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"Harvard," I spoke the word/ as if a wedding vow




Now that the President has nominated to the United States Supreme Court a woman whose signature (and not inconsiderable) accomplishment in life was to serve as Dean of the Harvard Law School, I expect (with apologies to Bob Dylan) that the name of my alma mater will be invoked reverently and frequently over the next month or so.

If for no other reason than to temper the vainglorious monster that beats in the chest of every son and daughter of Harvard, it is right and meet (see what I mean?) that we be reminded that having "Harvard" on your resume does not mean that you are immune from saying or writing ill considered things.

No, this is not about Elena Kagan (I'll get to her). Nor is it about me although I suppose I could find plenty of examples. My subject is Harvard law professor Noah Feldman who suggested in yesterday's New York Times that the next nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court should be a "young person" by which he appears to mean under 40. (Professor Feldman is 39.) He has been disappointed but the point still deserves a response.

Note that the point is not that we should be open to the possibility that someone under 40 might be as suitable nominee. No, we need someone who is under 40. In support of his call for chronological diversity, Professor Felman offers up - there is no better way to say it - every brainless conceit that the young have about the ways in which they are smarter and way cooler than their elders. The reason that I know is that I used to believe such things myself.

According to Professor Feldman, we need to get past Baby Boomers for whom the internet is a "new fangled contraption" (cute choice of words) as if Pa Kettle and his old lady don't surf the web for Woodstock memorabilia or text each other about scoring some weed (actually they'd call it pot) for the next Tom Petty concert. (If you don't believe me on the latter, just go to one of those things. Breathe and you'll be high by "I Won't Back Down.")

Young people, says Professor Feldman, have lived through "not only a technological revolution but a demographic one" and so are "comfortable with people who look and think differently."

Dude, please.

Who hasn't lived through some type of social or technical revolution? Remember the Civil Rights movement? Feminism? Those were ours*, whippersnapper! Boomers may not have been assigned "Heather Has Two Mommies" for extra credit, but I seem to recall (when I can recall anything - it gets hard) a number of university administration buildings being seized in conjunction with demands for black studies programs.

Remember the aforementioned Woodstock ? Boomers have been the Kings and Queens of flying (or letting the next guy fly) that freak flag for longer than Professor Feldman has been alive. Indeed, our singular contribution to the culture may have been the notion that virtue consists in never making a judgment about anyone or anything (other than, of course, our own conviction that we are ineluctably special.)

Professor Feldman reminds us that people over 40 voted for John McCain (another old guy!). Let's pick a justice from Barack Obama's America (but not one so ancient as the President himself). In this, I suppose he demonstrates that Gen X truly is comfortable with "the other." Boomers wouldn't trust anyone over 30.

As an example of the wisdom of youth, Professor Feldman offers us Justice William Douglas who is, in his view, an exemplar of the "openness, new ideas and energy" that comes with youth. Apparently borrowing from the the then new science of thaumatury, Justice Douglas, starting with nothing but penumbras and emanations, conjured - or (in Professor Feldman's circumlocution) "devised" - "the right of privacy that gave us reproductive freedom."**

Whatever one thinks of abortion rights, Justice Douglas (who, in fairness, did retain an energetic interest in young people as he aged) was famously unimpressed in any disciplining methodology other than the wisdom of William O. Douglas. Professor Feldman might have picked a better example. Let's try Clarence Thomas who was only a bit older than Douglas at the time of his confirmation.

Justice Thomas has also been an energetic proponent of unorthodox ideas. He would not have "devised," "materialized," or even "imagined" a constitutional right to abortion, but he has tried to revitalize structural limits on Congressional authority.

And, notwithstanding the obvious fun I'm having, therein lies my point. The distinctive views of youth tend to fade over time as we gradually accept responsibility for the world and stop defining ourselves in opposition to our elders. We become who we are. To use some examples from the legal academy, there are young scholars like Noah Feldman and Goodwin Liu. There are young scholars like Richard Garnett and John Yoo. The only thing they have in common as potential Supreme Court nominees (and I suspect that each would differ in significant ways from the other three) is that they would have a chance to serve for a very long time.

Being second half baby boomer and having been a precocious little nerd, I can recall (over the rumble of the ever lengthening freight train of years) when then President Richard Nixon dipped a goose feather into an ink well and signed the Twenty Seventh Amendment lowering the voting age to 18. Pundits said that he was signing a death warrant of the Republican Party because the rising and very groovy baby boomers were never going to vote for them. Some serious people - even an Ivy League law professor like Professor Feldman - thought that we were going to usher in a "revolution by consciousness" that would create a new way of life and a New Man. So did we.

And then, dag nabbit, we went and voted for John McCain. We had some revolutions (some might say counterrevolutions), but they were lead by people like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and the Pope. Had we known, it would have seemed, at the time, like that famous stage announcement at Woodstock (" ... the brown acid that is circulating around us is not specifically too good ...") had come to pass.

In fairness, I admire Professor Feldman's work. I enjoyed his book Divided By God and have cited it and some work he has done on the history of the Establishment Clause quite extensively. He is an accomplished and productive scholar.

But, dude, think!


Cross posted at Point of Law and Shark and Shepherd


* Actually, for people my age, it was our older brothers, sisters and cousins who tended to hog everything before we got a chance. But that's another story.

**Unless, if I may be permitted an editorial comment, one turns out to be the collateral damage of reproductive freedom.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.