January 9, 2017

The "extraordinary arrogance and presumption" of the "the recent letter signed by 1,100 law professors urging the U.S. Senate not to confirm attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions"

According to Stephen B. Presser, legal history professor emeritus at the law school at Northwestern University. (He's written a book, "Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law," the last chapters like "The American Law Professor as Aloof Olympian," "Changing the Legal Fabric of the National Government Towards Libertarian Paternalism," and "The Law Professor as President.")

From Presser's column about the lawprof letter:
The pious pontification of the law professoriate has become cliche in modern America, leading many pundits (correctly in my view) to criticize our current president for his tendency to think like a law professor, and to view the world in the abstract, removed and unrealistic way in which it is seen from the faculty lounge....

The exaggerated self-importance of the teacher of law is buttressed by immersion in an ideology very different from what most senators and most Americans believe about the law in particular and the world in general.....

That ideology is a culmination of a century of the ascendance in the law school of a set of beliefs that seem to convince most professors that the law is really no different from politics and that it is infinitely malleable. For too long, they say, the law has has [sic] been used as a tool of the rich and powerful to oppress women, minorities and the powerless. It should be the task of judges, legislators, and lawyers alone, they say, to interpret the Constitution and laws and to use that malleability to redistribute power and resources to the oppressed....

Their ideological zeal and the inevitable tendency of ideologues to believe in the insincerity and malice of those who disagree with them have led them to believe the spurious charges that torpedoed Sessions' judicial nomination decades ago, and to see him as an enemy to the groups they favor.
Presser has a big critique of lawprofs that goes beyond the immediate question whether Sessions should be confirmed. He even ends with a call to teach "law as a repository of timeless truths." I'd love to see the letter the 1,100 lawprofs could write against the notion that the law ought to be taught as timeless truth. 

Presser's column includes material that appears in the first 2 pages of his "Law Professors" book, such as a quote. You can read the pages in the book, here. It's put like this in the column:
One law professor, Harvard's Duncan Kennedy, nicely limned the problem, when he declared, as a law student at Yale, that his teachers were "either astoundingly intellectually self-confident or just plain smug." He went on to state that their classroom gestures seemed to say, "I am brilliant. I am famous in the only community that matters. I am doing the most difficult and most desirable thing in the world, and doing it well. I am being a Law Professor." Kennedy published those words in 1970, but the problem is even worse now.
It feels very Trumpian to scoff at lawprofs' "extraordinary arrogance and presumption," but Kennedy was speaking from the radical left. Kennedy is associated with the Critical Legal Studies movement, which utterly rejected the idea of "law as a repository of timeless truths."

Is this all to intra-lawprof?

We're about to end our formal relationship with the lawprof President. Some throes are involved. Perhaps it's best to avert our eyes.

56 comments:

Sydney said...

The thing that still surprises me about law professors is how many of them have never actually practiced law. I don't think you see that in other professions.

damikesc said...

It feels very Trumpian to scoff at lawprofs' "extraordinary arrogance and presumption," but Kennedy was speaking from the radical left. Kennedy is associated with the Critical Legal Studies movement, which utterly rejected the idea of "law as a repository of timeless truths.

But didn't you say CRT wasn't particularly controversial in law schools? I'd be hesitant to label something as "radical" if it seemed to be non-controversial to the "mainstream" community. It's radical to average people, but apparently FAR less so to law professors.

David Begley said...

One law professor from both Creighton and Nebraska signed that letter. Glad to see the rest of the faculties had some sense.

If you read the actual letter it is very poorly reasoned. It makes no sense on the facts and relies on very, very weak and stale "evidence." In other words, it was not lawyer-like. The letter was pure politics of the lowest kind. Sad!

Hagar said...

Professor Kingsfield was a fictional character.

rehajm said...

We're about to find out if 1,100 law prof signatures are more powerful than politicians that win elections.

Original Mike said...

"We're about to end our formal relationship with the lawprof President."

I believe he was a law Instructor, not a Professor.

David Begley said...

This is the key sentence, "Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge."

The law profs ignored the evidence after 1986 and the 1986 evidence was weak tea. The hearings will make these professors look like fools.

Memo to the 1,100 law profs: Calling someone a racist when there is no evidence is not a convincing argument. It is nearly libel and slander. Not worthy of law teachers. Sad!

Hagar said...

Perhaps Meryl Streep could sign as a "honorary" law professor?

Oso Negro said...

I can see why digesting that article delayed your usual morning posting! I think the essential problem with law and lawyers is that you start with a few simple rules, Ten Commandments style, and within a few centuries you have the Talmud. This appears to be a universal phenomenon. All societies produce people who believe that society can be improved "if only people were required to _____." So a fundamentally Christian society can adopt a Constitution and a few centuries later discover that it authorizes pre-natal murder and homosexual marriage.

On more prosaic matters, do you miss the faculty lounge, Professor? Did the law school even have one? I bet you didn't hang out there if they did. Not your style.

Tank said...

Last week Dennis Prager said he appreciated this group of law professors outing themselves as being more concerned with leftist politics than law.

==================================================================

It's funny because when I attended Rutgers Law School, a truly leftist organization, a long time ago (and it was WAY left even then) I did not get the impression that the law professors were pushing a leftist agenda in my classes at all. I did take an international law seminar with an avowed socialist prof who knew I was a libertarian; we had some great in-class discussions and, with great integrity, he gave me the A I deserved (I did more work than anyone else in that class so I could debate him). That was a great class that opened my eyes to the international globalist agenda a LONG TIME AGO.

Karen of Texas said...

"... lawprofs could right against the notion..."

That "right" right there is still tumbling around in my brain for interpretation. Is it supposed to be 'write'? Otherwise, I skipped coffee this morning and maybe that wasn't a good idea.

And I am fascinated by how often now I am seeing finger pointing at progressives/liberals/democrats and the word 'smug'.

Fernandinande said...

1,100 law professors

The Interblogs keep telling me to watch televised entertainment called "La La Land".

tcrosse said...

"extraordinary arrogance and presumption"
As distinguished from the normal arrogance and presumption ?
Maybe they should shoot a video about this... about this... about this.

chickelit said...

Hagar said...Perhaps Meryl Streep could sign as a "honorary" law professor?

They are all well "streeped in hystery."

Ann Althouse said...

Sorry for the homophone typo.

They are very easy to make.

Michael K said...

"how many of them have never actually practiced law. I don't think you see that in other professions."

You see it in medical school professors and that is who wrote Hillarycare and much of Obamacare. Obamacare was mostly written by 25 year old lawyers on the Democrat staff and by insurance lobbyists. The error Hillary made in 1993, according to many Democrats, was to exclude the insurance companies which defeated her bill and the entire party in 1994.

Ezekial Emmanuel is an excellent example of a medical professor who has never practiced except, perhaps, in a medical school "clinic" where a few interesting patients are run through like lab rats.

JAORE said...

The science is settled.

Matthew Sablan said...

"The law profs ignored the evidence after 1986 and the 1986 evidence was weak tea. The hearings will make these professors look like fools."

-- I get the feeling most of these law professors consider "being a Republican" as damning evidence of being "too racially insensitive."

Humperdink said...

"... our current president for his tendency to think like a law professor, and to view the world in the abstract ...."

One of the more accurate descriptions of our current president.

William said...

Woodrow Wilson taught jurisprudence at Princeton. He wrote several widely cited books on the Constitution. There's recently been a movement to remove his name from the buildings at Princeton.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

From the lawprof letter:

"As law faculty who work every day to better understand the law and teach it to our students, we are convinced that Jeff Sessions will not fairly enforce our nation’s laws and promote justice and equality in the United States."

Maybe they wouldn't have to work so hard to better understand every day if they accepted some timeless truths. Their go fund me page reports they have raised $17,035 of $16k goal. That seems rather cheap, a mere $12.17 per professor (the page claims 1400 signatories).



Birkel said...

There are too few empiricists working as law professors. They see themselves as social scientists, in which engineers has replaced scientists.

They believe they are engineers.

Sydney said...

@Michael K- that's probably true at the loftier medical schools, but the clinical teaching has to be done by people who practice or there can be no medical education. Unless they have evolved to be taught by residents only, but around here, it the faculties are still made up of practicing physicians, at least for clinical education (not basic science, though).

Carol said...

Ah, the Crits..they had just made it to Montana when I was in law school. We had to read Carol Gilligan and Andrea Dorkowitz or whatever her name was. It was the latest groovy thing but most of us weren't buying it. Except for the radicals who saw the utility in the thing.

Bay Area Guy said...

These 1100 weasel law professors don't amount to 1 Althouse or 1 Reynolds or 1 Calabresi (Northwestern University).

They're just liberals trying to use their legal credentials to bolster their political influence -- what a surprise.

It might as well have been a letter from "1100 obscure educated smart guys/gays who don't like Trump, and also don't like Sessions"

Whoopdy-doo.

jaydub said...

"Their ideological zeal and the inevitable tendency of ideologues to believe in the insincerity and malice of those who disagree with them..."

This doesn't just apply to law professors, this would appear to be the root cause of the left's hatred of all those who don't ascribe to progressive dogma - their opponents are not simply wrong, they must be insincere and malevolent social troglodytes.

It's going to be an interesting year or so while this sorts itself out.

mccullough said...

The 1,100 law professors would have more credibility if they had also signed a petition that Obama fire Lynch for meeting with Clinton a week before the FBI interviewed Hillary.

Larry J said...

Jeff Sessions would be an attorney general who will actually enforce the law! We can't have that.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I have no problem with law professors studying, and teaching students about, the ways that existing law advantages or disadvantages certain groups, and how to write laws that are more just and fair ( however you wish to define those terms. )

The problem comes when they believe/teach that judges have the authority to misread the Constitution/law to achieve their goals.

Comanche Voter said...

Sorry--Obama is and was a lot of things, but a "lawprof" he was not. More of an adjunct lecturer in law if you will. Didn't get his big boy pants or varsity letter in the law prof game. Adjunct lecturers might even be called the "jayvee team". And of course most law professors--and law review presidents/editors in chief have actually published a piece of legal scholarship. If Obama ever wrote anything having remotely to do with legal scholarship, it can't be found.

Big Mike said...

Well our current President and VP taught at law schools. Con law no less. The former seems to have little grasp of the law, period. The latter misstated -- on national TV, in his debate with Sarah Palin -- the contents of Article 1 of the Constitution. If I didn't have your blog and Instapundit, Prof. Althouse, I would have assumed that Conlaw was the ghetto where law schools exiled their dumb bunnies.

rcocean said...

"From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year."

I didn't realize that either being a Illinois state legislator or a law professor was such a part-time gig.

rcocean said...

A Leftist is a leftist. That identity over-rides everything else.

That's why you get 5,000 psychologists diagnosing Goldwater as "Crazy" during the 1964 campaign.

Or the ABA labelling Bork as "minimally qualified" to be a SCOTUS.

Or 1,000 law perfessers calling Sessions unfit.

How many left-wing "Scientists" are letting their politics influence their statements on climate change? How many Left-wing "CIA-Intelligence" members are letting their politics drive their views on "Russian Hacking"?

rcocean said...

"From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year."

I didn't realize that either being a Illinois state legislator or a law professor was such a part-time gig.

Amadeus 48 said...

I believe Obama taught classes about the development of Fourteenth Amendment law in the context of the civil rights movement. Limited but interesting stuff.
I bet Althouse would have been better.

traditionalguy said...

DJT will soon tweet "Second rate Law Professors", but they are espousing what the U S News Best Law School raters use to rate Schools up or down. Their question is: How Ultra liberal cutting edge can your professors pretend to be.

khesanh0802 said...

The screams of the wounded elites as the proles begin to fight back. Way overdue!

Fen said...

Prof Althouse, I wish you would go into detail about your own personal experience re these petitions. From what I remember, you gave your name and rep to a petition that stated Clinton's perjury and obstruction of Paula Jone's civil rights and discovery did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

You later claimed that was not what you signed on for, that the petition organizers changed the cover letter after everyone signed.

I may be remembering that incorrectly, so I hope you will cover this in more detail.

Michael said...

So does the term "internet trolling" come from running a lure past a fish to get it to bite, or from trolls under bridges? I'm guessing it started as the former, which is an apt analogy, but segued to the latter as emphasis shifted from the activity to the people doing it.

robother said...

I checked out the 10 "law Professors" who signed from my alma mater. Four were full-time faculty--i.e., professors (usual suspects --environmental law, criminal law) and an asst, dean of research. The rest were adjunct or "clinical" faculty who seemed to be running SJW operations only indirectly tied to actual legal education. Interesting to see how encrusted with SJW types even a red State law school has become over the last 40 years.

surfed said...

"Throes"? As in: Law profs will throw themselves to the floor in a throe of kicking and screaming that their fearless leader law prof Obama is no longer at the helm of the ship of state?

Chuck said...

Going through the list carefully noting the people whom I actually know of, it is a mixture of true leftwing political ideologue/activists (Lawrence Tribe, et al) and lots of lower-level adjunct/clinical instructors who have ties to liberal/Democrat groups. The list is unusually heavy with immigration law instructors.

I would like to know how the letter originated, who were the 'founding' members of the drafting committee, and how it was disseminated for e-signature.

Is that coming out anywhere? Surely, a conservative law prof somewhere got it, and looked into all of that with no intention of ever signing. Had it come to me, I would have done that.

Owen said...

I would be interested in learning --now that it's far too late-- exactly what Obama did as a law lecturer in the 14th Amendment/Civil Rights area, at Chicago Law School. How many courses did he teach? Did he teach or just hold BS sessions (with himself always the Smartest Guy in the Room)? What did his syllabus and reading list consist of? Was he handing out easy A's like, well, like presidential pardons?
Surely these records and information exist. It was not convenient to share them until now, but his Presidential Library should contain them so that scholars, and even we unwashed citizens, can better understand the man who fundamentally transformed the land.

Chuck said...

Correcting a comment above...

Judge Bork was NOT given an "unqualified" rating from the then-active ABA committee on judicial nominations. (A committee that was no longer relied upon midway through the G.W. Bush administration, thanks to its decided left-wing tilt.)

Bork got the highest ABA rating of "Well qualified" from the committee. But it is true that a minority of the members of the committee voted "Not qualified." Exposing the raw partisanship within, after Bork had previously gotten unanimous "Well qualified" votes to sit on the Circuit Court of Appeals. And then serving on the Circuit Court with distinction.

It all boiled down to Bork's willingness to criticize previous decisions like Roe v Wade on legal grounds.

And by the Bork standard, any judge who now criticized, on her or his own legal grounds, the decisions in Heller or Citizens United ought to be "Not qualified." But we no longer have the ABA committee to officially kick our conservative nominees around.

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/09/10/us/aba-panel-gives-bork-a-top-rating-but-vote-is-split.html

Darrell said...

1100 names for my shit list. Excellent!

Danno said...

Blogger khesanh0802 said...The screams of the wounded elites as the proles begin to fight back. Way overdue!

At least our system doesn't do this literally. In some countries you could start a dead pool for the people on this list.

DavidD said...

Ann, I'm not sure I understand your penultimate paragraph.

Did you mean "to" or "too"?

Gahrie said...

I believe Obama taught classes about the development of Fourteenth Amendment law in the context of the civil rights movement. Limited but interesting stuff.

That explains a lot.

The purpose of the 14th Amendment was to overturn the Dredd Scott decision and protect the citizenship of Black people in the United States. It also dealt with some Reconstruction issues. The men who wrote and the people who passed the 14th Amendment has no intention or idea that its text would be tortured by lawyers to create birthright citizenship and a "right" to sexual privacy. If they had, I guarantee they would have included a clause stating "This Amendment specifically does not create birthright citizenship or a "right" to sexual privacy".

Joe said...

How many law professors, law adjuncts and general law school leaches are there?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Gahrie said...

The men who wrote and the people who passed the 14th Amendment has no intention or idea that its text would be tortured by lawyers to create birthright citizenship...

While birthright citizenship may have been unintended ( I don't know one way or the other ), it is hardly a tortured reading of the amendment.

Bad Lieutenant said...

At least our system doesn't do this literally. In some countries you could start a dead pool for the people on this list.

1/9/17, 10:45 AM


You say that like it's a bad thing...

Curious George said...

rcocean said...
"From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year."

I didn't realize that either being a Illinois state legislator or a law professor was such a part-time gig.


Don't let the full time pay fool you.

Richard Dolan said...

The letter was ostensibly written to the Republican senators who will, no doubt, find it an added reason to vote to confirm Trump's nominees, including especially their fellow senator Jeff Sessions. The real audience was elsewhere, in the virtual faculty lounge that is such a large part of the Dem party.

In that, the letter is quite like the silliness at the Golden Globes -- Trump and all his deplorables, blah-blah-blah -- or the screechy tweet from a San Fran CEO dumping on middle America that was highlighted on Insta and elsewhere. And like the Hollywood glitterati, the law profs are a bit too self-involved for their own good -- the whole thing has a large back-fire potential that, since they will keep it up, is the likeliest result of all the noise.

n.n said...

The consensus of the legal estate gave us the Pro-Choice quasi-religion.

Other than their propensity to choose research over teaching, I would elect an engineering professor to assure a measure of objectivity and conservation.

Jupiter said...

Ann Althouse said...
"Sorry for the homophone typo.

They are very easy to make."

I played in a bar band for many years. Our rule for dealing with criticism, of whatever ilk, was;

"Never apologize. Never explain."

30yearProf said...

I am a law Professor. No one asked me to sign. This document reflects nothing about how Law Professors think on this issue, just the few singers.