Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Objects of Their Munificence

Once upon a time there was a professor of constitutional law (a real one, not like one Barry O'Bama) at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law who also happened to be a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This judge-professor was unquestionably possessed of a brilliant legal mind and was the most engaging professor this humble lawyer has ever had. (On more than one occasion, the class erupted into spontaneous applause at the conclusion of a lecture.) Surprisingly, for a Ninth Circuit judge and law school professor, this individual was quite conservative. Maybe not a movement conservative, but by no means a moderate.

It's been over twenty-five years (holy cow, really?) but I've always remembered two instances that revealed a more conservative mind. The first, while relatively trivial, involved his rather pointed criticism of Harvard Professor Lawrence Tribe's treatise on constitutional law as overly opinionated and not really worthy of study to understand constitutional principles. He was right. (To understand this, just listen to Erwin Chemerinsky hack his way through the Constitution on Hugh Hewitt's "Smart Guys" segment.)

But it's the other instance that comes to mind in the wake of the decision by the U. S. Supreme Court affirming the lower court order mandating the release of nearly 40,000 convicted felons from state prison in California.

I don't recall the full context of the comment, but the judge/professor was talking about the location of the Ninth Circuit in the heart of San Francisco and how the courthouse was surrounded by bums, prostitutes, druggies, criminals, lowlifes and lawyers (I may have added that last one). In his mind this was appropriate because it served to provide his liberal colleagues on the Ninth with a constant reminder of the "objects of their munificence." In other words, like most liberal academics and judges, they are safely removed from the consequences of their actions and rarely see the real world

Fast-forward a couple decades and that gifted intellectual now sits on the Supreme Court (as a Republican appointee no less) where, whether due to O'Sullivan's First Law or the (Linda) Greenhouse Effect, there is no doubt Justice Kennedy has "grown" in office, providing the swing vote yesterday unleashing nearly 40,000 felons on the unsuspecting people of California.

Fortunately for Justice Kennedy, safely ensconced in the Supreme Court, he never will get to see the objects of his munificence.