Phi Beta Cons

Chicken Soup for the (Constitutional Litigator’s) Soul

One of the worst things about being a lawyer is reading legal writing. Leave it to lawyers to take the most profound questions of our cultural life and then drain all passion and vitality from them in seemingly endless and technically argued “briefs.” Some of this is, of course, necessary. We channel disputes into court so that they’ll be decided in a dispassionate, reasoned manner, and incessant table-pounding can be as tiresome as the typical legal brief is boring. (Not every case is the most outrageous injustice ever.)

But there are occasions when a legal brief can soar. Yesterday, FIRE filed a truly magnificent amicus brief in support of the Chrsitian Legal Society in CLS v. Martinez. The brief clearly and unequivocally states the core issue in the case:

The school has taken the remarkable position that a religious student organization is not permitted to discriminate on the basis of religious belief. This policy prevents Petitioner Christian Legal Society from adhering to the very principles that are the reason for its existence when making decisions on leadership, voting membership, and — because the group’s statements come from its leaders and members — its message.

FIRE then goes on to not only convincingly argue the merits of CLS’s free-assocation argument but also to issue a searing indictment of the culture of censorship on campus. In fact, the brief reads like a greatest-hits compilation of absurd efforts to destroy disfavored groups and silence disfavored speech. (My favorite anecdote involves a student attempt to pack the board of YAF at Central Michigan University, then vote to dissolve the group.)

The brief does what few legal documents do effectively: It grounds abstract constitutional principles in the very real world experienced by students and student groups. Please, read it all. In a world of dry and stultifying advocacy, FIRE’s brief really is chicken soup for this constitutional litigator’s soul.

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