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Kagan's Odd Harvard Reform

According to NLT blogger and Heritage Foundation legal scholar Robert Alt, then-Dean Kagan axed Constitutional Law as a core requirement at Harvard Law: 

"My understanding is that she instituted three new courses to the required curriculum and, in so doing, got rid of a requirement to take constitutional law," Robert Alt, senior legal fellow and deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation, told CNSNews.com.

"Currently, at Harvard, constitutional law is not required for first-year law students, or even for graduation," Alt added.

Evidently she felt that law school education should focus instead on public international law, international economic law, and "complex problem solving."  See this Harvard news release.  In defense of Dean Kagan, it might be said that no Con Law is better than terrible Con Law, but this is a peculiar argument to use for a Harvard, is it not?

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Discussions - 24 Comments

See this to get a more fact-based perspective on Kagan's acts at Harvard, after reading the essentially unhinged account from Brent Bozell's laughable Conservative "News" Service:

http://mediamatters.org/research/201005260018

Key excerpt:

"Kagan didn't "drop" con-law -- it wasn't required in the first place -- and her curriculum changes were unanimously approved by Harvard Law faculty., The curriculum changes Kagan instituted as dean, which were unanimously approved by the Harvard Law School faculty, added "new first-year courses in international and comparative law, legislation and regulation, and complex problem solving" and condensed the "traditional first-year curriculum (contracts, torts, civil procedure, criminal law, and property)." Kagan didn't "drop" or "replace" con-law -- it wasn't required in the first place. Prior to her deanship -- in 2002, for example -- Harvard did not require J.D. students to take a constitutional law class. Harvard Law J.D. degree requirements included "required [first-year] courses in Criminal Law, Contracts, Civil Procedure, Torts, and Property," "Legal Reasoning and Argument (LRA)," "a first-year elective course; a course in professional responsibility; fifty-two credits in second- and third-year elective courses; and a satisfactory piece of written work." As is the case now, courses in both the second and third year were all elective. Furthermore, according to Kagan, the addition of a 1L "Legislation and Regulation" requirement, was designed, in part, to "naturally lead into, and enable students to get more out of, advanced courses in the 2L and 3L years, on legislation, administrative law, a wide range of regulatory subjects (e.g., environmental law, securities law, telecommunications law), and constitutional law." Kagan has taught constitutional law at Harvard herself, and has earned praise from former Reagan Solicitor General Charles Fried, a constitutional law professor who taught at Harvard while Kagan was dean."

Plenty more myth-debunking to be found here:
http://mediamatters.org/research/201005100001

This may exonerate Kagan, but it speaks volumes about Harvard and Kagan's priorities. She and the faculty recognize that more background is needed for 2nd and 3rd year electives but that constitutional law is not part of that background. Obviously Harvard is in a position to dictate to the rest, but I believe con law remains part of the first-year core at most law schools. To repeat what I said above: "In defense of Dean Kagan, it might be said that no Con Law is better than terrible Con Law, but this is a peculiar argument to use for a Harvard, is it not?"

I think about 10 years ago, Robert Bork wrote that the appellate courts had managed to destroy constitutional law as a serious intellectual subdiscipline. Not studying it may actually be beneficial for students generally.

Now, which adjunct at the University of Chicago Law School taught this contemporary intellectual con game?

Look, we're talking about law school, not a serious enterprise.

Ok, if it's not a serious enterprise, then why get all worked up about a bunch of myths regarding Kagan's time heading one?

It's a pity that no one takes law school as a serious enterprise, except as a means to an end, that being either personal prosperity or national governance. If we have a bunch of lawyers from law schools like Harvard's, who have never bothered to study the Constitution, and who we have all elected, hired or appointed to run our government, no wonder we are discouraged about the course that government takes.

If Harvard, et al., were supposing that Americans take in their Constitution as with their mother's milk, they are just wrong. Such basic civic education is not taught in public schools save by a few hardy teachers (and thank you, Ashbrook Center) and if not there, or in college, or in law school, then when is anyone going to taught this?

I would say we ought to petition to have a Constitutional amendment that everyone ought to have some kind of education in that basic document of our government, but apparently no one would pay attention, as if on principle.

The political point is that law schools are trade schools, and that being head of a successful trade school is not necessarily a qualification for being a SCOTUS Justice.

...unless one holds opinions like Justices Thomas and Scalia, in which case it's a most impressive qualification indicative of one's superior intellectual caliber.

Except for the fact that neither Thomas nor Scalia were ever head of a law school. Scalia was a prof, but no Kagan.

I guess I'll have to spell it out for you explicitly.

I said:

"...unless one holds opinions like Justices Thomas and Scalia, in which case it's a most impressive qualification indicative of one's superior intellectual caliber."

Meaning "...unless one [the given SCOTUS candidate] holds opinions like Justices Thomas and Scalia [NOT Justices Thomas and Scalia themselves, only a candidate with similar opinions pleasing to conservatives], in which case it's a most impressive qualification indicative of one's superior intellectual caliber.

I never thought, said, or implied that either of those justices headed up law schools. That was obviously not my point. Although, now that I think of it, the two SCOTUS justices can be used to make a similar point (which connects to an older thread here at NLT).

Scalia is a Harvard Law grad and Thomas is a Yale Law grad. Nowadays such credentials are always a problematic indicator of elitism IF - and only if - the given candidate is left of, say, Bill Kristol. Otherwise it's only indicative of good things.

Oh yes, this is the thread I was reminded of:

http://nlt.ashbrook.org/2008/11/the-best-and-the-brightest-ii.php

Using "media matters" as a fact source is like using astrology to prove global warming!. Oh right, they already did that.

The only one who is "unhinged, and laughable " here is you my friend.

Kate, we live at a time when the chief justice of Massachusetts could say with a straight face that an organic law adopted in 1784 requires county clerks to issue marriage licences to pairs of dudes. Whatever they might be studying in a class on constitutional law, that text composed in 1787 and ratified the following year would not be it.

Israel and Great Britain get along without formally composed constitutions. If that's what it takes to get our rancid appellate judiciary to sit down and shut up, it's worth it.

I think Dean Kagan's professional background is adequate. It is difficult imagining her exhibiting deference to democratic choice when the rubber hits the road, but that is another problem.

Sorry, but in the context of your remark [as a reply to Ken Thomas' post above yours] that did seem to be the implication. The elitism/populism meme I won't get into.

except that Thomas has always expressed contempt for his Yale degree, a sentiment returned by ex-Dean Harold Koh. I don't know about Scalia and Harvard, though I believe he is pro-Georgetown (as Thomas is pro-Holy Cross).

Thomas expresses contempt for his Yale degree? I suppose he would be more thankful if he got a certificate in paralegal studies from his local community college. Ok, I'll take his Yale degree (and run with it) if he doesn't want it. Reminds me of Ann Coulter speculating that "we" would be better off if women didn't have the vote.

I actually hope Matt Mingus - a graduate of the Ashbrook program who seems to have made a left turn or two since going to graduate school - gets on the SCOTUS or becomes president someday, just to watch Ashbrook have to react to that.

"Rattso" - Well, you're one step above name-calling in that response; keep trying!
http://scienceblogs.com/ethicsandscience/upload/2009/08/Disagreement-hierarchy.jpg

Are there any particular points of fact (regarding the Kagan issue) from MediaMatters that you contest? Do elaborate, please.

"I actually hope Matt Mingus - a graduate of the Ashbrook program who seems to have made a left turn or two since going to graduate school - gets on the SCOTUS or becomes president someday, just to watch Ashbrook have to react to that."

I'm pretty sure they would take it in stride, and with happiness. They might only be disappointed that they were not represented by their best.

"I'm pretty sure they would take it in stride, and with happiness. They might only be disappointed that they were not represented by their best."

Not if he was endorsing and promoting views antithetical to the Ashbrook agenda. Not if he was pushing "left turns" and openly critiquing the varieties of conservatism that tend to dominate this blog - as he seems to have been doing in his infrequent appearances here the last couple of years.

Damn, I just figured out who Craig Scanlon is!

Oh really? Do tell. That took you a while. I got your plague reference right away.

(and no, I'm not Matt Mingus. I suspect I still reside several slots to the left of Matt on the simplest political spectrum)

Let's just say that your initials are D.O. And I suspect you reside several slots to the left of just about everyone.

Scanlon's an osteopath?

Ha! The Ashbrook agenda.

D.O. ???

That's interesting. This has become positively mysterious and intriguing!!

D.O.??!!??

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