When asked by Law & Liberty if I would be interested in reviewing Lawrence Wright’s new book, God Save Texas, I had mixed feelings. I greatly enjoyed two of Wright’s previous books, The Looming Tower (2006) and Going Clear (2013), both deeply-researched and impressively-reported works of nonfiction. Wright’s journalism also inspired the acclaimed documentary Three Identical Strangers (2018), which fascinated me. Wright is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, who happens to live in Austin, Texas (as I do), the state capital and the home of the flagship campus of the University of Texas. Wright is unquestionably a talented writer knowledgeable about his (and my) adopted state.
Mark Pulliam News
No one is surprised when cities like San Francisco, New York City, and Seattle enact policies driven by the latest progressive imperatives. In Texas, where I live, observers have long believed that a statewide Republican majority would insulate the Lone Star State from such pressure. Capital city Austin’s traditionally liberal politics—its unofficial slogan is “Keep Austin Weird”—have usually seemed like an exception to the statewide rule. But now it appears that San Antonio, the state’s second-biggest city (and seventh-largest in the U.S.), has gotten “woke,” too, blacklisting a well-respected business because of its owners’ political contributions and religious beliefs.
Claremont-trained political philosophers represent some of the strongest voices in conservative intellectual circles, but many of them share a flawed view of the Constitution, expressed vigorously—and sometimes splenetically—by the late Harry V. Jaffa. Edward Erler’s recent essay, “Don’t Read the Constitution the Way Robert Bork Did,” channels both Jaffa’s truculent spirit and the doctrinaire position of West Coast Straussians, complete with familiar—albeit irrelevant–references to Abraham Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence. Unfortunately, Erler’s essay illustrates why the Left’s conception of constitutional law is ascendant while conservatives continue to dither: Unlike progressives, discordant conservatives have been largely ineffective in articulating—let alone advancing—a coherent vision of constitutional law.
Last year’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME (2018) is properly seen as a landmark ruling in the area of compelled speech (e.g., here and here), but it is more than that. By overruling Abood v. Detroit Board of Education(1977), the Supreme Court in Janus acknowledged that its extension of private-sector labor law precedents concerning union-security clauses to the public sector was erroneous. I have previously written about “the road to Abood” (here and here), and explained why the Court’s poorly-reasoned decisions under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) should not govern arrangements involving government employees. Justice Alito, who authored Janus and the decisions leading up to it, scathingly dissected the Court’s NLRA precedents, most of which were issued during the heyday of the Warren Court.
On February 28, 2019, I was honored to speak at the University of Virginia School of Law, at a day-long program sponsored by the UVA student chapter of the Federalist Society, entitled “The Future of Originalism: Conflicts and Controversies.” Congratulations to Jenna Adamson (President of the UVA student chapter), her colleagues, and the participating faculty, speakers, and moderators (including Judges Thomas B. Griffith, Diane S. Sykes, and John K. Bush) for planning and executing a terrific event. At lunch, Clark Neily and I debated the topic “Judicial Engagement v. Judicial Restraint: Equally Compatible with Originalism?” The moderator was UVA Professor Lillian BeVier.
I have reminisced at length about my student days at the University of Texas School of Law (here), and also expressed concern about the leftward drift of the Texas Law Review, on whose editorial board I served during 1979-80 (here). Recent events have only heightened my concerns (here). Specifically, on February 7-8, 2019, the TLR is co-hosting (with the left-leaning American Constitution Society) a constitutional law symposium at the law school, entitled “Reclaiming—and Restoring—Constitutional Norms,” that appears to be little more than an anti-Trump political rally. The announcement is here.
Is it Beyoncé’s fault that some of her fans are blind? Is the performer a “public accommodation,” like a hotel, restaurant, or department store? Is it society’s obligation to rectify all misfortunes in life’s lottery? These questions may seem silly, but they lie at the heart of a cottage industry of abusive class-action litigation against websites pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a well-intentioned but poorly conceived—and horribly drafted—law that continues to generate unintended consequences decades following its passage in 1990. Computer users afflicted with various disabilities—blind consumers seem especially litigious—regularly sue companies hosting websites that allegedly aren’t sufficiently “accommodating” of their condition. Beyoncé and her website (beyonce.com), through her management company, became their latest target.
The 85-year old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993, is approaching her 25th anniversary as a justice. She is historic in many respects: the second female to serve on the high court, the first Jewish female justice, and the longest-serving Jewish justice ever. Her record as a reliable liberal vote on the court, along with her well-publicized background as a trail-blazer for women’s rights, has made her an icon on the Left—celebrated as the “Notorious RBG” and featured in the recent film “On the Basis of Sex.”
The latest racket in higher education, evident at my alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, is the disturbing proliferation of “social justice” as a degree program, a course topic, an academic emphasis, and even as a prerequisite in campus job descriptions.
The Burnt Orange Mafia at the University of Texas–the inner circle of overpaid administrators, influence-wielding donors, supplicant vendors, and political hacks who approve UT’s inflated budget in exchange for preferential admission for their (and supporters’) unqualified children–want to raise “protection money” to ensure UT receives friendly treatment in the upcoming legislative session.
Mark Pulliam writes "to express my chagrin, bordering on exasperation, at the continuing hijinks at UT-Austin under the so-called leadership of President Greg Fenves."
A prior post (entitled “Who Runs the Legal Academy?”) attracted some much-needed attention from other sites, including Overlawyered.com, Instapundit, and the Tom Woods Show. The governance of law schools, although not a secret, is poorly-understood and seldom discussed. This lack of transparency empowers—or at least emboldens—some of the behind-the-scenes influencers to take unreasonable positions and to pursue self-interested goals that are contrary to the ostensible objective of training students to be effective and ethical lawyers. The result is a dysfunctional legal academy.
The concept of written legal rules—of the law itself—assumes that their content is fixed and ascertainable. The rule of law likewise depends on citizens having advance notice of what they can and cannot do, pursuant to clear, knowable directives. Legal scholars expend enormous energy pontificating about the appropriate techniques judges should apply in the course of constitutional interpretation: textualism, originalism, and so forth. Libertarian theorists argue strenuously that judges must be given greater authority—through “judicial engagement”—over the political branches. Each day, lawyers across the country trot off to court, briefs in hand, hoping to convince a black-robed judge–enthroned behind a raised, magisterial bench—that the relevant legal rules, properly construed, compel a ruling in favor of their client.
I have great affection for my alma mater, the University of Texas School of Law, and am grateful for the excellent, affordable, and life-changing education I received there. I have previously reminisced about my student years (here and here), and from time to time have also offered some constructive criticism, mainly directed at the university administration as a whole, particularly regarding the leadership of UT President Greg Fenves.