You don’t have to be a fan of the TV series Black Mirror to realize that our world is becoming more computationally driven. Yet, being a fan may help you recognize the dangerous ways that technology can expand to affect how society operates. Ever since I began law school just a few months ago, I’ve been led to consider the role that courts will play in organizing and controlling new scientific frontiers. An increasingly important feature of future courts will be mathematical literacy. Unfortunately, based on empirical data, our courts system has not been very effective at analyzing empirical data.
The Supreme Court recently heard arguments grounded in statistics related to partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford. Many judges seemed dismissive of a mathematical tool, called the efficiency gap, that aims to measure the extent of partisan gerrymandering. The computation simply involves taking the difference between each party’s “wasted” votes, divided by the total number of votes cast. The court suggested that the lack of public understanding would make this standard arbitrary and erode the legitimacy of the court. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last two months of law school rigorously attempting to internalize foundational legal concepts that I’m certain are puzzling to most lay people.
American legal history and culture distinguishes itself both by its respect for the Constitution and its eagerness to heatedly debate its interpretation. There are those who believe in a “living Constitution,” constructed by the Framers to be flexible and changing with the mores and demands of the progressing society it serves. Others are “textualists,” prominent among them the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who believe that the Framers designed the Constitution to be a stable bedrock of fundamental law with specific avenues for amendment, to serve as a foundation upon which legislative action can build a legal edifice. They see the Constitution as concrete in what it says, and wish to leave anything it does not say to the legislative authority of the Congress and States, rather than the courts.
Coming into law school, I had no intention of ever stepping into a court room. I thought I wanted to do education policy work for a non-profit or government agency, hanging out behind a desk, engaging with complex issues at the highest levels, and generally avoiding an adversarial setting at all costs. But then I actually came to law school and what I thought I wanted shifted dramatically — which, spoiler alert, happens a lot!
My 2L year, my dear friend and current Law Student Association Vice President Andrea Clavijo lovingly coerced me into participating in the intra-school Moot Court competition. More on that later (and you can read about it on the BC Law web site here), but the tl;dr version is that Moot Court is basically fake appellate advocacy. Instead of making an argument to a jury, Law & Order style, you and a partner argue in front of a (fake) Supreme Court, focusing on the legal issues and advocating for what the law should be.
The experience was absolutely terrifying, and I. Absolutely. Loved It. Which is what brings me to the actual topic of the post: the best class I’ve taken in law school.
A shockwave disrupted the country on the afternoon of February 13, 2016, when we learned that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had passed away unexpectedly at the age of 79. The fascinating political and legal ramifications of Justice Scalia’s sudden death are yet to unfold, but what is certain is that American law students have lost a brilliant and consequential legal instructor. Continue reading
In addition to the relief of the workload that finals season imposes, the end of the semester gives you the chance to read something you choose. Law school doesn’t provide much free time to kick back with any books besides the ones your professors assign for class reading.
Personally, I’m taking the opportunity to sink my teeth into something written by a former Supreme Court justice that isn’t about what the law is, but rather what he thinks it should be. No lengthy fact patterns or dissents!
If you’re familiar with the West Wing — which, if you’re not, what are you doing with your life — you’ll know what I mean when I say that “the Supremes” are a big deal in the world of law school. As any law student will tell you, you spend a great deal of time during your three years reading, talking and learning about what the Justices of the Supreme Court have decided and why.
Last week, the students at BC Law got to skip the casebook and learn straight from one of the sources herself: Justice Elena Kagan, the newest judge appointed to the bench. Justice Kagan answered questions from law school Dean Vincent Rougeau, as well as from students in the audience, and spoke about a wide variety of topics, including the importance of legal writing and being a woman on the bench.
As a Supreme Court fangirl, I gotta tell you — it was pretty freaking cool. Check out BC Law magazine’s article on the Q&A here, and a few photos of the event below!