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My Name Is Not Daniel, My Faith Is Not That Strong

Until today, I didn't have anything really to add to the 'conservatives in academia' discussion on Volokh (here, here, or here) or The Curmudgeonly Clerk. But since I'm pretty much caught up with my reading (still the laughter in the gallery, please) I thought I'd go along to the 2003 Supreme Court Round Up held this evening.

In one sense, I got what I wanted: a short summary of the interesting Supreme Court cases of the 2003 term, and a very brief look at things to come. But the vast bulk of the evening was taken up with Gratz, Grutter, and Lawrence v. Texas. I took two sections of notes: what was said in a factual and informative manner, and notes for the general tenor of the meeting. I won't quote from the latter other than to say that there was nothing nice said about Scalia save for a backhanded compliment, Rehnquist was described as disingenuous twice, and all three of the above rulings were considered self-evidently correctly decided, save perhaps that they didn't go far enough. (Needless to say, nothing nasty was said about Kennedy or Ginsburg, though one can suspend disbelief about the latter and say that's because of her Columbia connection. You don't speak badly of Cardozo here, either.)

The academics present were smart, witty, and highly knowledgable: indeed, I'd gone specifically wanting to see one of them, since I'd be pleased if I ended up in one of her classes one day. But (and perhaps this is the signs of some naivety on my part) I'd imagined that in a formal panel put forward by Columbia Law School there might be a whisper of dissent between the four panelists. If there was, I missed it. Nor were any of the floor questions particularly challenging, though some did result in some explanation or elaboration of views already stated. If one might think that the dissent in Grutter or Lawrence has any steam at all, you'd not have known it from the discussion this evening.

This isn't what I was used to during my undergraduate days: panels were expected to have some disagreement (or, if that was absolutely impossible, to at the very least address the points of the opposition). David Bernstein from the Volokh Conspiracy was here last week, speaking about his new book, but I didn't see him because I read him quite a lot. As a guest of the Federalists, it looked like he'd be preaching to the choir: not, in my view, the best use of my time. But he'd have made a great addition to this panel.

What sprung to my mind by the end was, "Who are these people talking to?" Maybe there were a lot of closet conservatives in that room who remained silent, but I didn't see any of the usual 1L suspects I know. Is it really good policy to describe the term 'public interest law' as if it must by definition exclude conservatives? To hold quite emotive panels, without giving a voice to contrary views? Indeed, given the tenor of the questions, wouldn't it have made sense to ask for contrary or challenging questions--from the floor if nowhere else? I would have thought that at a university, such uniform agreement would be just as disturbing. Besides, if everyone in the room already agrees with you, why bother talking?

Which brings one to the obvious question: young man, why did you stay silent? To which I can only say, read the title above. One of the depressing things about Grutter is that ostensibly it's put in place to ensure that there is diversity not of race but of experience and viewpoint in academia, to which diversity of race is supposed to contribute. If that's the case, the panel was hardly a good sign.

Update: Thinking on it, there was a question I wanted to ask, and forgot. The panel skipped over a free-speech case, Nike v. Kasky, in which I have a very strong interest. (Samuelson on Kasky can be found for a good layman's summary.)

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Comments

Sigh...everything is better in England... ;-) And PS, my torts professor ripped Cardozo a new one the other day.
Nah, I'd say everything is better in a non-politicized department. I'm waiting for Martin or Jen to chime in and say that things are more biased in the History or PPE departments. Oddly, Oriental Studies just seems to have few hot-button issues that inspire partisan politics. And among the tutors, it did seem kind of gauche to wear your ideological heart on your sleeve. Besides, the English have no Taco Bells. Though I've not found a decent one in NYC, either.

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