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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Cartoon: What flower says you’re sorry without admitting wrongdoing?

From the New Yorker

Dilbert on Patent Lawyers Read the rest of this entry »

David Dow: Judicial Activism Makes America Great


A new book from David Dow: America’s Prophets: How Judicial Activism Makes America Great. I’ve been sending it to my FedSoc friends just to watch them gag and recoil in horror. Knowing David it will be nothing if not interesting, regardless of political persuasion or interpretive predilections.

America’s Prophets: How Judicial Activism Makes America Great fills a major void in the popular literature by providing a thorough definition and historical account of judicial activism and by arguing that it is a method of prophetic adjudication which is essential to preserving American values. Dow confounds the allegation of the Christian right that judicial activism is legally and morally unsound by tracing the roots of American judicial activism to the methods of legal and moral interpretation developed by the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. He claims that Isaiah, Amos, and Jesus are archetypal activist judges and, conversely, that modern activist judges are America’s prophets. Dow argues that judicial restraint is a priestly method of adjudication and that it, not judicial activism, is the legally and morally unsound method.

Race and gender discrimination, separation of church and state, privacy rights, and same-sex marriage are all issues that have divided our nation and required judicial intervention. Every time the courts address a hot-button issue and strike down entrenched bias or bigotry, critics accuse the justices of being judicial activists, whose decisions promote their personal biases and flout constitutional principles. This term, despite its widespread currency as a pejorative, has never been rigorously defined. Critics of judicial activism properly point out that when judges overturn laws that enforce popular norms they thwart the will of the majority. But Dow argues that so-called activist judges uphold two other American legal values that are as deeply embedded in American legal culture as majoritarianism: liberty and equality. He challenges the notion that judicial activism is unprincipled, and he provides a vocabulary and historical context for defending progressive decisions.

The Vow

Steve Peifer‘s e-mail list, stories of his work and life as a missionary in Kenya are always hilarious and frequently inspiring. Although his usual posts involve a food program and the development of computer centers, his latest hit closer to home:

You look to the hills when things are rough, but he directed me a little lower. To a driver. Joshua is an accountant who is in law school. His father runs a driving service, and you can always count on him. It isn’t safe for me to drive at night because of my poor night vision, and their service is a blessing when there is a late airport pickup. Recently, I was going to fly out and I scheduled a ride. Joshua picked me up, and since we were running ahead of schedule, I asked him if he wanted to stop for dinner.

He told me the most amazing story. When he was in high school, he and four friends started to meet together and pray for Kenya. During one prayer meeting, they felt led to make a vow: they would all go to law school, they would all enter politics, and they would all work to bring justice to this land.

They are all in law school, and they still meet to pray. The odds of all of them remaining true to that vow, and for all of them to be accepted and be able to pay for law school, is beyond what I can measure.

Lots of people go to law school, far fewer decide go to law school out of religious conviction, even fewer than that I wager, see it as a means to restore justice to their country.

Too often, I think, we lack the courage to imagine our potential.

1L Required Reading: Orin Kerr’s How to Read a Case

For any law student, but especially a 1L there is far more to read than you’ll ever have time for. Allow me to suggest that this should be at the top of your list. You already know how to read. That doesn’t mean you know how to read a case.

This essay is designed to help new law students prepare for the first few weeks of class. It explains what judicial opinions are, how they are structured, and what law students should look for when reading them.

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