Interview on Fault Lines – “Cross: Josh Blackman, a Fearless Constitutional Contrarian”

January 18th, 2017

On this blog I go out of my way not to write about myself. I don’t think my personal story is particularly interesting, nor do I think it is relevant to understand my perspective on the law. Yet, for reasons only he knows, Scott Greenfield asked me to sit down for a (virtual) cross-examination on the Mimesis Fault Lines blog. The questions are fairly involved, and inquire about my path from college to law school to clerking to teaching. For readers who would like to learn more about me, please go through the cross, with the provocative title, “Cross: Josh Blackman, a Fearless Constitutional Contrarian”

Even worse is Scott’s tweet:

Perhaps most relevant to this blog’s usual audience is the penultimate question, which touches on concerns of academic freedom:

Q. An issue that we’ve talked about in the past, but has returned (did it ever go away?) with a vengeance is academics using their cachet as scholars to promote their political agendas without regard to any “search for the truth.” Indeed, it’s quite the opposite, that some are deliberately promoting false understanding of law to serve a goal for which a faithful representation of law presents a problem.

How big an issue is this in the academy? Do prawfs recognize it but not care? Is there any movement within law schools to call out those academics who abuse their credentials for their cause? Are there liberal prawfs who are disturbed by this happening? Are they willing to speak out, to admonish their colleagues not to take advantage of their scholarly credibility to achieve a political goal? If not, what’s become of intellectual honesty in academia?

A. Professors hold a very special place of trust with the public. When we write something, it has a different significance than when a non-professor writes the exact same thing. Unlike attorneys who represent clients (and thus have a vested interest), and even think-tankers (who are often nudged in a certain direction), professors are given academic freedom to pursue the truth wherever it goes. If we forsake that trust, our words become worthless.

I recently wrote critically of a letter signed by 1,400 law professors opposing the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. As a threshold matter, the letter had no meaningful legal analysis—it recited hackneyed talking points, which were of contestable veracity. Further, of the 1,400 professors who signed it, maybe a couple were actually involved in writing it. Would any professor put their name on a law review article they did not write? More specifically, one of the claims in the letter referenced Senator Sessions’ record over the past three decades. Did any of them review his entire record over this period. Of course not! (I doubt any Senate staffers did either). How they could put their signature to this letter boggles my mind. I will use all of my efforts to explain to professors why putting their names on these letters, to which they did not contribute, exploits their credibility.

In any event, NBC News and the Washington Post wrote favorable stories about the letter. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Post (which was not published), questioning why this non-legal analysis was in the least newsworthy. (It wasn’t).  Ultimately, the letter served its purpose. Senator Feinstein of California, the ranking member of the judiciary committee, referenced the letter during her opening statement, as if it would give a single Senator a reason to oppose Sessions. (It didn’t).