Category Archives: Law

SPEECH KILLS: THE LATEST EXCUSE FOR CENSORSHIP

“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them,” George Orwell famously said. We can add to that long list of lunacies a theory on freedom of speech and violence articulated by Professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, author of “How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain” in last Sunday’s New York Times.

Visiting the troublesome trend on college campuses today to protest, disinvite, and even violently remove controversial speakers, Professor Feldman maintains that the speech-suppressors have a point. Children may believe that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But Professor Feldman knows better.

…[S]cientifically speaking, it’s not that simple. Words can have a powerful effect on your nervous system. Certain types of adversity, even those involving no physical contact, can make you sick, alter your brain – even kill neurons – and shorten your life.

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Speech can shorten your life? How? Professor Feldman explains:

Your body contains little packets of genetic materials that sit on the ends of your chromosomes. They’re called telomeres. Each time your cells divide, their telomeres get a little shorter, and when they become too short, you die. This is normal aging. But guess what else shrinks your telomeres? Chronic stress.

Words that stress you out can rub you out, she maintains. Under her theory, the Middlebury mob that attacked Charles Murray and injured Allison Stanger (causing her a concussion) were not engaged in acts of unlawful violence. They were engaged in legitimate self-defense. Continue reading

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THE POLITICS OF JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION

In light of President Obama’s nomination of D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, partisans on both sides of the political aisle are shocked – shocked – to discover that the other side is playing politics. But there is an important difference. The Democrats are playing smart. The Republicans are playing dumb.

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That should not come as a surprise. After all, this is the year the Republicans have shown themselves hell-bent on ensuring that they lose the presidential election. While the Democrats proceed to nominate Hillary Clinton — a figure so shady that she is widely viewed by her own Party as untrustworthy —  the Republicans are en route to nominate Donald Trump, their one candidate who consistently lags well behind Clinton in the polls. And for good measure, he lags even farther behind Bernie Sanders.

That is dumb politics. But the Republican Party position on the nomination of Judge Garland is, if possible, even dumber. Continue reading

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THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE TAPE IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Last Fall, faculty and students arriving in the Wasserstein Hall in Harvard Law School found black tape on the portraits of several black faculty members. The discovery caused an immediate uproar.  Stories appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, CNN, and the Guardian, among many others.

By noon on the day of the discovery, hundreds of students and faculty members had gathered in a community meeting. Law School Dean Martha Minow announced: “Racism exists in America and in the United States and in Harvard and in Harvard Law School.” She called racism a “serious problem” at Harvard. The president of the student body called the incident “a pretty clear act of intolerance, racism.”  The President of the Harvard Black Law Student Association described it as “one of the most clear-cut, overt instances of very, very vile and disrespectful behavior.” A second year law student said: “I’m disgusted and outraged that it happened, but I’m also not surprised. Microaggressions and macroagressions happen every day, and that’s the reality of being a student of color at Harvard ….”black professor

Reaction among the black faculty members themselves was more restrained. Professor Charles J. Ogletree said that he was “still waiting to learn more about the incident before making too strong a judgment.” And in an op-ed column the following week, Professor Randall Kennedy cautioned:

The identity and motives of the person or people behind the taping have not been determined….  Perhaps the defacer is white. But maybe not. Perhaps the taping is meant to convey anti-black contempt or hatred for the African-American professors. But maybe it was … a hoax meant to look like a racial insult in order to provoke a crisis.

In the days following the discovery of the tape, Dean Minow stepped back, albeit subtly. In a statement to the Law School faculty and students immediately following the discovery, she had pronounced herself “outraged.” A week later, in a statement to alumni, her “outrage” had vanished, and she pronounced herself merely “shocked and saddened.” In the earlier statement to faculty and students, she had called the incident “a hate crime.” A week later, writing to alumni, she referred to it as “a possible hate crime.”  If these verbal modifications seem minor, remember that this is Harvard Law School, where students are taught to dissect the language of statutes and contracts, and to hunt for shades of difference.

Then last week, the Harvard Crimson reported that the University Police Department was shutting down its investigation.

There were no protests. There were no demonstrations.

What happened to the outrage? Continue reading

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THE DEAN’S LIST OF DUMB AND DUMBER

Following the forced resignation of Yale Professor Erika Christakis, former Vermont Governor and Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean tweeted:

Yale faculty member at center of protests will leave teaching role http://fw.to/4CDnirR  Free speech is good. Respecting others is better.

Many remember Howard Dean as the author of the 2004 “Scream,” the incoherent squawk that doomed his presidential campaign. While both were inane, the Tweet may outclass the Scream in fundamental dumbness.
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First, some background.  The Yale faculty member mentioned in the Tweet is Erika Christakis, a respected expert in early childhood education.  Last Fall, 13 members of the Intercultural Affairs Committee at Yale — administrators with too much time on their hands, apparently — circulated an email advising students on which Halloween costumes were and were not appropriate. The Committee warned students not to make “culturally unaware or insensitive choices,” and advised them to visit https://www.pinterest.com/yalecces/, to see “a great resource for costume ideas organized by [Yale’s] own Community & Consent Educators.”

That website truly is worth a visit – especially by parents concerned with the rising cost of college tuition. In addition to warning against “culturally insensitive costumes,” it warns students to “avoid costumes that prevent you from breathing” and “costumes that prevent you from going to the bathroom.” Thus do college administrators justify their salaries.
Continue reading

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THE LOVE SONG OF LANNY J. DAVIS

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

          T.S.Eliot, The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock 

Lanny Davis

Whatever one might think of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, she has earned the nation’s gratitude on at least one score. She has provided documentary evidence that government access and law practice don’t mix well together. The sycophantic supplication of Lanny J. Davis to his former law school classmate Mrs. Clinton, begging her to put in a good word for him for a profile in process by the American Lawyer, illustrates that horrible union. Continue reading

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CULTURE AND COWARDICE

On July 4, Kevin Joseph Sutherland, a 24-year old political activist, boarded a Washington DC Metro train en route to a holiday concert at RFK Stadium. Jasper Spires, an 18-year old college dropout, approached Sutherland and tried to grab his cellphone. During the three minute ride to the next station, Spires punched Sutherland until he fell to the floor, and then stabbed him 30 to 40 times. After a brief pause during which he robbed other passengers, Spires returned and stomped on Sutherland’s body.  According to one witness, Spires “drop-kicked him in the head several times, like he wanted to kick his head off.”METRO

When the car arrived at the station, Spires walked off. He dropped his camouflage pants and a bag containing his knife. He jumped a turnstile and left the station.

Hours later, Sutherland was pronounced dead at the scene.

This essay is not about Mr. Sutherland. It is about the ten passengers who watched Spires murder Sutherland, and did nothing. Continue reading

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STOP THE TORTURE … OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE

Torture is a complex subject. Senator John McCain, who knows a thing or two about it, says torture is beneath us. “We are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.” That sounds good, but is it realistic? If a terrorist kidnapped a newborn baby, and left it to die of exposure at an undisclosed location, what mother would balk at using torture to force the terrorist to reveal the baby’s whereabouts? I suspect most mothers would eagerly torture a terrorist personally if necessary to save their newborns.

So the morality of torture comes down to a question of when, not whether, it is justified.

Torturing the English language, on the other hand, is never justified. It is always unpardonable.

That’s what makes the Senate report so disturbing. What kind of government manacles our language, rips into its verbal womb, and extracts such lexical malformations as “enhanced interrogation techniques” or “rectal rehydration”?

Truthful language“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow,” Senator McCain said last week, presumably meaning orally, not rectally.  “But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.”

So here’s the truth, America. Our government is a serial torturer of the English language. Continue reading

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