Dead dogs and live controversies

So, I’m an avowed law geek. But what with this other job of mine, I practice law only in tiny bite-sized pieces anymore, making it difficult to get my law-geek fix. One of my favorite solutions to this problem comes every summer, when, once a week, the faculty gathers for lunch and one member leads a discussion of some decision from the prior Supreme Court term, in what we call the Fawley summer series. (It never occurred to me that I had no idea who Fawley was until I started to write this post. So I did some digging and learned that the series was named for the dead dog of a former professor. Who in turn was named for the lead character in Jude the Obscure. Odd.)

As a law geek, rather than an academia geek, I confess to having a hard time with many of the faculty’s lunchtime legal theory talks that pepper the semester schedule. They are often nearly impenetrable to my poor practical brain. Not so with the Supreme Court talks; it’s just pure law, being dismantled and explained straightforwardly by very clever people. Hearing crim law jock Dave Moran or Eve Brensike Primus talk about Berghuis v. Thompkins and Maryland v. Shatzer, both of which did some damage to Miranda—with Yale Kamisar (who, as I like to think of it, invented Miranda) in the audience, no less? That is some very good stuff, just like being a law student again, but more relaxing. In law school, after all, the thinking-like-a-lawyer skillset gets developed in part by the not-totally-relaxing Socratic method, but the faculty presenters have no such obligation for these lunches; the audience is thus in the lovely position of being spoonfed.

Of course, not all Supreme Court cases are criminal-procedure festivals of fun. Gil Seinfeld, the professor who this summer has been tagged with coordinating the series, colorfully reminded us of that fact when he sent out the e-mail notice about a recent topic:

Remember when you sat in your first Con Law class, poised and ready to do battle over affirmative action, the right to privacy, and the other searing public controversies of the day? And remember when, instead, you sat through two weeks on the Appointments Clause, the removal power, and the Vesting Clauses? Well, have I got a Fawley for you! It brings together the nail-biting suspense of separation of powers law and the edge-of-your-seat anticipation that can only accompany … the regulation of public accountants! Defibrillators will be on site just in case.

But even the most esoteric matters can be entertaining in the right hands. And as it turned out, Joan Larsen‘s discussion of Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, in which the Court held as unconstitutional the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that govern appointment and removal of the agency in question, demonstrated that she in fact has those hands. And not merely because we learned at the outset that the acronym for the agency in question is pronounced peek-a-boo—although frankly, that alone was worth the time I invested. We got a little history, in the form of thumbnail sketches of the three principal previous cases on the subject; we got a little politics, because one of the leading cases was a pre-Ken Starr consideration of the Independent Counsel Act; we got some rock-solid constitutional law doctrine, in the form of an extended discussion of formalism v. functionalism; and we got lots of high-level legal-analytical secret stuff about informal structural issues.

Just imagine how much fun the searing public controversies are!

-Dean Z.
Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions