Bench Memos

Professor Barack Who?

During the presidential campaign, I alternately ground my teeth and laughed uproariously every time I heard Barack Obama described as a “former professor of constitutional law” on the basis of several years of part-time lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School.  Obama supporters assured us that never had any presidential candidate before Obama been so wise, so learned, so scholarly in his knowledge of the U.S. Constitution (no, not even James Madison, Abraham Lincoln, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson . . .).  Why, he wouldn’t even need any help vetting Supreme Court nominations, but could do the work all by his lonesome.  He could even appoint himself!  And he probably should, except that we need him so much as president!!  Or wait, couldn’t he do both jobs at once?  Is that permitted under the Constitution?  Why, ask Obama–he’ll know if anyone will!

So it was a truly delicious moment to read the lead from William McGurn’s Wall Street Journal column today, in which he reproduces an exchange from one of last week’s White House press briefings:

Helen Thomas: Why is the president blocking habeas corpus from prisoners at Bagram? I thought he taught constitutional law. And these prisoners have been there . . .

Robert Gibbs: You’re incorrect that he taught on constitutional law.

My understanding was that lecturer (later “distinguished lecturer” when he became state senator) Barack Obama usually taught a course on equal protection and civil rights, with perhaps a course on some civil liberties topic thrown in for variety now and then.  If Gibbs was denying Obama’s “constitutional law” teaching experience because none of his courses ever carried that phrase in its title (a phrase commonly used in some schools for the course on basic concepts of judicial power, separation of powers, and federalism), then he is a parser of words of Clintonesque daring and shamelessness.  For there is no question that the common thread of all Obama’s teaching, in every course he ever taught, was that they were all on constitutional law subjects.  It’s not like he ever taught torts or contracts, for pete’s sake.

But just have Helen Thomas throw one of her patented fastballs at Barack Obama’s head, and designated hitter Gibbs can’t duck fast enough.  Priceless.

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