I join generations of law students in pondering the 1L riddle of the sphinx:
Why is constitutional law so goddamn boring?
There’s no reason to think it should be. Wars were not fought over torts. Millions of people did not converge on Washington DC to protest prescriptive easements. Con law. In it is marked the struggle of every oppressed group in American history.
Yet, it is freakishly, inexplicably dull. Can we blame the professor? (Always a worthwhile first inquiry.) Con law professors tend to be smart guys. Our professor is. He’s kind, he’s accessible, he’s funny. Can’t really complain.
But then he opens his mouth to discuss con law, and it’s like a rip opens in the time-space continuum. Time dilates. It’s the longest 70 minutes in the day.
Here’s my theory. Con law is dull due to the lack of actual law. And by law I mean a set of principles that emerge and repeat themselves in an accretive, fugue-and-variation way.
Instead, every case seems to be its own special bundle of confused and arbitrary reasoning. Everybody is equal, unless they’re not. We defer to legislatures on certain types of legislation, unless we choose not to. Rational basis review means one thing sometimes, a different thing other times.
And the reasoning ... my god the reasoning. “This is a fundamental right, arising from the hazy aura surrounding the universal question of what it means to be a human being, at least according to these 6 northern European nations.” Uh, ok.
01 Apr 05
1) Where can I use my student ID for maximum discount effect? So far I’ve only managed to save about $5.50 total, all on movie tickets. I’m looking to apply it to staple items, like food, gasoline, or bikini waxes.
2) What is the point of supra and infra? Aren’t they redundant? If you’re at note 25, why do you need to say “see supra note 15”—note 15 obviously came earlier than 25. Are lawyers really so bad with numbers that they need supra and infra to give them a hint which direction to look?
03 Apr 05
Did you see that announcement in PARADE magazine on Sunday about the class action suit against McDonald’s. $11M settlement, $2M going to the attorneys, because McD’s didn’t change over to their new trans-fat-free french fry oil as soon as they said they would.
Two million dollars for grease. That is inspiring.
05 Apr 05
A few years ago I read an interview with Gene Sharp, a nonviolence advocate, on the value of protest:
You have to use your head if you want to succeed. If the issue is only how to express yourself, that’s irrelevant and selfish. People do not make the distinction between expressing themselves and doing something that can win.
Law schools have a reputation of being filled with left-leaning people—students and professors—certainly this is true at UCLA. What tires me about it sometimes is how it encourages this gap Sharp describes between expressing yourself and winning.
One of the charming aspects of undergraduate leftism, much in evidence on the op-ed page of the campus newspaper, is how 19-yr-old writers act as if they are the first person to notice the injustices of eating meat / poverty / the import economy / drug regulation / etc. For instance: “People need to recognize that racism has been a serious problem in American history.” What?! There was racism??
You’d think (?) law school students would move up the evolutionary chain of argument—to recognize there’s two sides to an issue. You can’t win by denying there is another view. You can’t win by being dismissive of that view. These are hallmarks of legal reasoning in general.
Yet left-leaning positions are often staked out in exactly that manner. “I loved O’Connor’s opinion.” “Well what about Rehnquist’s dissent criticizing her reasoning.” “He’s crazy.” Uh, ok.
This is not a way to win. This is just self-expression. People are entitled to it, but it’s a limited way to treat an issue. You don’t have to like the dissenting opinion. You do have to treat it in a substantive manner.
08 Apr 05
A really great article in the NY Times magazine yesterday about Harry Blackmun’s inadvertent journey to becoming the first great feminist justice. This is the kind of material I wish had been included in con law: understanding the personal & political dynamics among the justices is like the National Enquirer method of contextualizing their decisions.
The article, an excerpt from an upcoming book, pays special attention to Ruth Ginsburg’s relationship with the court, first as an ACLU attorney and then as a justice. For instance: Scalia and Ginsburg were good friends from the Court of Appeals at the time she joined the Supreme Court. Who knew? The book is based on Blackmun’s recently released private notes, which show his doubts & conflicts about how to vote in various cases.
11 Apr 05
Ah, the candidate statements for the Student Bar Association election. I would certainly prefer Reese Witherspoon, in so many ways. Being as that seems unlikely, let’s see what we’ve got:
“I challenge you to infuse the SBA with your wealth of experiences.”
“I will blame you, the students, if anything goes wrong in the next 12 months.”
“I will create more effective channels of communication.”
“I will widen abuse of mass emailings.”
“I am fully commited to continuing the FUN in the law school.”
“And by fun, I mean more Lexis training sessions.”
“I look forward to involvement in some of the lower profile activities.”
“I look forward to getting you to volunteer for the lower profile activities.”
“I am committed to making your law school experience an enjoyable one.”
“The Zoloft has affected my reality-testing skills. Forgive me.”
13 Apr 05
I’m not going to take a position on the other student govt races. To be honest I can barely keep straight how many positions are up for grabs. But there is one that matters: secretary. And for that I will formally endorse: Matt Demblowski.
I know all these other candidates are saying they’re in favor of accountability, communication, inclusion, and all that other happy bullshit that student govt candidates have xeroxed on flyers for decades. Here’s the bad news: these things don’t exist. This is not just an academic institution, this is a state-owned academic institution. All our administrators & professors are on the same org chart as DMV employees and CHP officers.
Matt has no pretense to idealism. He recognizes the limitations of the office. I appreciate Matt because he is a realist. He does not promise what he can’t deliver. Nobody in student government is going to make the dean of the school accessible; only the dean of the school can do that. Vote for people who can make concrete claims. Start with Demblowski.
15 Apr 05
There were some late breaking possibilities, but the votes are in:
2ND RUNNER UP: the 2L who left her laptop somewhere stupid, and after it got stolen, put out a plea to the UCLA community to donate money so she could buy a new one. The “community” would’ve done better to pitch in & get her a nice set of sprial-bound notebooks and a pencil sharpener.
1ST RUNNER UP: all the guys who don’t flush the urinals in the main men’s room. Fellas, they’re not like the ones in the airport. You have manually operate them. And it’s really quite easy: 1) Reach out arm. 2) Bend handle. 3) Enjoy the satisfying sound of water spiriting your emanations to a better place.
WINNER: Those precious few holdouts who haven’t figured out how to turn off the Windows startup sound on their laptops. The first month, I cut you slack. Laptops in school! Neat! But round about Thanksgiving my patience was thinning. And by spring break, there was no possible excuse. You can ace the subtleties of substantive due process and incorporeal hereditaments, but strangely, not the mute button.
Congratulations, you are the DOOFUS(ES) OF THE YEAR.
(Free hint for next year: Control Panel -> Sounds & Audio Devices.)
25 Apr 05
I’m so glad that law student at NYU made such effective use of his opportunity to question Justice Antonin Scalia. That’s going to bring the justices out to the law schools in droves, I’m sure of it. Thus:
Top 10 Sophisticated & Clever Things You Can Ask If and When Justice Scalia Visits Your Law School*
10. Does Rehnquist sodomize your wife?
9. Tony Tony Bo-bony Banana Fana Fo-fony. Wazzup, dawg?
8. Is it true that if I look up “butthead” in a 1791 American dictionary, it has your picture?
7. What was it like working with Angelina Jolie?
6. What was the framers’ original understanding of the word [vulgar epithet of your choice]?
5. Do you address Justice O’Connor as “Sweet Stuff” or just “Baby”?
4. Am I hot or not?
3. Do you think the constitution recognizes a fundamental right to act like a dildo on the federal bench?
2. Where did you end up on the whole pubic hair / Coca-Cola issue? **
1. Who would be the bread on a Scalia Love Sandwich: Betty and Veronica or Destiny’s Child?
* i.e., never
** extra credit for my readers born after 1977: what could this possibly mean?
16 Apr 05
I was tipped off by a section-mate that Prof. Contracts and her husband, a USC law prof, have been poached by Boalt. In all likelihood we are her last class after 10 yrs at UCLA.
Prof. Contracts was kind and friendly but a little distracted and unfocused this semester. I guess we now know why. This deal was probably in the bag months ago.
18 Apr 05
My negative energy towards law review paid off: I didn’t make it. I congratulate everyone who did. Having participated in the competition, I can fully appreciate the depth of your mad legal skillz. You are supremely bad-ass.
As we enter the final week of classes in 1L I find it harder to take law school seriously. For me, the work this year has been reasonable and not especially difficult. What has been tiring is the institutional sense of regimentation and hierarchy that you’re asked to buy into on a daily basis.
I’m not griping. I find it more comical than annoying. I mean, the stakes are really quite low aren’t they. Even the person who graduates last in the class is still a UCLA-educated attorney, and has career and earning opportunities that put them in the 99.99th percentile of Americans. Sometimes it can be hard to get excited about competing to be in the 99.999th percentile.
20 Apr 05
We’re studying title covenants in property. Like most homeowners, I ignored the title report that got made when I bought my house in Hollywood (you get like 2,000 pages of material, it’s not necessarily obvious which pages are important). The grant deed from 1928 reads in part:
Said above described lots and parcels must not be sold to, lived upon nor occupied by any other than persons of the white or Caucasian race, except that others may live thereon in the capacity of servants only. No horses, cows, chickens, geese, ducks, guinea fowls, rabbits, goats, hogs, nor any other animals nor fowls may be kept on said lots or parcel excepting that a dog or cat may be kept thereon as a pet only... The breach of any of the foregoing conditions and covenants shall cause such premises ... to be forfeited and revert to the grantor.
The race covenants are now illegal in California, as is the reversion to the grantor. The side effect is I can keep goats and ducks with impunity.
23 Apr 05
Being someone involved in that big 90s websites-for-money scandal I tend to have critical opinions of most web efforts. But I try to be kind because I know how much money & time goes into a large web project. Still, the new UCLA law website really stinks. In no particular order of odiousness:
+ the color scheme: did I die and go to a Dockers outlet store?
+ incessant use of images of chipper-looking UCLA people. This conveys an important strategic message to the outside world: we have color photos of ourselves, and we’re not afraid to use them. Boo-yah!
+ there’s 14 top level menu choices that appear on every page. Just in case you’re looking at the course catalog and suddenly think “Damn! A question about faculty colloquia just popped into my head! What will I click now?”
+ the navigation menus don’t wait for you to click on them. So as you move your mouse around you keep inadvertently triggering the menus and trapping your pointer.
+ every page is laid out with the exact same template of fixed-size rectangles. It looks like it was built of Legos. Also, the pages are slow to load.
This was the kind of website big companies thought was really cool in 1998: putting dozens of links on every page to make it look ‘complex’ and ‘smart’ when really it was just ‘annoying’ and ‘dull’. If Google can boil the whole internet down to one search box, surely UCLA Law can present itself in a more streamlined manner.
26 Apr 05
The older (and wiser?) a professor gets, the shorter their exams get. It seems like they all start out as untenured associate professors, giving 8-hr take home exams, because it appeals to their idealistic sense of wanting to test you on “the law”, not your ability to write the fastest.
But each time, the exam changes. First they impose a word limit. The word limit gets shorter. The 8-hr take home becomes a 6-hr take home. Then it moves from home to in-class. 6 hrs becomes 4 hrs. Then 3 hrs.
I think it must be that professors eventually realize that giving more time doesn’t improve the quality of the answers, nor does it affect the curve. It certainly makes more work for them though. Now if you had tenure, would you be going out of your way to make more work for yourself? No, of course not.
28 Apr 05
Epilogue 8: Buy my book
Epilogue 7: Recessionaires cont'd
Epilogue 6: Schill quits UCLA
Epilogue 5: recessionaires
Okay, I lied. Epilogue 4
Epilogue 3: The End (really)
Epilogue 2: Nov 2007
The eagle has landed
Seduced by the dark side
You've been in law school too long when...
I have only five more class days
The lone gunman
The last spring break is over
Someone saved your life tonight
Dean Schill & the Pussymobile
Help me yet again