So long, Sandy.

The court once again has the last chuckle as they push the more contentious nomination to the front, leaving Rehnquist to announce (or not) his own retirement later on.

I’ll put my money on Edith Hollan Jones, a 5th circuit appeals judge, as the nominee. I think Bush will save Luttig / Wilkinson / Garza et al to fill Rehnquist’s seat as chief justice.

If you’d like to actually make a bet, click here and then choose “Specials ... The Courts” from the popup menu at the top. Jones is running 17:1. Thank me later.

01 Jul 05


Roe v Wade.

I don’t think Roe v Wade will be overturned in the next 25 years. Nor will it be a priority of republican politicians in the coming nominations. That doesn’t mean they won’t say it’s a priority.

But 15 years ago, republicans were out of power in both houses of congress. So energizing the core constituency was the key goal. Thomas and Souter were nominated with the expectation they would create a majority willing to overturn Roe.

Since the recapture of congress in 1994, republicans have expanded their majority. Here in 2005, they have a lot more to lose than they did in 1990. Overturning Roe would be a huge disaster for them. Many of the moderates in their party would instantly turn against them, and democrats might finally be motivated to get off their ass and run a decent presidential campaign.

For now, abortion has turned into the perfect have-it-both-ways issue for the Republican party. They can attract strict conservative voters by outwardly proclaiming their opposition to abortion. But they can keep the moderate conservatives in the fold by quietly ensuring Roe remains good law.

Consequently I don’t think it will be a big factor in who gets nominated to the court.

04 Jul 05


Teaching evaluations.

I give UCLA law credit for putting just about everything you need as a student online—billing, grades, course information, student directories, etc.

There is one notable item that is not published on the web: teaching evaluations. Instead, these are kept in a binder, not in the library, but rather in the dean of students’ office.

I’ve been trying to go in for 2 weeks to read up on next year’s professors but there is some kind of “carpet installation problem” that has required them to move the evaluations to a location where they’re inaccessible. I see.

I’m not really clear what the policy reason is for making the evaluations less than fully accessible. The information is not confidential. So the extra layers of bureaucracy between a student & the evals can only be meant to reduce the use of the evals.

Nobody I know has ever gone in to see a teaching eval. In your first year, there’s no point: your classes & professors are pre-ordained. Now, people are curious, but many have day jobs (the dean’s office is only open M-F 9-5) and many others are out of town (and it would be inconvenient to schedule a weekend trip to LA just for this).

What’s the big secret? Next week I promise to find out, once the carpet issue is solved.

07 Jul 05


Pretty fly for a white guy.

Ancient trivia from C-SPAN:

“In a bit of acknowledged whimsy, Chief Justice William Rehnquist decided to personalize his judicial robe with 4 gold braid stripes on each sleeve about [10] years ago.”

“All the other Supreme Court justices wear the traditional unadorned black judicial robes. The inspiration for the gold stripes came from the costume worn by a character in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, “Iolanthe,” first staged in London in 1882.”

07 Jul 05


Teaching evaluations II.

There’s good news and there’s bad news.

Good news: I kinda thought they’d throw away 80% of the evaluations and file a representative sample. Not so. There’s a folder of evals for every professor, for every class, for the last 10 yrs the prof’s been teaching. You’re a law student. You like research. Go to it.

Be aware that going off the numerical scores is pretty useless because everyone uses a different mental scale to rate a professor. It also helps to know your own likes and dislikes. For example, I have a very low tolerance for disorganized or late teachers. Other people, not so much. But if I see ‘disorganized’ even a couple times in an eval folder, I move along.

Bad news: What you will find out is basically, most people like their classes and their professors. Which means one of two things. Either they are not evaluating them very critically, or they have bad taste. I looked up evaluations from professors I had who were objectively quite bad and they still got pretty good reviews. Did these people go to a different class than I did? Or were they just being kind? Anyways, as I went through, I discounted positive feedback somewhat, and paid a little extra attention to negative comments.

Good news: you do notice a clear difference in evaluation between good professors and great ones. There are some classes where people routinely write “best class I took” or “best professor at UCLA” and those are rare enough that they’re worth paying attention to.

To my colleagues at UCLA, I highly recommend you use the evals as a background check on your professors. There are courses (eg. Wills, Bus Assoc, Evidence) where you will have a choice of professors and the evals are handy for ranking your preferences.

You will not find out who are “the best” professors—there’s no overall ranking (sadly). But on classes where you’re on the fence, the evals can either push you to take a risk, or encourage you to run away. Far, far away.

12 Jul 05


thanks for the info, MB. it’s a shame these things aren’t online...

Posted by: MD at July 14, 2005 07:47 AM

Rehnquist sticks around.

Contrary to most everyone’s expectation, though not mine, Rehnquist announced this week he has no plans to retire.

I never really took the rumors too seriously. Here’s the thing. The man has spent pretty much all his life around federal government in general and the supreme court in particular. His wife has been dead for 12 years. John Paul Stevens is sitting there at age 85 still deciding cases.

So you’re Bill Rehnquist. Do you a) retire from the bench so you can go home and wait to die of thyroid cancer, in the meantime filling your days with matinee movies and NY Times crosswords or b) stay on the bench until you keel over.

Also, one of my summer jobs has been to read a lot of Rehnquist’s supreme court opinions. This is a man who’s been a very effective politician, but also extremely tenacious. He’s not as fiery as Scalia but he can be a bigger stick in the mud. And he’s written many solo dissents where the rest of the court went one way, and he went the other.

Long story short: if everyone says it’s time to retire, this is a guy who’s going to stay on just to show them he can. Maybe the Republicans should try reverse psychology and start talking about how they hope Rehnquist is on the bench until age 100.

17 Jul 05


hardy har

Posted by: tha man at July 17, 2005 03:33 PM

My greatest victory yet.

I saved big money on my block of yoga classes tonight thanks to my PHAT 20% STUDENT DISCOUNT. Which they don’t publicize. But I overheard someone else asking about it and I demanded justice.

I knew law school would pay out.

17 Jul 05


Wagering update.

Edith Jones made it to #3 on the oddsmakers list but sadly, not a winner, losing to a nominee who’s looking to balance out the bench by becoming the seventh white guy.

19 Jul 05


Some help is no help.

Following the change in our grading curve policy last year (the median GPA is being bumped up from 3.0 to 3.3, and giving out C’s is now optional, not mandatory) many students asked our dean, fairly I think, “what is the transition plan?” inasmuch as three years of students will have transcripts with grades collected under both the old and new systems.

Unfortunately, the dean’s solution is to send out a math problem to law firms in the form of a transcript cover letter:

Dear Employers:

After surveying the grading policies of comparable law schools, the UCLA School of Law determined in 2005 that its grade distributions were significantly lower than those of many comparable schools. Therefore, beginning in the Fall 2005 semester, the School of Law changed its grading curve in both the first year and upper division courses to better align our student GPAs with those of similarly situated students at these institutions. Set forth below are both the previous grade curve at the UCLA School of Law and the new curve.

[impenetrable numerical minutiae follows]

Lawyers enjoy math about as much as psychiatrists enjoy Tom Cruise movies. This letter, duly attached to hundreds of transcripts, will raise the same thought in hundreds of firm recruiters’ brains: What the fuck is this!?? And then, the same response: Guess I better ignore it.

I have a suggested revision to the cover letter, in the interests of clarity.

Dear Employers:

Congratulations! Your relentless focus on GPA as a measure of candidate quality has paid off. UCLA has inflated its grade curve to give you more satisfaction in hiring UCLA grads. By using a proprietary technology called Mathematics (pat. pending), we have in one stroke made all of our graduates appear more qualified—by boosting their GPAs—without making them substantively more qualified.

We think this change will make our graduates more competitive in the job market, help them bill more hours, and allow your partners to drive even nicer cars than they do now.

Best regards, etc.

28 Jul 05


The things I get paid to read.

“A fluid dispenser includes a disposable reservoir for containing a fluid and a tube depending therefrom for dispensing measured quantities of fluid. The tube includes a fluid dispensing orifice and a plunger for forcing measured quantities of fluid through the orifice. A solenoid disposed adjacent tube magnetically engages and moves the plunger in order to cause the plunger to force the measured quantities of fluid through the orifice. A control system is provided which includes a Theremin antenna for sensing the presence of a user’s hand beneath the orifice and providing electrical current to the solenoid to enable the solenoid to magnetically engage and move the plunger.”

29 Jul 05

matthewb @ ucla
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