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.
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.
A Supreme Court decision on immigration that was not expected to be controversial instead attracted wide attention upon its release last week. The reason: Justice Neil Gorsuch, the much-heralded successor to the legendary Antonin Scalia, joined with the High Court’s four liberals to overturn an immigration statute on the grounds that it was “void for vagueness,” over the strenuous dissent of the court’s conservative bloc: Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy, and Chief Justice John Roberts.
Texas’s employment discrimination statute (the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, codified in the Texas Labor Code at section 21.001 et seq.), like its federal counterpart (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. section 2000e et seq.), prohibits discrimination on the basis of enumerated characteristics, including “sex.” Accordingly, an employer is forbidden to treat an applicant or employee differently because of that person’s sex. Without a sex-based nexus, the employer’s conduct may be rude, unfair, obnoxious, boorish, or insensitive, but will not constitute illegal sex discrimination.
The principle of subsidiarity—the belief that decision-making should occur at the lowest level appropriate to its purpose—is a staple of conservative thought. In fact, it is sometimes asserted that subsidiarity “is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom.” In general, local control is usually preferable to a decision-making process based on larger political units, in which the responsible officials are far-removed from the affected population. Local government officials are typically more responsive to individual citizens than are federal officials; local decision-making enables regional preferences and variations in lieu of stultifying uniformity; and voters can more easily replace an unresponsive local elected official than his state or federal counterparts.
Rarely do challengers of landmark legislation get a second bite at the apple in constitutional litigation. Thanks to some enterprising state attorneys general, however, champions of limited government may have another chance to overturn the signature overreach of the Obama Administration. Six years after Obamacare was initially upheld, opponents of the law (technically “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” or “ACA”) are preparing a second test case, based—ironically enough—on the implausible rationale of the initial ruling.
My law school years (1977-80) at the University of Texas were, in hindsight, close to idyllic. I loved my first-year professors, tuition at UT was dirt cheap, Austin was a wonderful place to live, and I reveled in the “college town” ambience, which was new to me. (Prior to arriving at UT, I had never attended a college football game. During my first year—when the Longhorns went undefeated in the regular season and Earl Campbell won the Heisman Trophy–I had season tickets on the 50-yard line at UT’s gigantic Memorial Stadium, for a pittance that even a broke law student could afford.) The post-game victory spectacle—honking horns on the Drag and the Tower lit up in orange—formed indelible memories.
When I received the March-April issue of Alcalde in the mail recently, I had to scratch my head and wonder how Texas Exes felt that it was serving the interests of its members. I have two complaints.
First, the article “Lives on Hold,” by associate editor Danielle Lopez, is a sympathetic profile of three illegal aliens (or “Longhorn Dreamers,” in SJW parlance) who fill coveted seats at UT—displacing Texas residents who are U.S. citizens—and, due to the generosity of Texas taxpayers, pay heavily-subsidized in-state tuition. Despite these benefits, along with perks such as spending a semester studying in Washington, D.C., internships, cushy part-time jobs at city hall, and participation in the UTeach program, the subjects of the profile exhibit little gratitude, but instead display a raging sense of entitlement: engaging in noisy protests, agitating through slick, well-funded activist groups (Jolt, ULI), and stridently demanding amnesty and citizenship.
At the University of Texas School of Law, on March 6, 2018 the student chapter of the Federalist Society sponsored a debate on the impact of race-based affirmative action on Asian-Americans. The speakers were noted UT law professor Sanford Levinson (defending racial and ethnic preferences) and Houston attorney Cory Liu, a volunteer with the organization Students for Fair Admissions, speaking in opposition. The speakers eloquently exchanged their views, before an attentive audience of over 100 persons, for nearly an hour, and then opened the discussion up to questions.
The Americans With Disabilities Act may be the most widely-abused law in our history, spawning frivolous litigation against employers, retail businesses, and—most recently—spurious claims against websites that allegedly aren’t sufficiently compliant with the ADA. Nationwide, a cottage industry has developed among a bottom-feeding element of the plaintiffs’ bar that specializes in bringing a high volume of cookie-cutter lawsuits against small businesses for technical violations of the ADA, and extorting quick settlements of several thousand dollars each.
The Supreme Court will hear oral argument today [February 26] in one of the term’s most important—and highly publicized—cases, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31. As many readers are aware, the case involves the constitutionality of “agency shop” arrangements in public sector collective bargaining agreements, which compel non-member employees to make payments in lieu of union dues as a condition of their employment. Agency shop clauses are commonly used in public-sector labor contracts, enabling powerful unions representing teachers and other government employees to collect large sums of money from workers who never consented to such exactions (and who, for that matter, never voted in favor of union representation).
As someone who writes frequently on the topic of judicial activism, I am often asked, “What is the solution?” This is a vital question. Put another way—as I did in a previous essay at American Greatness—“Can Activist Judges Be Controlled?”
The short answer is: With great difficulty, yes. But if it’s a quick and easy answer you want, forget it. The current crisis took decades to develop. It won’t be resolved with a sweeping gesture.