is that the students who get into such schools are the ones that show ambition, self-discipline and an understanding about how the world really works early in life. Those are usually considered to be worthwhile characteristics if one is seeking an attorney to hire.

In academia, "highest ranked" implies highest ranked by U.S. News, and it is the proper thing is to loathe U.S. News.

Maybe that's true in academia (though I'm not sure it is, at least among those who teach at or went to school at the places U.S. News sends its blessings to), but if so, who cares? People who make hiring decisions at law firms and corporations tend to care about such things, and not without reason.

I'm not a fan of Scalia's line of argument here, and I think the HYS dominance of Supreme Court clerkships (and judgeships, for that matter) is not a good thing at all for the country. However, Scalia isn't making an irrational point. Employers everywhere use little shortcuts and heuristics in making hiring decisions. Scalia is simply stating that it's easier for him to just look at the resumes from students at top-ranked law schools as a way of finding talented candidates quickly. It isn't P.C. for him to say it, but if you have limited time and are in a position like his in which you are likely to be inundated with resumes from lots of qualified candidates, a simple rule of thumb like the one he uses is an effective one.

somefeller said...

By the way, it's amusing to see that the Supreme Court Justice that is publicly stating his Ivy League preferences is a conservative. I guess he didn't get the memo telling him that only liberals can be such elitists.

Randy-g said...

Scalia has a brilliant mind, and he did say the best minds go to the best law schools. He did not say the best minds come out of those schools.....

Alex said...

All this proves is that the SCOTUS is an aristocracy of the Ivy League. So much for America being a MERIT-ocracy like the Founding Fathers wanted it to be.

Belkys said...

Harvard graduates pussies - not men.
Scotty thought they were pussies before entering there

Prosecutorial Indiscretion said...

Scalia has a brilliant mind, and he did say the best minds go to the best law schools. He did not say the best minds come out of those schools.....

He actually did specifically say that those best minds don't get dumber. And Ham, recall that Scalia and Roberts did, too. Is Scalia a pussy? I think not.

chuck b. said...

"He thought it would mainly lead to out-of-context clips."

They're entitled to an exception, I guess. And, without video clips, they will not be taken out of context. And he can predict the future.

AJ Lynch said...

We could use a president with Scalia's competence and self-confidence.

Also the media will be gunning for him. I bet they are think "how dare he belittle the annual SOTU speech?"

Penny said...

"The CYA society that we are becoming (have become?) does not usually reward risk taking."

Risk taking to me is taking on debt in excess of what you can reasonably expect to pay back.

We became a nation of risk takers, with very little thought given to covering our asses.

Ann Althouse said...

"He actually did specifically say that those best minds don't get dumber."

It's possible that there are law schools that work a greater improvement on the minds they get, but it's hard to figure out who those folks are. At least you can assume that the people who look best on paper will get their first choice, and if people choose based on the rankings, then you know you're getting something pretty good. The school does not actually need to do anything for that to happen (other than not make them worse, which I think actually is possible).

Trooper York said...

Wait a minute! Joan Crawford interviews Justice Scalia!

If Simon was here his head would explode. Just sayn.

David said...

State of the Union as a 'juvenile display."

That's the best Scalia line yet.

tim maguire said...

Penny, you are welcome to have your own definitions for things so long as you recognize that nobody is required to use your definitions.

Besides, I'm willing to bet you understand what I was saying even if you define some of those words differently than I do.

JAL said...

Well it certainly was a juvenile display in 2010.

wv kidgeoid
Huh?

MadisonMan said...

Harvard: Impossible to gain acceptance into, impossible to flunk out of.

In other news, the murderer with the best name of all time, Lawrencia Bembenek, has died. She was outlived by the Lockerbie bomber!

Bender said...

"They might not learn anything while they’re there [laughter], but they don’t get any dumber."

I think his son Paul would probably teach him how fundamentally wrong he is here.

The fact is -- a lot of people learn to be stupid.

Bob_R said...

Scalia's definition of "best" is probably defined by the context - best constitutional law clerks. The "best" schools get students with a particular talent profile and give them a particular skill set (and socializes them - gives them a particular set of prejudices.) They get selected at a very high rate to be law clerks and law professors. They get hired by big law firms. Not clear if the talent profile, the skill set, or the prejudices are the big attraction.

I think the guy who wrote my will went to UVa.

traditionalguy said...

Scalia is right that the later success rate for the intelligent admittees comes from their innate intelligence rather than from their curriculum and teachers, although their surrounding students' level of intelligence contributes some. The error Scalia lets continue in his comments is the false assumption that the pool of intelligent applicants for certain schools is any greater than that for others schools with similar numbers of applicants. Not everybody applies to Harvard, Yale , Princeton etc. Many apply elsewhere. That is the basis for the high success rates from graduates of many more schools than the few famous ones.

HDHouse said...

"...it is a juvenile spectacle...."

long live king Anthony who serves at no one's pleasure but his own.

Big Gov't Trickling Down on You said...

On the subject of putting Supreme Court oral arguments on video, Scalia said he disapproved. He thought it would mainly lead to out-of-context clips.

Citizens Unite against Scalia preventing other justices from having their speech aired.

Authoritarian a*$hole.

kathleen said...

It's a shame to see someone as brilliant as Scalia say something so clueless. Perhaps at one time "the best minds" went to Harvard and Yale Law schools, but no longer. People who go to those law schools are mostly the same obsequious grinds who schmooze their way through a sociology/political science/history major by parrotting the politically correct BS that passes for scholarship amongst undergraduate professors, 95% of whom sooner chop off their right hand than vote Republican. Scalia fail.

Prosecutorial Indiscretion said...

It's a shame to see someone as brilliant as Scalia say something so clueless. Perhaps at one time "the best minds" went to Harvard and Yale Law schools, but no longer. People who go to those law schools are mostly the same obsequious grinds who schmooze their way through a sociology/political science/history major by parrotting the politically correct BS that passes for scholarship amongst undergraduate professors, 95% of whom sooner chop off their right hand than vote Republican. Scalia fail.

I'd be more convinced if the other law schools weren't full of obsequious grinds who simply didn't do as well in school and on the LSAT. Law school does not tend to attract brilliant nonconformist risk takers, because the payoffs for taking those risks are almost always much lower than the payoffs for taking risks in other sectors.

And again, hate on the Ivies all you want, but Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito all went to Ivy League law schools, as did most of the appellate judges that represent the intellectual leaders of the right-wing bench.

There is a whole lot to criticize about Harvard Law School. But it's not like the Touro grads as a class are all of a sudden better than the HLS kids. There are always going to be brilliant students at every law school, but there are a lot more brilliant students at the top law schools.

And again, that's not to say they're better people or even better lawyers. Most HLS kids would get their asses handed to them if they stepped in front of a jury (hai 2 u Kiwi Camara) because the same relentless nerdiness that made them awesome students often makes them terrible at persuading 12 random Americans. But when it comes to the kind of rigorous research and reasoning that goes into appellate practice, then ceteris paribus you want the Harvard Law kid over the state law school kid.

kathleen said...

"And again, hate on the Ivies all you want, but Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, and Alito all went to Ivy League law schools, as did most of the appellate judges that represent the intellectual leaders of the right-wing bench."

Your argument might be meaningful if, say, 50% of the student body at either HLS or YLS identified as conservative. But that's manifestly not the case--the number self-id'ed conservatives at either of those schools is more like 15%, and that's being generous. Why? Because it's easier to be mediocre but look brilliant on paper if you're a liberal, since most undergrad professors -- you know, the ones who GIVE THE GRADES -- are liberal. Liberals can major in being liberal and get A's for it, and these mediocrities who look brilliant on paper get into HLS and YLS. Whereas the conservatives who manage to excel in pre-law-type undergrad majors are just objectively brilliant, rather than merely appearing brilliant on paper. They take real classes and get A's in them.

kathleen said...

and don't forget the brilliant conservatives who unwittingly took undergraduate classes from politically intolerant professors and whose grades got docked because they didn't toe the party line. Do HLS and YLS overlook a couple of B's on the undergraduate transcript because the politics of the professor didn't jibe with the student? hardly.

kathleen said...

btw, a close relative who is in-house counsel hires law firm types. He dreads the prospect of working with YLS/HLS grads and avoids them at all costs. Their memos are wordy, over-long and useless.

Prosecutorial Indiscretion said...


Your argument might be meaningful if, say, 50% of the student body at either HLS or YLS identified as conservative. But that's manifestly not the case--the number self-id'ed conservatives at either of those schools is more like 15%, and that's being generous. Why? Because it's easier to be mediocre but look brilliant on paper if you're a liberal, since most undergrad professors -- you know, the ones who GIVE THE GRADES -- are liberal. Liberals can major in being liberal and get A's for it, and these mediocrities who look brilliant on paper get into HLS and YLS. Whereas the conservatives who manage to excel in pre-law-type undergrad majors are just objectively brilliant, rather than merely appearing brilliant on paper. They take real classes and get A's in them.


But almost every law school is majority liberal. And on the right, you're going to find a higher number of brilliant law students at HLS than at, say, OSU (though of course OSU has had some brilliant students, and Judge Sutton is in the very top tier of conservative jurists and will likely and deservedly end up on the Supreme Court).

I just don't see any reason to think that conservative law students who did worse as undergraduates are smarter than conservative law students who did better. And many bright students choose to go to non-Ivy League law schools, but few non-bright students are afforded the choice.

Fred4Pres said...

Scalia is a funny funny man.

Fred4Pres said...

Scalia should drop his own prejudices and chose a few "best and brightest" from alternatives to the Ivy Leagues and Sanford. He might find himself pleasantly impressed.

HDHouse said...

A few more risky hunting trips with Trickshot Dicky Cheney and perhaps a stray pellet will deflate this gasbag.

AS...a self created man in love with his creator.

save_the_rustbelt said...

They don't get dumber, but during their last semester they are led into a secret chamber, a device is hooked to their skull, and all of their ethics are sucked out of them.

Then to go to Wall Street.

ndspinelli said...

Scalia is a man among boys and girls. His intellect would be obvious to Helen Keller[an homage to non pc]. He is cocky, ala the great Ali. But what I always come away w/ when I see Scalia interviewed is his razor sharp wit. And, he understands, "brevity is the soul of wit."

kathleen said...

"I just don't see any reason to think that conservative law students who did worse as undergraduates are smarter than conservative law students who did better"

Then you're not reading my comments. I explained this.

kathleen said...

and in any case, it's "as smart as", not "smarter than"

Caleb said...

Is this a Yahoo.com comment thread?