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Leiter’s criticism of Solum

by Micah on November 12, 2003

Apparently, some of the panelists at the Rawls conference were unhappy with Larry Solum’s coverage. Brian Leiter voices their “criticisms”: and adds some of his own. Leiter’s main concern is

bq. whether it’s fair to presenters to translate their ideas and arguments, and then present them to potentially thousands of students and faculty elsewhere via a blog. It is [fair] if one is consistently on the money, as Solum was in the session on public reason. But it’s unfair, and does a disservice, when the accounts produce the kinds of [negative] reactions from presenters quoted above.

Solum has “replied”: to this criticism in what I think is a thoughtful and, to my mind, persuasive post. Those who take issue with his coverage can certainly write to him about it. I’ve never seen Solum shy away from objections to what he writes, and I have no doubt, as he says in his reply, that he would engage the merits of any serious criticism.

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Rawls and the Law at Fordham

by Micah on November 7, 2003

“Larry Solum”: has everything you might want to know about the conference being held at Fordham, starting “here”: Solum’s converage includes a nice introduction to the basic terms of the Rawls literature. Wish I could be at the conference myself. Maybe Fordham is planning a symposium publication? It’d be nice to read what many of the panelists have to say.

bq. UPDATE: Solum is giving terrific coverage of the conference. Go “here”: and scroll up.

bq. UPDATE II: Solum has “completed”: his remarkable coverage of the Rawls conference. Weighing in at more than twelve thousand words in two days, I think it’s the most impressive blogging performance I’ve seen since the early war coverage. And for those of us who couldn’t be at the conference, we couldn’t have asked for a better, or more knowledgeable, correspondent. Kudos, and many thanks, to Solum.

Too curmudgeonly

by Micah on November 5, 2003

In a series of posts (“here”: and “here”: and comments, the “Curmudgeonly Clerk”: has attacked Dahlia Lithwick, who writes Supreme Court commentary at “Slate”: In particular, the Clerk doesn’t like this “column”:, in which Lithwick tries to explain why Justice Scalia, unlike many other judges and justices, frequently speaks out about the most controversial issues of the day. Suffice it to say, the Clerk doesn’t like Lithwick’s diagnosis. In fact, he disagrees with it so much that he’s decided Lithwick no longer deserves to be treated civilly.

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Gender genie

by Micah on October 31, 2003

Continuing on the lighter side of things, this “program”: claims to predict an author’s gender based on a writing sample. I tried it with a sample of my own over 500 words long and it succeeded. But it failed for some entries on this blog. Only slightly more surprising, it also failed when I tested the last page of Susan Moller Okin’s “Justice, Gender, and the Family”: and the first two pages or so of Catherine MacKinnon’s “Toward a Feminist Theory of the State”: It might be interesting to test some longer samples, but my hunch is that this algorithim will usually predict male for samples in the genre of philosophical writing.

Casual rights scepticism

by Micah on October 29, 2003

Group blogs seem to be picking up steam, especially among law students and “legal academics”: Over at “En Banc”:, “Unlearned Hand”:, who is now dividing his time between his eponymous blog and the very promising new one, argues, in this “post”:, that prisoners at Gitmo have no moral rights because such rights are impossible to identify.

bq. If “rights are intrinsic”, then define them. Come on, I’m really interested to hear all about my instrinsic rights. Which rights are these? Who gets to define them? What enforcement mechanisms? Don’t waste your time. It’s a bunch of pseudo-ethical mumbo jumbo that has little meaning in print and even less in practice . . . all this talk of instrinsic rights will get you absolutely nowhere, except perhaps into the good graces of a DPhil candidate at Oxford.

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Women in the Judiciary

by Micah on September 25, 2003

Shameless plug: a group I work with at the University of Virginia law school is hosting a “panel”: on “Women in the Judiciary” later today. Two federal appellate judges and a justice from the “Virginia Supreme Court”: will take questions for about an hour and half. Dahlia Lithwick (to whom this slightly “scary”: fan blog is devoted) kindly agreed to moderate.

Preparing for the panel, I came across some interesting–though not terribly surprising–demographic information on women in the U.S. federal judiciary. The Federal Judiciary Center has a nice “database”: (look for the Federal Judges Biographical Database) that lets you search for information about federal judges using about a dozen different variables, including who nominated them and when. I ran a search on “Nominating President” and “Gender” and got these results:

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What’s the hurry?

by Micah on September 17, 2003

Bruce Ackerman has an “op-ed piece”: in the New York Times today arguing that the Ninth Circuit should not delay the vote in California. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by Ackerman’s willingness to limit the possibilities raised by the equal protection claims upheld in Bush v. Gore. Here’s his argument:

bq. This time around, the candidates in California have already invested heavily in a short campaign. Their competing strategies have been designed to reach a climax on the Oct. 7 election date. If they had known they would have to compete until March, they would have conducted their campaigns very differently. By suddenly changing the finish line, the three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disrupts the core First Amendment freedom to present a coherent political message to voters . . . Worse yet, the decision disrupts the First Amendment interests of the millions of Californians who have participated in the recall effort. State law promised them a quick election if they completed their petitions by an August deadline.

It also offered them a fair election. It seems reasonable for a court to postpone an election long enough to permit the installation of fair voting systems, rather than going through with error-prone machines and then trying to sort out the mess afterwards.

What about Ackerman’s First Amendment argument? It always helps to have the text around. So the First Amendment says: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” The core of the First Amendment may be the protection of political speech. But even if that’s right, it’s a big stretch to say that its core is the freedom to present a coherent political message to voters. That’s either rhetorical flourish or wishful thinking. Ackerman is asserting a First Amendment right to have an election run on time. I’m sure it would be a good thing to have prompt elections, and there may be statutory law requiring it. But, if there’s a constitutional claim involved here, it is the right to have one’s vote counted equally in a fair election. Ackerman thinks that this claim isn’t strong enough to override his First Amendment concerns. I think those concerns are overstated, at best. But even if they aren’t, this is an opportunity to see whether the Supreme Court was serious about the equal protection arguments of Bush v. Gore. It’s worth waiting for a decision about whether the Court meant what it said about guaranteeing fair elections.

Fortune Cookie

by Micah on September 12, 2003

I got one tonight that read: “Be careful! Straight trees often have crooked roots.” Not exactly what Kant had in mind. But I’m keeping an eye my fellow CT’ers . . .

Distributive Justice Game

by Micah on September 10, 2003

This is a “game”: everyone should play. And, if you like, try it in German or Italian.

Of the people who’ve played the “Discover your Distributive Profile” game (almost 4000 of them), Dworkinians are out in front. Right-libertarians aren’t well represented. Two weeks floating around the blogosphere, and I bet the numbers would change a lot. Just a hunch.

Give children the right to vote?

by Micah on August 28, 2003

I’m taking a course on election law, and the professor mentioned a proposal today that I hadn’t heard about before. He said there’s a movement in Germany to propose a constitutional amendment that would give children the right to vote from birth. I thought he was pulling our leg at first, but listen to this segment on “NPR”: The idea is that parents (or principal care givers) would act as proxies for children by voting on their behalf. According to proponents, this would have two benefits. First, it would give politicians greater reason to care about family and children’s issues. Second, in an effort to correct for Germany’s declining birth rate and rapidly aging population, it would give people greater incentive to have more children. (A quick search turns up some other proposals of this kind floating around, from the “sophomoric”: to the “more considered”:,3858,4599961-107865,00.html (by Gillian Thomas at “Demos”: to the “academic manifesto”: (by Duncan Lindsey at UCLA.)

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Mindless headlines

by Micah on August 21, 2003

This “headline”: from the “New York Times”: has been bothering me all day. It reads: “Islamic Militant Groups Say Truce Is Dead After Israeli Strike.” Wasn’t this obvious from the fact that they “claimed responsibility”: for the Jerusalem bus bombing two days ago?

License plate politics

by Micah on August 5, 2003

I was in Washington, DC, over the weekend and noticed this license plate for the first time. Apparently, it came out a couple years ago and is now the “default”: (though optional) license plate for the District.


The story is that Clinton had this plate put on the presidential limousine just as he was leaving office, and Bush (who got only “9%”: of the vote in DC) had it promptly removed.

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Gibson’s movie

by Micah on August 2, 2003

There’s been a lot of “talk”: lately about Mel Gibson’s movie about the death of Jesus. The “New York Times”: reports that Gibson has shown “The Passion” to:

bq. friendly audiences, but has refused to show it to his critics, including members of Jewish groups and biblical scholars. In Washington, it was shown to the Web gossip Matt Drudge, the columnists Cal Thomas and Peggy Noonan and the staffs of the Senate Republican Conference and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and others. In Colorado Springs, the capital of evangelical America, the film drew raves. A convention of the Legionaries of Christ, a conservative Roman Catholic order of priests, saw a preview, as did Rush Limbaugh.

Why is it that no Jews seem to have seen this movie? (Do correct me here if I’m wrong.) Gibson’s people won’t show it to the “Anti-Defamation League”: The Times quotes the marketing director for the film as saying: “There is no way on God’s green earth . . . that any of those people will be invited to a screening. They have shown themselves to be dishonorable.” So the obvious question is: why doesn’t Gibson show the movie to some “honorable” Jews? Seems like he’s shown it to just about eveyone else.

bq. Update: I’m corrected already. “Matt Drudge”: is Jewish, and he liked the film. Somehow, that doesn’t allay my concerns.

The bingo amendments

by Micah on July 29, 2003

I think “Henry’s post”: below about Will’s arrogance concerning EU constitutionalism is spot on. I was only planning to comment (again, see below), but I can’t resist piling on. Noting that the EU draft constitution contains language saying that “preventive action should be taken” to protect the environment, Will asks, “what in the name of James Madison is it doing in a constitution?” Of course, the obvious answer is that a constitution is, in part, an aspirational document. And aspiring to protect the environment is a legitimate goal of every state–and not merely a fleeting policy preference.

But, in fairness to Will, surely he could have picked some better examples. To find some, he might have turned to American state constitutions. Here are two of my favorites. The Oklahoma state constitution specifies the “flashpoint of kerosene”: But if EU politicians think that’s a bit too mundane, they can always look for inspiration to the “287 sections and 706 amendments of Alabama’s constitution”: In particular, they might want to check out “Amendment 612: Bingo Games in Russell County”:, or, of course, the bingo amendments for “Jefferson”:, “Madison”:, “Montgomery”:, “Mobile”:, “Etowah”:, “Calhoun”:, and “St. Clair”: Forgive me for leaving off the links for Walker (549), Covington (565), Houston (569), Morgan (599), Lowdnes (674), and Limestone (692) counties. If you read the Alabama state constitution carefully, you’ll find that you’re allowed to play bingo in those counties, too. Oh, and don’t forget about the the “City of Jasper”:

In praise of plodders

by Micah on July 25, 2003

There was an article a couple days back in the “Chronicle of Higher Education”: called “What People Just Don’t Understand About Academic Fields.” (Unfortunately, I can’t link to it because apparently you have to be a subscriber–but it doesn’t really matter for this post.) The article included a few paragraphs from a handful of professors in different fields each talking about what most people don’t seem to understand about what they do or why they do it. None of the entries struck me as all that interesting, but they did remind me of an essay by Isaiah which has been bothering me for awhile. The essay is called “Philosophy and Government Repressession” (1954) and was printed in “The Sense of Reality”: In trying to correct what he thinks is a common “misunderstanding of what philosophy is and what it can do,” argues that second- and third- rate philosophers are essentially worthless, except as obstacles to be overcome by truly great thinkers.

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