Bench Memos

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Obama the Titan, or the Cipher?


Over at The Corner, John Derbyshire and Andy McCarthy have mused about the constitutional views of Barack Obama, of which there seems to be scant evidence.  Their remarks put me in mind of an Emily Bazelon article at Slate last week, an embarrassingly gushy, crushy piece praising Obama’s acumen as a legal and constitutional thinker.  Bazelon describes him as “a former constitutional law professor” (remember when they said the same about Bill Clinton?), whose “lawyer team loves their man because he goes toe to toe with them.”  She relates an episode that Obama’s law-professor admirers told her, in which four of them–”titans, all,” Bazelon calls them (Harvard’s Martha Minow and Laurence Tribe, Chicago’s Cass Sunstein, and Georgetown’s Neal Katyal)–worked on a draft speech about “law and democracy,” only to have the candidate blow them all away with a superior version off the top of his head.

All this is by way of making a case that Barack Obama is so very knowledgeable about legal and constitutional matters that he can personally take charge of judicial appointments and legal policy questions and won’t have to “outsource” his thinking on such matters.

Let’s not get carried away, though.  According to Obama’s biographical entry in Michael Barone’s Almanac of American Politics, Obama had the status of “lecturer” at the University of Chicago Law School from 1993 until his election as a U.S. senator in 2004.  But in 1996 he was elected to the Illinois legislature, and from all appearances on the U. of C. law school’s website (which now lists Obama as a “senior lecturer” on leave), the status of “lecturer” is like an adjunct or part-time appointment.  He was never, as Bazelon describes him, a “professor” of constitutional law, though con law is often said to have been the subject he taught.

And what has Obama published on constitutional law or any other legal topic?  Although he was president of the Harvard Law Review as a student, in which capacity he no doubt wrote some unsigned notes, a search of the HeinOnline database of law journals turns up exactly nothing credited to Obama in any law review anywhere at any time.  This is yet more indication that his status as “lecturer” at Chicago was not a regular faculty appointment, since regular full-time faculty are expected to produce scholarship.

Let me say that again.  There appears to be not one single article, published talk, book review, or comment of any kind, anywhere in the professional legal literature, under Barack Obama’s name, notwithstanding an apparent eleven-year teaching career in constitutional law at a top-flight law school.

But he is a titan of constitutional thought–nay, a super-titan, towering over the titanic Sunsteins and Tribes of the world.  We will just have to take the word of Emily Bazelon and Obama’s in-house fan club for that.


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