Thursday, May 21, 2009

Potential Supreme Court nominees I know, kind of

Since they're not on the short list I better blog about it before it becomes outdated, but two of my Stanford Law professors have been mentioned as Obama picks: Pam Karlan and former dean Kathleen Sullivan. I don't actually know that much about them as far as their scholarship goes, but I can say that both are excellent professors. Sullivan in particular was one of the two clearest instructors I had in school, which I think does translate into clearly conveying and arguing for her opinion on an issue.

Karlan probably has more of the empathy thing that people talk about, at least on the overt telegenic level that could help in confirmation. Sullivan is extremely cerebral, although she was nice to students, and helped me out on one research project even when I wasn't her student any more (she also gave me grief for repeatedly signing up and then dropping a class of hers because it was too early in the morning).

There's been some media attention to both of them being lesbians. I don't remember anything about Karlan, but Sullivan's orientation was considered an open secret at school ten years ago. I don't know anything about it directly, and for the most part it doesn't seem to play too big a role now. One more good sign in our national social development.

Less well known fact about Sullivan: she recently took part in a climate change lawsuit, but represented the bad guys, automakers trying to shut down tightened vehicle emission standards. It's perilous to try and guess someone's motivations, but Sullivan is far too intelligent and non-rightwing to be a denialist. Maybe she actually believes their legal position is right (which doesn't have to coincide with whether climate change is bad). Or maybe she was trying to build some political viability by not always taking the standard lefty position. That last is kind of unfair speculation, but I can't rule it out. Anyway, I'm pretty sure the automakers just got their lawsuit nuked by new Obama administration regulations and will be dropping it, which may be another thing Sullivan counted on.

My real reason for writing this post though is to talk about the one time in law school that I kind of outfoxed Kathleen Sullivan. Not that anyone else should or would care, but I'm going to write it. The story is that one morning before her class, I read the newspaper and noticed the Supreme Court had just decided a case that dealt with the issues we'd be talking about that day. I was very surprised though that she didn't mention the case in that class. Logic said either she wasn't up on her game and didn't know about the Court decision (probability near 0%), or she deliberately decided not to mention it.

Two months later, my study group was prepping for the final exam (which was 100% of the grade), and I found the Court decision, made our group study it, and we all wrote our own practice answers based on the facts the Court dealt with. Several days later, the case was a major part of our final exam, with only somewhat-changed facts. The test was open book, so each of us could just pull out our practice answers and revise them. I was very popular with my study group, and that was my huge triumph in school.

Sometimes it pays to read the newspaper.

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