Round 1: The next to the latest in an ongoing series of mass emails sent around the UCLAW system inviting people to join one or another of the mass letters signed by hundreds or thousands of legal academics in opposition to some policy or another of President Trump.
Round 2: I post my thoughts on why Congress should ignore those sort of letters here, but I don't get into it via email.
Round 3: The latest in the ongoing series goes out by email from the same sender.
Round 4: I post a second time about the matter and this time send out an email that asked, I thought very politely, "Kindly remove me from this email distribution list."
Round 5: The same sender sends out a third email:
On a lighter(?) note, I want to recommend that you see “Breaking News: Turning the Lens on the Media” at the Getty Center, which begins with a room devoted to photos by our colleague Grace Blumberg’s husband Donald of the news (from newspapers and television) in the 1960s. It’s a wonderful show and properly introduced by his provocative photographs.
I also want to reject Steven Bainbridge’s request to be removed from list (which actually is impossible, at least for a technophobe like me). I believe the essence of collegiality in an academic community is the exchange of views. Obviously, no one has to engage in this process and is free not to read. But no one should be excluded. I believe that use of the Faculty Distribution List to discuss the impact of Donald Trump’s executive orders on the law school and the larger academic community is entirely proper.
As someone who suffers from chronic misspellings and typos myself, I pass over the misspelling of my name. But really, how hard is it to set up an email distribution list?
In any case, that led to....
Round 6: At this point, I must admit that I am starting to enjoy myself. So I sent out this email to the faculty (in case it wasn't obvious, all of this is taking place via the faculty email distribution list):
If Professor [redacted] thinks the email exchange list is the correct place to exchange views, perhaps I should avail myself of this opportunity to express my views on this one occasion despite my general views about using law school emails for this purpose:
One of my colleagues set around this email today:
I hope you will look at the letter from the link below and consider signing on. Several of our colleagues have already done so. Among Trump’s Cabinet nominations, Puzder must rank as one of the worst.
Thanks for listening.
Thanks again so much for signing our national law student and faculty sign-on letter opposing Puzder's nomination.
Resisting Injustice & Standing for Equality (RISE), a new law student organization started by NYU Law students, is spearheading a national law student and faculty sign-on letter opposing the nomination of CKE Restaurants CEO Andrew Puzder for Secretary of Labor. The letter will be sent to the members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, whose hearing on the nomination is set for February 2. It explains (with citations) why Puzder's history and views would make him a Secretary who is actively hostile to working people.
They already have over 780 signatures from students and faculty representing over 100 schools, and we are hoping to grow even further.
Please take a moment to read the letter. Then click here to add your name. (Affiliations will be listed for identification purposes only.)
They would also appreciate if you could take the time to forward this to three colleagues, including one at another law school.
It's bad enough to get this sort of unsolicited mass liberal spam from outside circles, but to have's own colleague cluttering up one's email folders with it is most annoying. (Not to mention the use of state- and tuition-funded law school email for political purposes generally.)
More generally, however, I deplore this sort of letter campaign anyway. The implicit claim of these letters is that the signatories are experts with special knowledge that makes their opinion more valuable than, say, the "deplorables" who voted for Trump. But notice that the sender sent it to everybody on the law school distribution list. Most of the recipients know about as much about labor law and Andy Puzder as, well, I do. Which hovers somewhere between nada and zilch. But that hasn't deter countless law professors from signing.
When a similar mass letter was signed by over 1,000 law professors in opposition to Jeff Sessions' nomination as Attorney General, John O. McGinnis aptly wrote that:
Of course, these law professors have every right to oppose Jeff Sessions as citizens, but they are clearly here writing as legal scholars, noting their position as law professors at the start of the letter and signing with their institutional affiliations.
What is notable, however, is the lack of any scholarly argument in the letter. There is no analysis of why Sessions’ positions are wrong as matter of law or policy. I doubt many of the signers have examined the hearings for his district court nomination to come to independent judgment on his fitness for that office or any other.
Law professors have been writing such letters of mass advice to Congress for some time. They are almost always letters supporting the left-liberal positions, because law professors are overwhelmingly left liberal. Neal Devins of William and Mary has made a powerful case that these letters are a serious mistake, because they attempt to trade on law professors’ status as scholars to give credibility to unscholarly and sometimes partisan advice. Professor Devins has noted that many law professors who sign these letters lack scholarly expertise in the subject matter, and this letter is no different in that respect. But even the letters he critiqued, like that contending that President Clinton’s impeachment was unconstitutional, had at least the patina of an argument. But this letter just takes positions without serious reasoning of the kind scholars provide.
As such, this letter debases the enterprise of scholarship. What we as scholars can provide to politicians is more articulate reasons for political action. That deepening of deliberation does a service to democratic debate, which at its best is about reason, not raw preferences. Particularly in these days where politics is less and less about policy and more about loyalties to one’s tribe, scholars have a particular obligation to raise politics toward the ideal of reason rather than to lower scholarly discourse toward that of coarse politics.
David French similarly observed:
I’m curious — given that the letter touches on everything from climate change to immigration policy, what exactly are the scientific, economic, and national security credentials of the signatories? Can they speak to the impact of immigration on working-class wages? Are they authorities on the precise relationship between fossil fuels and climate, including on the relative effectiveness of Obama-era EPA actions? And if there are actual examples of in-person voter fraud, is it still a “myth?”
What’s actually happening is that a collection of liberals are using the (rapidly-diminishing) prestige of their institutions and profession to make news when there is none. Of course liberals oppose a conservative nominee, and of course academic liberals are prone to play the race card. If any of them wish to make a detailed case based on law and facts, then make that case. Until then, however, their letter is little more than an especially pretentious version of a Change.org petition.
And, last but definitely not least, I invoke the great corporate law scholar, Stephen Presser, who was prompted to pen an oped for the Chicago Tribune, appropriately headlined Sen. Sessions and the Smug Self-Satisfaction of the Law Professoriate:
The first striking thing about the recent letter signed by 1,100 law professors urging the U.S. Senate not to confirm attorney general nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is its extraordinary arrogance and presumption. What makes such a huge gaggle of academics so sure that 1) the Senate is incapable of determining on its own the qualifications of Sessions for a Cabinet position, and 2) What makes them think they know more than senators?
If Congress has any sense (and, since there is a GOP majority, it does), it will simply ignore these sorts of letters.
Several colleagues have sent along quite nice notes of support via email, for which I thank them. As yet, no commentary from the left side of the faculty.
I await Round 7 with interest. Join the meanwhile, I have to go to my Catholic doctrine class.