Author: Christine Chabot

6

Incorporating Skills Training in Substantive Courses

Historically, skills training was not part of the education students received in law school. Things have changed, of course, and recently many have emphasized the need for practice-ready law grads. Incorporating skills training in substantive courses offers one promising option for improving students’ education. I’m prepping Sales (UCC Article 2) for the fall, and the course seems to lend itself well to a more skills-oriented approach. I plan to use problem-solving exercises and assignments which will not only teach students the law governing sales of goods, but will also enhance their statutory and contractual interpretation, drafting, and client-counseling skills. I have extensive experience litigating contractual disputes, so I know these skills are essential for commercial litigators. And they seem equally important to transactional lawyers.

7

Teaching Administrative Law Using Current Events

One of the best parts of teaching a course you’ve already taught is updating course materials. I’m teaching Ad. Law again in the fall, and I’m considering adding a few relatively recent events as introductory discussion problems. The goal is to get students thinking about how process and agency structure shape substantive decisions. I tried to choose topics which do not require students to grasp complicated substantive issues:
1. The TSA seeks comments on across-the-board, whole body imaging for airline passengers. Here students can consider the interplay between notice-and-comment procedure and privacy objections to the imaging. I’ll also explore whether procedures (and concerns with use of imaging) should be different if TSA employees require this enhanced screening only on a case-by-case basis.
2. The IRS has been accused of unfairly targeting conservative groups who claim tax-exempt status. The issue highlights agency structure and raises questions of accountability in a system with multiple bureaucratic decision-makers. It also illuminates the tension between law and politics in agency decision-making, especially where agencies operate under vague rules such as the “social welfare” organization exemption.
I welcome any suggestions you may have.

1

Diversity on the Supreme Court

While in recent decades the Court has become more diverse in some areas, such as gender and race, presidents have also appointed Justices with increasingly uniform educational and professional backgrounds. This lack of professional and educational diversity may be sub-optimal. Adrian Vermeule, for example, offers a carefully-reasoned argument for having at least one Justice with training in another discipline (he suggests appointing a Justice with a PhD in economics). At its most extreme, Vermeule’s argument insists that the professionally-diverse Justice have no training in law, to correct for correlated biases held by lawyer Justices.

My research suggests, however, that the extreme step of eliminating formal legal training will introduce a particular bias which some will find objectionable. In the past, Justices who did not attend law school were significantly more politically predictable than Justices who shared the benefit of formal legal education. Today, of course, a president choosing a Justice who did not attend law school would likely select a person who also has expertise in another field. But it is not clear a Justice with an advanced degree in economics or another discipline would exhibit the same political restraint as a Justice who went to law school. It seems more likely that Justices who attend law school will be either better-equipped or more inclined than others to vote independently of their personal political views. This may be reflected in greater levels of judicial restraint, incremental decision-making, and application of doctrines such as stare decisis.

2

Does Law Play a Significant Role in Divisive Supreme Court Cases?

People often act as though they expect law to play an insignificant role in divisive Supreme Court cases.  Observers voice “surprise,” for example, when Justices like Roberts or Scalia switch sides to align with liberal Justices, even though these votes can sometimes be explained in terms of Justices’ broader jurisprudential commitments. More fundamentally, prominent legal scholars have questioned whether divisive cases need even be resolved by Justices who are formally educated lawyers. After all, if law does not determine outcomes in these cases, then legal training may be irrelevant. Or perhaps the Court needs Justices with non-legal training to attain an optimally diverse body of decision-makers.

My study revisits these questions by making use of a unique period when Justices with formal legal education sat with Justices who entered the profession by reading the law alone. Although all Justices had some legal training, law office apprenticeships (the most common training for Justices who read the law) offered only limited skills training. Unlike law schools, apprenticeships did not offer systematic instruction in general principles underlying specific rules and procedures.

Formal legal education is associated with significant differences in how Justices voted. Even in non-unanimous cases, Justices who shared the benefit of formal legal education (1) voted together more often and (2) were less politically predictable than Justices without this background. These findings substantially qualify earlier views on the desirability of Justices without formal legal education. More broadly, they suggest law plays a significant role even in divisive cases.

5

Have Presidents Gotten Better at Picking Ideologically-Compatible Justices?

Do Justices vote independently of all political forces surrounding their appointments? My earlier post discusses how, even in recent decades, Justices’ votes have been surprisingly independent of the ideologies of Senates to which they were nominated. Even so, it may be that presidents fared better than the Senate and recently enhanced their ability to appoint ideologically-compatible Justices.

History is rife with examples of Justices who disappointed their appointing presidents.   As recounted by Henry Abraham, Teddy Roosevelt complained vociferously about Justice Holmes’ ruling in Northern Securities, Truman called Justice Clark his “biggest mistake,” and Eisenhower also referred to Justices Warren and Brennan as “mistakes.”  My earlier study finds frequent grounds for presidential disappointment, based on voting records for eighty-nine Justices over a 172-year period. Just under half of these Justices voted with appointees of the other party most of the time. Still, of the last twelve Justices, only two, Stevens and Souter, aligned most often with appointees of the other party. This low number calls into question whether the frequency of presidential disappointments has diminished recently.

My recent paper identifies change over time using regression analysis and more nuanced measures of presidential ideology. The analysis shows ideologies of appointing presidents did not significantly predict Justices’ votes before the 1970s, but they gained significant predictive power thereafter. This enhanced success coincides with Presidents Nixon’s and Reagan’s efforts to prioritize ideology in appointments to the bench. While earlier presidents did not uniformly ignore nominees’ ideology, they lacked modern technological resources. By the Reagan administration, computerized databases allowed presidential aides to quickly assemble and analyze virtually all of a nominee’s past writings. The improved information may have enabled presidents to better anticipate nominees’ future rulings.

5

The Senate’s Influence over Supreme Court Appointments

Thanks, Sarah, for the warm welcome. It is a pleasure to guest blog this month.

With pundits already speculating about President Obama’s next Supreme Court nominee, it seems a good time to discuss relationships between political forces surrounding Supreme Court appointments and Justices’ decisions. Justices sometimes disappoint their appointing presidents, and ideologically-distant Senates are often blamed for presidents’ “mistakes.” For example, David Souter and John Paul Stevens turned out to be far more liberal than the Republican presidents who appointed them (Bush I and Ford, respectively). These presidents both faced very liberal Senates when they selected Souter and Stevens.

Are nominees like Souter and Stevens anomalies or part of a larger pattern of senatorial constraint? My recent article in the Hastings Law Journal offers the first empirical analysis of the Senate’s role in constraining presidents’ choices of Supreme Court nominees over an extended period. It considers ideologies of Senates faced by nominating presidents and measures whether the ideologies of these Senates predict Justices’ voting behavior. The analysis substantially qualifies earlier understandings of senatorial constraint.

Earlier empirical studies consider only limited numbers of recent nominees (see article pp. 1235-39). They suggest that the Senate has constrained presidents’ choices, and many scholars theorize that the Senate has enhanced its role in the appointments process since the 1950s. Analysis of a larger group of nominees shows the Senate’s ideology has had significant predictive power over Justices’ votes in only two isolated historical periods. Senatorial ideology was last significant in the 1970s, shortly after the filibuster of Abe Fortas’s nomination to be Chief Justice, but then it actually lost significance after the Senate rejected Bork in 1987.