One Cheer for Scalia on Legal Education

In a speech at William and Mary Law School last weekend Justice Antonin Scalia rejected the idea of a two-year course of legal education and assailed at least some law professors as overpaid teachers of irrelevant material. He is wrong about the two-year path, but half right about some professors.

Scalia’s rejection of the two-year proposal is rooted in his view that three years are necessary to create “a legal professional,” but he provides no evidence for this claim. He does not consider the history of the requirement, which suggests that a three-year law course arose as a method of shielding incumbents from competition, particularly from immigrant families who would have difficulty affording lengthy legal education. Economists are generally wary of process requirements—like a three-year requirement for a law degree—as opposed to a performance requirement—passing the bar exam. The former tends to create a barrier to entry with no clear relation to improved output.

Scalia also does not take into account that law is a very variegated profession and that legal education should reflect this variety.

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Putin’s Popular Front?

In 1935, the Bolsheviks thought up a great way to make friends and influence people. They created a Popular Front and invited anyone who was left-of-center to join. Capitalism was faltering at the time, as was liberal democracy in Continental countries. Quite a few Americans and Europeans responded to the Pop Front outreach by welcoming Soviet Russia into the family of nations, honoring it as the lead power opposing fascism, and even hoping their own troubled societies would move toward the Soviet model.

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Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Must be Dissolved

Mel Watts, the recently confirmed director of the Federal Housing Finance Administration, last week announced new policies for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He wants to continue to allow these government backed financiers to back mortgages even as large as $625,500 and to “encourage credit access.”  This policy reverses the efforts by his predecessor at the FHFA to shrink the footprint of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae by tightening credit standards and reducing the amount of mortgages they could guarantee.

As I have noted before, the Clinton Administration set the stage for the mortgage crisis by encouraging government backed mortgages with lax standards into order to engage in redistribution at the potential and, as it turned out, actual expense to taxpayers. Watts is going down the same road. Sadly, any administration is likely to succumb to the temptation so long as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are in existence.

Watts’ polices reflect four dangers of government involvement in the mortgage market.

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When Judges Talk to Politicians

Imagine, if you will, that a president who has not shown himself overly careful about a strict observance of the Constitution, announces that he does not propose to abide by the term limits of the Twenty-Second Amendment, and that he proposes to run for a third term. He notes that the members of the Supreme Court might have a problem with this, but argues that they should not have the sole authority to interpret the Constitution, that he also might do so when backed by the will of the people, and that democratic government is the grundnorm of the Constitution…

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Protesting Speakers at Universities

This piece mentions the various people who will not be speaking at university graduations and other events due to protests from leftist groups. As the article suggests, the people being protested have views that range from the right to the left:

Such reversals, whether initiated by the school or the speaker, were once rare, but have become more common in the last few years.

Campus activists on the left have long objected to appearances by more conservative figures like Ms. Rice, though usually the events proceeded despite the protests. What is far more unusual is to see them block appearances by figures like Ms. Lagarde, a trailblazing woman usually seen as a centrist, who faced criticism over I.M.F. policies toward poor nations that predated her tenure; or Mr. Birgeneau, who was known for liberal policies toward students who were gay or not authorized to be in the country.

In some cases, the invitation is withdrawn. In these cases, the best result would be for university officials to take a stand by issuing statements in support of the core notion of a university. They should say: “We understand that not everyone supports the beliefs or actions of the invited speaker. That is not surprising. In a free society, people often disagree. It is part of the mission of a university to have speakers from different perspectives. It is one of the rights of students and others in the university to disagree with these speakers and to develop the skill of listening to those with whom they disagree.”

In other cases, however, the speaker withdraws because of the protests. Apparently, the speaker would like to be treated by the university as a whole with respect and even as an honored guest. The speaker does not want his reputation sullied by the protestors or to have to deal with criticism and acrimony. This is understandable in many cases.

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Discredited in Benghazi

The abandonment of the State Department-CIA mission in Benghazi that came under attack on September 11, 2012 marked the failure of the Obama administration’s foreign policy toward the Muslim world. That American generals and admirals raised no protest to the decision not to go to the American contingent’s defense dishonored our military and undercut its sense of duty, responsibility, and self-respect. The discredit brought upon the United States by foolish, dishonest foreign policies is dangerous and hard enough to live down. But history teaches that militaries whose moral qualities have been undermined court disaster, and that restoring those qualities is very hard.

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A Liberty Society versus a Status Society

The European Court of Justice this week declared “a right to be forgotten,” basing its decision on an EU privacy directive. Consequently, in certain circumstances, Google and other internet providers have had to delete unflattering information about people. In the European court case, a Spanish businessman did not want others to read old notices showing that he had once been delinquent in his debts.

While the scope of this decision will be debated, it did not take long for some to take advantage of it. First in line were a pedophile who wanted to expunge information about his crimes and a politician who did not want future voters to know about his embarrassing behavior. These supplicants may be foolish: the press reports are likely to remind everyone of their malefactions, even if the reports, too, can be scrubbed from the internet. But if the court’s holding stands and it not reversed in subsequent European wide legislation, the routine excise of damaging information will happen without comment, even if the information is true.

The decision is interesting on a variety of dimensions. First, it reminds us directly that the so-called right to privacy in this context is inseparable from the right of an individual to present a misleading image to the world. That a neighbor is pedophile, that a politician is a boor, or even that a businessman was once a deadbeat are all potentially important bits of  information.

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The Problematic Aspects of the Injunction in the Idaho Same Sex Marriage Case

I was reading a discussion on a list serv that I thought would be of interest to readers. The discussion involved the injunction issued by a federal magistrate in Idaho banning the enforcement of a law against same sex marriage. I had not realized that the injunction ran against all people in the state. This appears to be problematic.

It is one of the scandals of our time that federal district courts (not to mention magistrates) issue injunctions against all people in a state when the power of the district court really only extends to the parties in the case. This is one of the ways that courts exercise unjustified power.

The courts can exercise similar power in ways that do conform to existing law. If the decision were appealed to a federal appellate court, then the circuit court decision would function as a precedent that would be binding on all district courts (and circuit court panels) within the circuit. Thus, the law of precedent would operate to bind other people in the area who were not parties to the case.

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The Nature of Political Argument

Following politics can often be extremely frustrating if one seeks something like truth as opposed to victory. So much of what goes on involves one sided arguments that one side accepts as God’s word and the other treats as the Devil’s. Part of the problem is ignorance about politics that is fueled by what is known as rational ignorance. Another part of the problem is the emotional charged aspects of political debate. Yet another part is that people view political matters as involving teams – statements are seen as supporting one or the other team, and players are supposed to…

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