Monday, January 10, 2005

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That silly Alan Dershowitz

Look, the Harvard Law School has taken its fair share of lumps in the past year -- so critiquing Alan Dershowitz's critique of John Grisham's latest potboiler in the New York Times Book Review seems a bit like piling on.

However, I can't let this paragraph slide:

I have long been a Grisham reader. I have to be. So many of my students come to law school primed by Grisham novels -- and the movies based on them -- as their introduction to the practice of law. In many ways, it is a better introduction than high school civics and college political science courses that preach an incorruptible legal system -- especially its judiciary -- that always remains above politics. Grisham's lawyers and judges may be a bit over the top, but they are often closer to the real thing than the hagiographies of our ''sainted'' judges that pass for judicial biography.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that students who decide to matriculate at Harvard's law school might -- just might -- have formed their opinions about the law from a greater range of experience than reading Grisham's oeuvre. At a minimum, I'm sure they've read Scott Turow's vastly superior legal thrillers.

Second, it's clearly been a long, long time since Dershowitz checked out the political science literature on the judiciary. I'm hardly an expert on the poli sci literature on the courts, but even I am dimly aware that the trend in the past few decades has been to study judges as rational actors intent on pursuing political agendas -- not exactly above politics (click here for some examples of this literature) Comparative political scientists do tend to assume that American judges are less corrupt than many of their foreign counterparts -- because that appears to be true. However, political scientists have long abandoned the concept that judges do not think or act in a political or strategic manner. And I'm pretty sure that this is reflected in undergraduate courses.

posted by Dan on 01.10.05 at 10:30 AM


Kafka's The Trial is much better suited reading to prepare the young lawyer-to-be for his or her horrifying descent into the meaninglessness of the large lawfirm job awaiting.

posted by: PD Shaw on 01.10.05 at 10:30 AM [permalink]

Some classics that refute the a-political conception of judges include:
The Supreme Court and the Attitudunial Model by Jeffrey Segal and Harold Spaeth
The Choices Justices Make by Lee Epstein and Jack Knight.

posted by: Danny on 01.10.05 at 10:30 AM [permalink]

I'd say this is true of political scientists who use texts written by political scientists (e.g. Epstein and Walker's Constitutional Law for a Changing America), but attitudinalism hasn't penetrated nearly as much in lawprof-written books, which tend to be the ones used by most JDs (and even a lot of PhDs) teaching con law to undergraduates. And even Epstein and Walker oversell the court's power as an agent of social change.

posted by: Chris Lawrence on 01.10.05 at 10:30 AM [permalink]

Hmmm ... I wonder if John Grisham is as psyched about torture as the Dershmeister?

posted by: praktike on 01.10.05 at 10:30 AM [permalink]

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