The New Republic recently printed an essay devoted to one of the many, many less tragic but nonetheless unfortunate consequences of the decisions issued this term by our rogue Supreme Court–the fact that the Court has upended the lives of students studying for the bar exam.
I know whereof the author speaks. A couple of weeks before the essay appeared, I had lunch with a good friend and his daughter, who had just graduated from the University of Michigan law school and was studying for the bar exam. She had been an excellent student, but was now stymied about how to answer questions about what she’d been taught were basic principles of American jurisprudence. What should she do in the wake of the Court’s string of radical departures from what she’d been taught was settled law?
Snark that I am, I suggested starting every answer with “Until this year, the law was…” But of course, that assumes the exam consists largely of essay questions.
As the author of the article in the New Republic put it
Picture the scene: It’s the summer after I graduated from law school and a day that ends in y, which means I’m currently hunched over a workbook, attempting to answer practice questions for the multistate bar exam. Such cramming for the bar is a universal rite of passage in the legal field—one that every lawyer in America remembers going through. But right now, law school graduates across the country are experiencing the ordeal a little differently. Because this year, a lot of the laws we are trying so hard to memorize are, as of just a few weeks ago, no longer actually the law.
The author shared a multiple-choice question that has undoubtedly been on several such exams, and then described the dilemma: of the three choices, “B” was correct. At least it should be correct. Except now, not so fast…
Or, well, “B” used to be the right answer. It was the right answer when we graduated from law school at the end of May. It was the right answer through most of June, as we studied the elements of substantive due process—the principle that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect fundamental rights from government interference, like the rights to personal autonomy, bodily integrity, self-dignity, and self-determination. For decades, these interests formed the outline of a constitutionally protected right to privacy, whose framework we’ve spent the summer copying onto flashcards and trying to recount in practice essays.
But this substantive due process right to privacy was just dealt a body blow by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson that the U.S. Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.
After enumerating several of this session’s other dramatic “U turns” to constitutional jurisprudence, he writes:
And the hits keep on coming: Next there’s a question on the “case or controversy” requirement laid out under Article III of the Constitution, stipulating that federal courts only have the power to resolve legal questions arising out of an actual dispute between real parties. That’s been a basic principle of judicial review since 1793, and yet I know that the multiple-choice option I mark for correctly stating this rule completely contradicts the Supreme Court’s disastrous climate decision in West Virginia v. EPA—a case over an environmental regulation that never took effect, no longer exists, and never created any real dispute between actual parties. Then I drop my pencil and put my head in my hands….
In order to practice law, every newly licensed attorney in the year 2022 has to take an exam testing their grasp of legal principles that are no longer legal and laws that are no longer the law. That an unelected panel of ideological extremists could change so many critically important pieces of America’s legal architecture overnight—radically remaking our laws on abortion, separation of church and state, climate change, the rights of criminal defendants, Native American sovereignty, gun control, the capacity of the administrative state to keep us safe, and more—all with zero input from or accountability to the American people, demonstrates how completely unmoored this court is from the principles of democratic governance.
It isn’t only students cramming for the Bar Exam who find themselves suddenly adrift. Pretty much every lawyer I know is gobsmacked..
Me too. I recently collaborated with Women4Change Indiana on a series of civic education videos meant to explain the operation of the U.S. Bill of Rights. The Court’s ahistorical and deeply dishonest departures from what I knew as settled legal principles has made several of those videos inaccurate.
I encourage you to click through and read this very poignant essay--and the author’s very pointed criticisms of the judicial extremists who are decimating the rule of law.