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February 1, 2010: The Widening Gyre
February 1, 2010
The Widening Gyre
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
– W.B. Yeats
Recently, for some reason, it has been difficult to approach my thoughts about law school. Sometime in December, I though I might discuss multiple-choice exams, or the Grand Moot competition, or in general how long and lost it feels between finals and grades when we all have no idea how well (or why) we did on the exams.
A lot happened in last couple of months, though, that made it difficult to see some of these less consequential issues as important. Generally, I don’t think the purpose of this blog is to discuss political or philosophical issues outside of the setting of law school, however, I find it impossible, for at least this month, to avoid doing so.
First, I suppose, I am still stunned by the senate run-off election in Massachusetts. Apart from the bizarre notion that the (arguably) most liberal state in the union now has a Republican senator, the reasoning that the polls and pundits have determined for that outcome have left me tremendously frustrated, almost despondent. In less than a year we have come from, at least for me, a bright line moment in our history, to a place where people literally voted against their interests “as a protest,” or stayed home because they didn’t feel motivated or energized by the campaign. Since every Republican legislator has pretty much unanimously opposed almost every piece of significant legislation, we now have the fate of so many bills in the hands of single senator, who said regarding global warming, “It's interesting. I think the globe is always heating and cooling [.]It's a natural way of ebb and flow.”
Right on the heels of this, the Supreme Court chose to reject 100 years of precedent and hold that corporations could take unlimited amounts from their general operating funds for political contributions. There is so much I could say about how disappointed I am by this decision, not just for the obvious implications (suffice it to say that the image of Tom Coburn wearing an Exxon-Mobil hat while campaigning doesn’t seem far-fetched), but because of how I feel that some members of the Court, the symbol of my (someday) new profession, have become intellectually dishonest. Certainly all Justices are entitled to a belief system. Justice Bader-Ginsberg’s conviction that women have a reproductive right-to-choose is no more legitimate than Justice Scalia’s view that a non-viable fetus has a right-to-life. What I find disingenuous, at best, is how quickly the mantra of condemning “activist judges” who ignore precedent and the will of the legislature disappears when one’s position on an issue, well, requires doing that. Ironically, I remember the threat of a Democratic filibuster during Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings, and how outraged the Republicans were at the thought of such “obstructionism.”
Despite all that, though, what I think has me most unsettled and unable to write about school in way that implies great consequence is the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti. The things that we usually obsess about in law school, grades, too much work, the worry over jobs, all seem so insignificant when held against the overwhelming collapse of so many lives. As I watched the image of bulldozers loading bodies into dump trucks to cart off to mass graves, for me, there were no words. I think back to Katrina, to the tsunami, to 9-11, and I try to understand, try to find some rule or law to apply to these facts without success. Perhaps this is one of those times in life where a multiple-choice question would be more tolerable.
So for the last few weeks I have been diligently avoiding this blog, making sure to hug my wife and kids every day, and losing myself in the very concrete tasks of law school. By keeping my head down, doing tomorrow’s reading, and checking the 20 assigned footnotes I have to blue-book, I can avoid trying to figure out things which, to quote our President, are above my pay grade. So I focus on what I can answer-- the discrete units, the singular tasks-- grateful for the concentration law school requires.