To my readers:
In late August of 2009, I moved to Johnstown, Pennsylvania to begin a clerkship with Judge Kim Gibson on the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Frankly, when I received the call for an interview, I didn’t even know where Johnstown was. I had never even heard of the Johnstown Flood (fortunately, I noticed a sign about a Flood Memorial on the drive, because Judge Gibson asked me some question about it, so I was able to act somewhat informed).
In the fall of 2009 four big things happened, in somewhat rapid succession, that set the foundation for where I am today, and where I am going.
First, in early September after starting my clerkship, I told Judge that I was interested in becoming a law professor. Judge mentioned that he would be teaching a class at the Penn State Law School, and asked if I was interested in helping. I almost fell off my chair. I was pretty sure that when I arrived in Johnstown, there would be few, if any experiences to bolster my professional career beyond my work at the court. Such an amazing opportunity seemed like a blessing at the time. Judge and I taught together for 3 semesters, and that was one of the greatest professional experiences of my career.
Second, on September 27, 2009, I launched JoshBlogs, the WordPress progenitor to JoshBlackman.com. A few weeks prior, a really good friend who was a successful blogger and syndicated columnist told me that I had a lot of good ideas, and I should put them down on the web. In light of my isolation in Johnstown, I figured it would be a good way to keep in touch with the legal community, and maybe make a name for myself. My first post, on September 27, prior to the cert grant in McDonald v. Chicago, introduced the concept of Pandora’s Box. A post I wrote on September 30, 2009, following the Court’s cert grant in McDonald, which included a question presented about the Privileges or Immunities Clause, was linked by Glenn Reynolds. Installanche! 2,000 hits in the first day. I was floored, and I immediately realized the power, and potential of putting my ideas on the webs. Almost 2,500 posts and 360,000 hits later, I am still amazed that people want to hear what I have to think.
Third, On October 6, 2009, I had the following gchat with a friend about predicting cases pending before the Supreme Court. This innocuous discussion was the birth of FantasySCOTUS.
Josh: Wait does Vegas take odds on scotus?Friend: probablyJosh: Oh. That will be a blog feature. Placing fake virtual bets on outcome of cases. Like fantasy football!!Friend: i think pools as to how cases will come out would be funJosh: No I’m doing that. And law profs can offer their predictions. Special benefits if u guess who writes opinions, how close the vote is. Who dissents. Fun fun fun!Friend: heh
The next day I registered FantasySCOTUS.net and started planning the design. I commented to another friend on October 7, “this will be the new social networking revolution for law nerds.” In a very short time, I was able to put together the web site. I launched FantasySCOTUS.net on Thursday, November 12, 2009. At first, I thought this was just a joke, and something fun for lawyers and law students to play. I think I initially told some friends, and a few bloggers about it. As the day progressed, traffic started to pick up. By lunch time, the site was getting inundated with hits. By mid-afternoon, it was featured on just about every legal blog on the web. By 5:00 p.m. I had over 1,000 people signed–and it kept rising. I was simply shocked. I did interviews with WSJ, CNN, and ABC, and more. Today, there are over 10,000 members playing, and we created a prediction market to accurately forecast how the Supreme Court will decide a case. Before October 6, 2009, I never even imagined any of this was possible.
Fourth, in late November and early December, as FantasySCOTUS continued to grow, I received a number of emails from high school teachers around the country. They told me they were using FantasySCOTUS as an educational tool to motivate their students to learn about the Supreme Court. The teachers asked me to create an educational version for high school students that was easier to play. What did I know about teaching high school students? I had no clue. But, my passion for teaching about the law did not end with law students; high school students are the key. So, after a conversation with my Dad, I decided to build an educational version of FantasySCOTUS, and create a non-Profit.
But what to call it? With this conversation on December 15, 2009 with a friend, right before I did an interview with CNN, the Harlan Institute–or as it was originally known, The Harlan Institute for Constitutional Studies–was born:
Friend: the name is important
Josh: i agree.
Friend: i think it should have Law in it maybe
Josh: it should have law, constitution, some sort of education-y sounding word
Josh: lets think of something now. ill mention it in my cnn interview
Friend: how about the Hamilton Institute
Josh: but i i dont like hamilton
Friend: why not
he was awesome
Josh: but I like Institute
Friend: i like harlan institute
Josh: i do like john marshall harlan
Josh: what about something with scholars?
The Harlan Institute for Constitutional Studies
Friend: i quite like that
Josh: harlaninstitute.org is available ok im going to buy it. i love it
Since that point, the Harlan Institute has flourished. We are about to launch the second season of FantasySCOTUS.org, and hope to increase from the 250 classes that played last year to 1,000 classes. We collaborated with Justice O’Connor’s iCivics, and have been featured in CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and more. The joy I receive from seeing high school students get excited, and engaged with constitutional law is incalculable. It makes me really, really happy.
By January of 2010, after these four important milestones, my path was more-or-less set. I began teaching with Judge Gibson, and absolutely loved it. We completed 3 semesters together, and it was an unreal experience. My blog continued to grow and make waves in the field. It’s pretty cool when I apply for a law professor position on the AALS and a hiring chair says, hey, I read your blog! FantasySCOTUS continues to expand, and yield ever-more-accurate predictions about the Supreme Court. The Harlan Institute is an efficient and effective non-profit that is doing amazing work to teach students about our most fundamental laws. I could not be more proud of these experiences, and am so grateful to the many people around me who helped me to get where I am today.
It is with that joy, that I must turn to sorrow.
Starting on Monday, August 15, 2011, for the next year or so, my blog will be on hiatus. When I resurface at some point in August of 2012, I guarantee that I will have a lot of things to say and talk about. For now, though, you will be forced to suffer through my absence. Though I assure you, I will suffer more from the deafening silence.
Thank you for your loyal readership, your insightful comments, and your attention to my ideas–this is recognition that what I have to say matters, and interests others. That, is the greatest debt I owe to the blogosphere, and I will be forever grateful.