Bench Memos

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Professors Run Amok


Ed Whelan does a nice job, and a real service, in exposing the inanity of recent interventions by the two most prominent liberal law professors of our time — Ronald Dworkin and Laurence Tribe. Each is deservedly famous for genuine accomplishment. Despite its characteristic lack of attention to detail and indifference to cogent criticism, Dworkin’s philosophical work has contributed greatly to a welcome, and fruitful, renaissance in legal theory. His writings will be read by students of the law in fifty, and maybe a hundred, years. Tribe has been a renowned teacher and formidable Supreme Court litigator. His scholarship has had an effect — mostly bad — upon the law. But it is so marred by carelessness and extravagance, and so driven by short-term political objectives, that no one will be reading it in ten years.

Ed’s analysis of their recent pieces confirms my opinion that both Dworkin and Tribe have turned a corner in their careers. Each is as liberal as ever. Each is still energetic and keen to weigh in on the big questions of the day. But neither is now trying to make a case by careful research and cogent reasoning. Each is content to rely instead upon reputation, verbal charm and, yes, a certain audacity.


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