For leaders of student chapters of the Federalist Society, getting Justice Antonin Scalia as a speaker at their law schools is a dream realized. For Caitlin Wallace, a 3L at the University of Wyoming College of Law and head of its FedSoc chapter, it seemed a pipedream. UW, nestled between two mountain ranges in Laramie, is one of the smallest law schools in the nation and the smallest public law school. But Wallace wrote to Justice Scalia anyway, thinking there was nothing to lose by trying.
Imagine her surprise when the Justice wrote back with a “yes” to her invitation. According to Laramie Boomerang reporter Joshua Roberts, who wrote a cool story on this, Caitlin Wallace defied the odds given at a FedSoc student leadership conference, at which some 500 students listened to a speaker on the topic of drawing a big name to your school. On a screen appeared two photos. One was Elvis, the other Scalia. The message was that one’s chance of drawing either man was quite dim. Bagging Scalia is considered quite the feather in FedSoc student chapter circles. “Justin Bieber is to teen pop is what Justice Scalia is to law students,” Wallace said.
She lucked out. Her timing was spot on. As it happened, Justice Scalia planned to go hunting in Wyoming, accompanied by Justice Elena Kagen. As media reports had it, Kagen had already bird-hunted with Scalia, wanted to chase bigger game, and this time hoped to bag an antelope. (Yes, Elena Kagen, not Sarah Palin.)
According to AP and local media, Justice Scalia made his usual “impassioned and humorous case” for his originalist approach to the federal Constitution. I was glad to see that on this occasion at least, the media included in its coverage facts (and remarks by the Justice) that belie the distortion of originalism that keeps coming out of the liberal echo chamber. Rebutting the oft-repeated notion that his and other conservative jurists’ approach to constitutional text is but a device to achieve a desired outcome, Justice Scalia cited the best evidence.
He joined the majority to hold that one has a First Amendment-protected right to burn the U.S. flag (the landmark case involved a worthless hippie who desecrated the flag as a form of political protest). Justice Scalia has tried to convince those who embrace the notion of a “living” Constitution of the danger of that approach. Judges could so easily act like kings, dictating whatever result pleases them based on an easily malleable text unhinged from its historical provenance. As for the hippie flag burner, Scalia delivered one of his best lines. “If I were King,” he said, “I’d throw that bearded, sandal-wearing weirdo in jail.”
As for the Fourth Amendment, in particular, search and seizure law, Scalia’s originalism often puts him squarely on the side of the individual against the police and prosecutors. The Justice quipped that, contrary to how he is often portrayed, he should be the “pin-up” of the criminal defense bar.
Caitlin Wallace asked Justice Scalia for the single best piece of advice he could offer to law students. Scalia’s response was interesting. He told students not to waste their time taking “frill courses.” These include courses based on a professor’s hobby subject, with the professor’s own book on the subject used as the course text. Professors will often employ students to help with the research.
I’ll second that. I took one of those professorial hobby courses. It was the worst choice I ever made in law school. The course was based entirely on the professor’s new book. Of course, we all had to buy it (talk about self-dealing). The book was an insufferable and utterly useless rumination by a liberal professor who thinks judges should be kings. I needed toothpicks in my eyelids to keep listening to him in class. (By the way, he is now a judge, and does indeed behave like a king).
Justice Scalia noted that law school was the only real opportunity for a law student “to study a whole area of the law systematically” and students should not waste the opportunity. He urged students to “take the bread and butter courses,” and eschew courses with such names as “Law and Women” or “Law and Poverty.”
“Do not take ‘law and anything,’” he added.
That is good advice. But that will not resonate with those whose political leanings draw them to “Law and [Name It]” courses and degrees. Many college and law students will continue to embrace “ I’m-a-victim, you’re-a-victim” curricula, or they will obtain degrees in “[Name Your Oppressed Group] Studies.” Most of them are destined for the community colleges, the public universities, legal aid outfits, or some civil service position where they waste time, search for victims — real or imagined — and engage in demographic bean-counting on the public dole.
In related news – sigh – the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law just announced that it will offer an LL.M. in “Law and Sexuality.” Billed as the first of its kind in the nation, school officials said the program will focus on practice and scholarship in “gender-identity” and “sexual orientation.” Next we’ll hear that its moot court topic has something to do with farm animals. •