Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alito Confirmed

58-42, mostly on party lines, with Jim Jeffords, an Independent (they exist?) against, Lincoln Chaffee against (the only Republican), and four Democrats for ( Robert C. Byrd ofWest Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, e.g. Red State Democrats). This is the same margin Clarence Thomas was confirmed by, but I have hope that Alito won't turn into a bitter, self-loathing, hateful, spiteful mother fucker by his experience with the Senate. By way of distinction, it's not like he is embittered by a month long "high tech lynching" (what the hell does that mean? This man is on the Supreme Court?) about whether or not he watches porn and said that there was a pubic hair on his Coke. Alito probably will accept that it's Senate politics, that the days of wide confirmation margins are over, and will move on--I hope.

Like I said, I'm not happy. But I knew it was coming, and I knew there was nothing to prevent it. He's no Bork. He's not even Clarence Thomas, who is the WORST justice on the bench and the LEAST qualified. So in the spectrum of evil, he's only mildly bad. Unfortunately he's also principled and self-righteous, so he actually believes that all he's doing is right and good. But it's better than believing that to hell with rightness or justice, I'm going to turn back the clock to 1937 before that new fangled New Deal thing came along! That's the difference between a principled conservative and a wacked out ideologue, so though I'd rather have my druthers, at least I'm not having my hellllll nos.

Feminists: don't freak out yet. Wait for an as-applied challenge to come before the court. It'll probably be an issue you've already seen--minor parental notification, D&X "partial birth" abortion but with a health exception--and there, choice has already been severely constrained but survives thanks to the health exception inclusion into the "undue burden" test.

Federalists: don't freak out yet, Gonzales v. Raich just brought a regulatory federalism victory (too bad on personal use of medical marijuana, an issue that I wish we would allow less regulation on), and Wisconsin Right to Life gave the reverse dual federalism victory allowing state legislatures to draft their own right-to-die laws. So the federalism jurisprudence is even less clear than it was before, and there's a lot of room to manuever. Let's wait and see what happens, particularly in the area of federalizing criminal law and drug laws. I'm worried, but I'm not freaking out...yet.

Separation of Power-ists: FREAK out. What the hell is a unitary executive?! And be careful what you say over the phone. Don't be planning any terror attacks for a while, and if you do, go back to morse code or something.


Pseudonymously Yours

I've already mentioned that I'm blogging anonymously because 1) I'm an aspiring academic and even at this early, early stage, I don't want my future professors or prospective employers (in theory, I could go on the market as early as summer 2007, but it'll likely be more like 2008 or um, 2011) to Google me and find out something weird; and 2) I don't want my family exposed. I like telling stories about them because they are so weird and wonderful, but it's like Thomas Wolfe wrote--You Can't Go Home Again (especially if you write about the people you live with).

So it was with trepidation that I joined the wide world of Blogistan (Even though I hate "blog," I love "Blogistan," it makes it sound like a former Soviet republic, and the fact that Technorati, which watches over us all, sounds like a sub-group of the Kremlin). I had blogged previously on this smaller community that didn't syndicate and provide Atom and RSS feeds, under yet a different name. Suffice it to say, I'm a woman of many personas. The previous blog was really a daily diary for friends, and only at the end did it become more ambitious--better writing, less narcissism, and more "public intellectual" kind of writing. I'm not saying I am one, but it helps to remind oneself that one's writing ought to have more purpose than "This is what I did today" or "You HAVE to hear this new band I discovered." But now that I've joined Blogistan, I love it. I've found Ancrene Wiseass, a medievalist after my own heart (Romanesque art loving , psalter reading Latin-speakers of the world unite!). For the first time, I've participated in comment threads on non-law blogs, and commented more than once--a virtual conversation! Usually I'll post my take on some case or point of law on a specialized legal blog (what do YOU think about ERISA preemption?), but I've been wary of the comment threads on general interest political popular blogs. Have you read them? There are freak-shows out there! Caustic, spastic multi-posters who really are way too opinionated. I have to say, I've been quite pleased by the civil tone on most of the humanities blogs I've cruised in my late night bar breaks. It's been fun.

So that's good news for Belle. What a nice reception I've received from everyone. Scott Eric Kaufman, over at Acephalous writes in welcome: "BL, welcome to the wide world of comboing. Alone, we are invincible; together, the whole world will ignore us. Or maybe it's the other way around. " How lovely. in return, I've contributed to the serious debate on "what's lamer" on his blog, and am a serious contender in the "Lame-Off" Contest (winner gets to wear a Bedazzlered crown with a big "L" and gets to sing a duet with Scott). In short, this new pseudonym is working for me. I can write freely about everything from the law to my weird family and not feel like it'll come back to haunt me. I can admit how lame I am without reprisal. Life is good for Blogospheric Belle.

For the other alter-ego, She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named, life is okay. Like everyday Belle, she is still struggling to study for the bar, while keeping up with some household duties: taking my arthritic mother for walks around the block, taking care of nephews and nieces (although I'm playing the bar card more and more and whittling it down to only giving baths and changing diapers, no sitting with them to watch The Lion King: 1 1/2). I've also cautiously began participating in the online community of legal academics--sending article links and suggestions to various speciality law blogs, leaving comments, writing emails. It's the closest thing to networking if you haven't been invited to conferences yet, and if you're stuck in the suburbs at your parent's house. As in, hopefully these people may sort of remember me if I keep this up until the next AALS conference. So it was kind of thrilling for the non-Belle part of me to get a "hat tip" today on one of my favorite law blogs. It's kind of exciting to have a couple of professors out there across the country who in a few months I can email asking for advice on which program to go to. Each professor has taken a different path (though man, most of them come from Harvard or Yale), and there's even an "Ask Mom" section on Black Law Prof for academics and aspiring academics. Sometimes, the web really does link us all. (cue John Williams theme music).

It's nice to know that once in a while, in the twain shall fictional self and real self meet. They might not acknowledge each other, but they cross paths. Only in Blogistan can Belle and She-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named exist comfortably (well, they are the same person), write freely, and fear nothing.

Like Scott said: alone we are invincible, together the world will ignore us--or is it vice versa?


Monday, January 30, 2006

Alito Too Late

I'm suffering from a mixture of bar exhaustion, ennui, and liberal outrage fatigue, such that I can scarcely rouse my activist angst (and I usually have rage issues). I've started this blog a little too late, well after some of my favorite issues--the horrible Bankruptcy reform bill, the Gonzales v. Raich decision--but I'm in time for the FISA wiretap issue (though that has been discussed much better by the real academics and experts out there) and the Medicare reform bill (bad, BAD idea, and I know because I was on Medicare when I was a kid). But today I write of Judge Alito. I'm not as mad as I would be if this was the wackjob Janice Rogers Brown or Edith Clement, but I'm not happy. (If there was a conservative to be nominated, it should have been Michael McConnell, who's at least principled)

I'm opposed to Alito's nomination on a number of grounds, chief of which is frightening stance on executive power. I don't know where the idea of a "unitary executive" comes from, but it doesn't come from a love of separation of powers and civil liberties. I'm against him for his decisions on employment discrimination, criminal procedure, the Commerce Clause (Congress can't regulate machine guns?!) and of course, abortion rights. But I think the Left is shooting itself in the foot using that as a single-issue platform. There are a lot of issues that trouble me as much as, or even more than choice, which has already been all but whittled down to a formality in the Bible Belt. I'm not saying get out of a losing war--I'm saying we should evaluate where we put our energies and how we draft our core messages.

Choice is important to me, and I suspect it is for many women who think "well here's a legal issue that directly affects me." But I can think of a hundred other laws that impact our daily lives: welfare reform, bankruptcy laws, the constitutionality of unreasonable strip searches, warrant-less wire taps, and federalism. Yes, federalism--whether Congress has the power to regulate civil remedies for gender-motivated violence, guns in school zones, personal marijuana use, environmental laws, hate crimes...the list goes on. It shouldn't be all about choice, even though choice is important.

So with the plethora of issues on which to oppose Alito, I'm not sure how I feel about the Senator's attempts to block his vote via fillibuster. For one thing, they didn't sufficiently muster up the opposition early on, so this just seems like sideshow attention-getting antics right now. There was no way that a fillibuster would go through, and Kennedy and Kerry knew it (it went down today 75-25. Too little, too late. So why try to fillibuster when you know it's not going to work? Why entice the Republicans with the possibility of using the nuclear option? I'm not arguing that if they had, the Republicans would have said "that's it! I'm not going to be nice to you the next time you're in power!" I don't think either side has those kind of bona fides or honorableness. I'm saying they're jeopardizing the hard-wrought Gang of 14 compromise, and if they had gone through, the Republicans might have made good on their promise to use the nuclear option and re-write the Senate rules to block fillibusters--not a good thing for democracy at all. I think that every Democratic Senator should vote his/her conscience and against Alito's nomination. Doing so won't block him from being on the court, but it would send a message that "we think he is beyond the legal mainstream."

It's a Pyrrhic, symbolic victory (loss), but it's a message worth sending. The political realist in me says that you pick your battles and your tactics carefully, but if you must lose, and you know you will when the other side has more votes than you and the candidate, while offensive, is nevertheless well-qualified and appears temperate, then lose while being strong in your message. Say that "despite his qualifications and good character, we believe that Judge Alito's positions on X, Y and Z are outside the legal mainstream, and we cannot support his nomination."

That's what I would say.


Sunday, January 29, 2006

Schoolhouse Rocks

The relationship between a professor and a student is of infinite variety. Of course, so far I've only been on the student side, but if you stretch the pedagogical role of the teaching assistant enough, I suppose I could remark a little on the other side as well. I've had unusually good relationships with professors, both male and female. I'm always a good, diligent student, and so they've been great at recommending me for fellowships, honors societies, graduate schools, and have even given me TA-ships. But I suppose it's some strange part of me that elicits the avuncular/motherly response from professors, such that while I've been professionally commended and promoted, in private they seem ready to break out the milk and cookies when I come by. I almost hate that I so readily elicit protective responses from even total strangers, much less the authority figures in my life. I'm one of those people whom everyone at the airport wants to help when they see me struggle with lifting luggage. I'm one of those people that even bouncers at nightclubs (jazz clubs, mind you) smile at and ask if I'm from out of town. Maybe it's because I'm 5'2", petite, and a perpetually young-faced Asian-American woman. I don't know. But how is it that year after year, I get professors who ask me "how are you doing" with such concern and care? How is it that each year, some professor will draw out of me not only my career aspirations, but also the non-academic impediments to those aspirations. Usually it comes about when they ask me where I went to college, or why I'm not applying for that exchange program or conference in Chile, and boom, life story comes out. Before I know it, I'm confessing my weird family history with the dad who never let me go to a school I couldn't commute to, to hell with the admissions letter from Berkeley or Cornell, and the gendered expectations in my family, where I'm smart enough to go to grad school, but not smart enough to handle high-stress or overly prestigious schools. Solicitous professors then become sympathetic, and I feel as much a kid as I do an aspiring colleague. I"ve broken down crying in a professor's office once, shocked, SHOCKED at how my once straight-A average has turned into a straight-B average (I got over that). I've written many a heartfelt thank you note to several profssors thanking them profusely for being so kind and sympathetic when I was contemplating dropping out of law school, and now that I'm dreaming the, er, impossible dream. All of that makes me feel very young, and very weak, and acutely aware of how I have benefited from the counsel and kindness of teachers. Yet rather than feeling simply grateful that I've had such good experiences with professors, I'm kind of irritated at myself for not being self-sufficient enough to have gotten through all of these academic hurdles on my own.

But I shouldn't complain. We all need help in life, and if you can't turn to your non-English speaking immigrant parents who don't' know or really care about how academic life is treating you so long as you bring home the diploma one day, I guess I was lucky I could turn to my professors. How do professors feel about their students? What did my professors make of me, a chatty, pastry-baking, enthusiastic, theory-loving, email-sending, hand-in-the-air-front-seat-sitter? I don't know. I think they loved me for my enthusiasm and remarkable trait of actually reading the assigned texts and asking questions about it. But for a professor's perspective, check out Untenured's diary at Slate:

Today I bumped into a former student, the incomparable young B. I met B. last year, when he was just a nubile freshman. B. had liked to let it be known that he had already read everything we were going to read in class "for fun." He spoke in aphorisms, quoted Pynchon and Nietzsche, and wrote me daily e-mails requesting that I answer his arcane questions about the finer points of deconstruction. I would awaken to find his daily missives addressed to "yo, professor." He stalked my office hours on a regular basis to seek my advice about philosophy, literature, life and, of course, his glorious future. In short, for a good 15-week span of time, we developed a relationship of sorts.
But that was last year. Today, I catch my first glimpse of his sophomore self. When he sees me, he saunters over and says, "Hey, professor." I say, "Hey, B., what's new?" He says, "You know, I'm taking this grad course with Professor N. (He lingers over the word grad). I say, "Wow, that's great!" (Professor N. is, in fact, a friend of mine, so I actually am quite pleased.) But does he stop there? No. He says, "Professor N. is really cool." I'm still fine with that. Does he stop there? No. "Professor N.," he says, looking at me intently, "is who I want to be when I grow up." That's just fine, I think. Professor N. is smart, hip, sexy, and gay. I wonder if B. has any idea. Then he narrows his eyes and delivers the zinger: "I took an undergrad class with him, too. He really knows how to handle a class." Okay, okay. So now I want to turn around and shriek, "So what am I, chopped liver?" Teaching often leaves one feeling a little like chopped liver. It is like some intense romance which retroactively turns into a one-night stand. But weirder still--it is like a one-night stand you keep having over and over. Students come and go but always stay the same age. I sometimes have the feeling that I have had several similar relationships with generations of their slightly older prototypes over the years. But emotional attachment to students takes many archetypical forms: These range from grand, unconsummated courtly passion to raging, unconsummated, stuttering lust. There are more complex forms as well. There is the love one feels for the beautiful young woman who doesn't know she is brilliant and the love one feels for her twin--the brilliant young woman who doesn't know she is lovable. There is the earnest frat boy who learns to think. The boy one wanted to date in high school but didn't. I have always had a particular penchant for young men of 20 whose intellectual excitement translates into a steamy sort of vulnerability. Sometimes one falls in love with a class as a whole, like an adorable Borg whose every part is equally adorable.

I guess I can be described as one of those students in one of those "intense" relationships. Maybe even one of those "grand, unconsummated courtly passions." I don't know how I feel about that. It's complicated. For most of my life, I've struggled to stay away from the cliche of having a teacher crush, and it's largely worked. Plus, as I've said, most of my professors in college were really old men or really cool women, and so there was no actual physical attraction. For some reason, all that changed in law school, where half the professors were really old men, yes, but the other half were really young--early to mid thirties. Some professors were the same age as or even younger than their students. Some students had more degrees than their professors. It was an odd mix. Plus, since many of us had done some law literature reading prior to law school, we came in with serious academic stage crushes. In my Critical Race Studies program, I and a few others came to our school because of some of the professors, who we had read and admired and looked at adoringly. Law school is peculiar in that because so many professors are old and ugly and still remarking on the Restatements revolution of the 1970s, the young ones, who are often only 5-10 years older than you, can seem pretty hot by comparison. Oh, they are not objectively attractive, but they are under 40, and that's what matters.

So two things changed for me when I went to law school: First, academic crushes were openly acknowledged and the taboo was lifted--we were no longer school girls, and we never took them seriously. We had crushes on male and female alike (the male ones more intense), and even the male professors knew that we had them. It was all a big joke. Discussed openly at the annual public interest law dinner, much to the professors' chagrin. To my knowledge, there was no actual unethical activity occuring. The second thing that changed was that I've accepted the fact that at this point in my life, I'm only an aspiring academic, and I am still a kid. I've much to learn. And the best people to learn from are my professors. So I've made peace with the fact that not only do I have wide, innocent cow-eyes, I use them to look adoringly at those whom I most admire and whose job I want. It's as much envy as affection.

So after struggling with it for the past few months, struggling to understand it, I admit, I am the Incomparable B. I had, and still have, an intense crush on Professor Z, which translated to a pretty intense (on my side) relationship. I wrote the daily emails and asked the arcane questions. I baked the baked goods (mostly apple turnovers, banana bread, I think maybe pie once) and brought them to office hours, which I attended weekly. I even wrote emails during spring break. I have even made mix-CDs of This American Life programs on non-conforming gender stereotypes because they were pertinent to the discussion about Price-Waterhouse's Title VII test for discrimination based on gender. On Professor Z's side, I there was no reciprocal crush, but there was a "relationship of sorts," though entirely appropriate. Professor Z was just a nice guy. Seemed to genuinely care about my career aspirations, and would offer advice, unasked, and ask questions, unprompted. He was genuinely solicitous of my well-being, and without getting too personal, discuss with me in a detached, anthropological manner (my own attitude towards my weird family and how I ever sprang, like Minerva, a fully-formed Democrat, from their Republican heads) the weird gender dynamics in my family where everyone is a professional, but every daughter is still a girl. I think he genuinely enjoyed our hour-long chats about the law, life, and everything. He says it's "sweet of me" whenever I bring him a baked good. He writes in his emails that he enjoys our chats. We concurred on liking The Who. We were both bakers, and he made the best blondies I've ever tasted (besides my own). I got him to sign a copy of his law review article. There are 24 emails from him in my inbox, and those are only the ones that I didn't delete right away for being merely administrative. I don't know how many he would have from me, ranging from the complex hypothetical questions about such and such a possibility for an extremely sensitive plaintiff to a "hey what's up" kind of email while on vacation in Santa Cruz. Like I said, I am the Incomparable B. By virtue of reading and being prepared for class I'm already extraordinary, and throw in the fresh baked turnovers and the fact that I'm reasonably attractive and he's objectively not-so and it's a recipe for a Woody Allen movie or Harold and Maude in reverse. I don't know whether he thinks of me as the brilliant woman who hasn't yet realized that she's lovable, or the beautiful woman who hasn't yet realized I'm brilliant. Maybe a little of both, but downgrade the "beautiful" to "pretty" and the "brilliant" to "smart," or as he says, "with interesting ideas."

I think every chemically-balanced, non-delusional student who has a crush knows that it's not so much a crush as excessive admiration coupled with job-envy. At least I hope every student does. And I think every professor is probably flattered by such attention, but hopefully not deluded into thinking it translates to real physical or sexual attraction that should be acted on. Ewww. I've had students who've had crushes on me, who have brought me food and presents and written their numbers on their bluebooks--it's always been flattering, so long as it's not physical or stalkeresque. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for such students, particularly the young men who show so much promise, and walk with much swagger and bravado but in private appear vulnerable and insecure about their academic abilities. I've been in those shoes, so I encourage them as I myself have been encouraged. But why is it so easy to have a crush-dynamic in the first place? Why do students grow to love their professors, whether homely or handsome, and why do these busy professors ever let themselves be drawn into such intense intellectual verging on personal relationships in the first place?

Maybe because it's such a special relationship, capable of so many special things. Who hasn't been transformed by a good teacher? Who hasn't been the stutterer in the back of the classroom who was finally coaxed into answering a question in front of the class? Every professor was once a student. They know what it's like. They were probably never the popular jocks in school. They know how much a teacher can do to help make this awkward age bearable. For my part, Professor Z made all the difference in the world to me by supporting my academic aspirations tangibly and concretely. Not just emotional support, though there was plenty of that--but also "did you do this" and "when do you need this letter of rec by." He told me to apply to fellowships--I did. He said it was a good idea to apply to PhD programs in a cognate field to establish doctrinal chops--I did. And so for the first time in my life, I really tried hard to open as many possibilities for myself as I could--mainly because for the first time in my life, someone was telling me that they were real possibilities and not just pipe dreams.

We're all first generation immigrants in my family, and although college, graduate school, and a good, stable job were never considered beyond our grasp, something as crazy as being a non-science person who wants to join the most elite of professions definitely isn't normal. This is probably why I never chose to study high-modernist American literature and critical theory or political theory in graduate school. So going to law school was a big enough revolution, even more so now that I'm actually thinking of continuing onto five more years of school just to pursue a pipe dream. (My sister was a practicing dentist by 25, I'm going to be a little late if I get my first tenure track job in say, 7 years) Sometimes they wonder why I'm taking such a long, hard path. Especially since I'm a girl, and they kind of always thought that I would end up with with a small-practice office in Little Saigon.

I was told not to bother applying to anything other than local schools during the college and law school admissions process, and to not even think that I should waste money applying to Harvard or Yale. I took this to heart the first two times around, although I did cheat a little and apply to other selective private schools, only to be told couldn't couldn't go to Vassar, Cornell, or U Chicago Law becouldn'tI couldn't commute there. But I never did try much harder than that, since they always said that it's better to be a big fish in a little pond than vice versa. So I can't believe that for the first time in my life, I'm applying to Harvard and Yale in earnest. I may have no better a chance than I did four or eight years ago, but even the act of trying is remarkable. And I don't think that I've ever really thought that I should apply to something like a fellowship where they pay you to study. It's amazing what good teachers can do to make their students feel like they should at least make honest attempts at something.

Every teacher is crush-worthy. Once in a while, you get a student like the Incomparable B, and if you scratch the surface, you'll see it's more than a schoolgirl crush--it's the first blush of recognition and acknowledgment that lights up her cheeks, and that is life-changing. So Professor Z, and every professor who ever told me that I can, and should apply to School X will never be chopped liver with me.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

Chalk It Up To This

There's a tension between scholarship and teaching. I have no idea why. They would appear to go naturally together--you read, you learn, you think up new ideas, you write them down, and then you pass on the knowledge. It seems almost, well, elementary. But it isn't. The thing is, what you research and write about and what you teach can be very different. They can occupy the same field, but it's rare that you'll be teaching your "cutting edge" scholarship in a freshman survey course.

For legal academia, there's an even greater schism between research and teaching. Most professors are indentured into teaching at least one "bar course," which is definitely NOT cutting edge law--it's very old, "blackletter" law, or legal precepts that have been handed down through the ages and most likely reaffirmed by lower courts until you can teach it as well-settled Supreme Court precedent. So there's nothing new you can add besides a different pedagogy or way of framing the issues. It's rare to feel like your area is in great flux and that you can bring your current research into the classroom without messing up the students. Sometimes you can though. It was genuinely exciting to be taking Constitutional Law during oral arguments for Grutter v. Bollinger, and "Sexuality and Law" after Lawrence v. Texas, which changed the entire coursebook (making half of it overruled). Some of us even flew to Washington to demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court against Texas' anti-sodomy laws, and still others had gone the previous year to raise our voices for holding racial diversity as a compelling governmental interest. And believe it or not, it was just as exciting to take Corporations and Legal Ethics after the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate reform bill. But for the most part, there isn't much change in the law, and what change there is is incremental. Roe has been whittled down for the past two decades, to the point where obtaining an abortion in the bible belt is becoming almost impassably difficult, even for "minors" of the age of 19.

Most professors at my school didn't try to avoid controversy or bringing in "policy" or "moral arguments" into the classroom (something that barheads hate), but they are under a duty to teach us the basic law we need to know to pass the bar, so most days, it's just legal rules crammed down your throats. Some don't always adhere to that precept however. The more elite the law school, the less it's worried about its bar passage rate, and the more abstract and theoretical it is. You can take a bar class and learn very little blackletter law. I did well in Contracts, but because it was taught by a law and philosophy professor, I can make basic arguments about contract theory and can do very little actual contract drafting. And yes, you can go through a whole semester of Criminal Law learning very little more than you would from a Law and Order marathon (or even less). Try spending 8/16 weeks studying criminal intent (mens rea) and then trying to answer your friends' basic questions about what they could to expunge an old misdemeanor from their record.

So with the remarkable range in law school courses, and the flexibility given to law professors to teach the material whichever way they wish in most elite law schools, why aren't law students learning cutting-edge legal theory? I have no idea. I think it's just the nature of the field. It's a relatively static, slow-changing field. You slowly appeal up the ladder of the courts, and wait for precedents to be affirmed or remanded or overruled before you can feel comfortable enough to teach it. Except for clinical oriented classes, there's no teaching of novel legal strategies. I admit, the law is kind of stuffy and stuck in place. I concentrated in Critical Race Studies, and even my Critical Race Theory course had a text book that was dated 10 years. I'm supposed to be at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary anti-subordination legal theory, and only NOW are we beginning to talk about the intersectionality of race, gender, and sexuality.

So I can't find anything to chalk up this remarkable resistance to change and innovation than the static nature of law. The legal system is beset by Kafka-esque gatekeepers, arcane rules, and legal precedents that constrain its ability to adapt and change. Bowers v. Hardwick: 1989. Overruled by Lawrence v. Texas: 2004. It takes a while, even as society and its mores changed at a much more rapid pace.

Young academics can take it upon themselves to try to change the pedagogical rigidity of the system without pushing a political agenda. I would hope that I would try to teach some of the things I'm discovering through my research in a politically neutral way, that is, open to discussion and critique. In teaching a course about federalism, for example, I could bring in the angle of the federalization of criminal law and discuss new cases concerning drug enforcement and the Violence Against Women Act. There are pro and contra arguments for anything. In teaching a class about Employment Discrimination, I would bring in issues concerning sexuality as a potentially "suspect" classification for discrimination, how transgenders should be regarded (as effeminate men/masculine women or as women/men?), and how discriminating against typically-Black/ethnic mutable characteristics (cornrows, yarmulkes, Sikh beards and turbans) is de facto racial discrimination. Again, arguments on each side, going back to the melting pot vs. the mosaic.

The legal field is more dynamic than the legal academy, but both are pretty much slow moving beasts. It's the race between the tortoise and the slug. But I would at least argue for making the academy match the innovation of its cognate field. What the academy should do is look outside it's doors to the other buildings on campus. I wonder how other fields would fare if they only taught the survey courses and nothing else, or introduced nothing novel in their survey courses. How can you teach a class on the American Government and discuss separation of powers without discussing the current controversy over the "unitary executive" idea of Alito's? How can you teach economics without introducing the emerging field of behavioral economics? I was an English Lit major once, concentrating in modernist American literature and even there, the professors brought in post-modern deconstructionist theory (though we were the university of Derrida). Every field has the potential to be shaken up a little.

I'm not anti-canon. I'm not one of those annoying newly minted activists in the first blush of political consciousness arguing that seeing a John Singer Sargent exhibit is SO eurocentric (dude, he was AMERICAN) or blithely saying "I don't like Shakespeare--he does nothing for me" (both happened to me). I'm not arguing for throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or radicalizing and politicizing law teaching. You can teach the emerging conservative movement in ANY field too. I'm just sayin', can't we change the syllabus a little? Can't we spend a few less weeks on one point that has been belabored to death so that we can discuss a couple of emerging topics?

Is this too much to ask? Posted by Picasa


Friday, January 27, 2006

By Way of Introduction

I'm a recent graduate of a "top-20" law school, where I concentrated in critical race studies and civil rights law. So, just to clarify, I'm a lefty and I'm passionate about anti-discrimination law. But my research interests currently focus on employment discrimination law, integrating organizational studies and empirical methods.

In law school, I learned how to cry over a "B" grade, and then learn to be very grateful for it and proud of it in the same year. I learned that there are worse things than getting a "B." I learned how to avoid cirrhosis of the liver. I learned defensive driving. I learned how you should and should not navigate the high school-esque social terrain of law school. I learned how to get by on 4 hours of sleep and how to carry 20 lbs. of laptop and books on my back. I also learned that I'm not cut out to be a conventional practicing lawyer. And definitely not a corporate lawyer. To me, a bar license is like that back-up beauty-school license your mother told you to get in the 1960s when she wasn't too sure you'd be smart enough to get into college. In contrast though, it's probably the hardest, most demoralizing, expensive backup license to get.

After three years in delightful urban sprawl, I'm currently exiled in majority-Republican suburbia, where I lived for my first 21 years, and where I attended every school including college. So yes, I'm back to living with my parents, studying for one of the nation's toughest bar exams. While I'm here, I'm waiting for life to begin--in other words, awaiting replies from various post-doctoral law and political science PhD programs, for another round of either 3 or 5 years of school. Why on earth am I electing to spend a total of either 10 or 12 years in post-secondary education?

Because I want to become a Law Professor. Because I was meant to teach somehow, somewhere, some way. And I'm interested in abstract legal theories like federalism, sovereign immunity and preemption, not reviewing contracts. Why did I go to law school then? Because I wasn't meant to be an English Lit professor or a pure political scientist. I like to get out of the ivory tower every once and a while. So I want to be a lawyer AND professor (in case I ever file a brief) and I want to teach LAW. The odds are stacked against me, and the path ahead is difficult, but I've never been conventional by any means. If there is a unconventional path to law teaching, I've looked into it. And I'll take it. So if I spend the next three years in an LLM/JSD program, or the next five in a PhD program, I'll at least be where I belong.

So this blog will track this quest to join the academe. My quest to find a place where I belong intellectually and socially. It will be a combination of personal reflections and general observations about life, the law, and everything. It will not be solely devoted to analyzing legal issues, nor will it be a solipsistic daily journal. I can't resist writing about my wacky, lovable, Oprah-esque sob-story family (think David Sedaris, but Vietnamese and first-generation immigrant). Nor can I resist commenting on the major legal and political issues. Along they way, you might expect postings about my own quirks and decidedly strange person. I've been called very idiosyncratic and "interesting," but in a good way. But because there are decidedly personal elements to this blogand because I'm an aspiring academic, I will remain pseudononymous. Just call me Belle.

I don't think I'm more interesting than the next person, but the people around me certainly are. And I think I can write about it all in a sufficiently over-dramatized and colorful manner (but I'm not a liar like James Frey). So I hope you enjoy the weirdness. I hope you grow to like the study of law as much as I do. And I hope you find my writing interesting, thought-provoking, and sometimes funny or poignant. In other words, I hope you read me.


Thursday, January 26, 2006

Epiphany of the Day

From stuff and other stuff, stuff comes.

(Hat Tip: CR)