Consider the Source

Wow. This guy in Michigan who was denied admission to the bar there sounds a little nuts:

“I have faith in the Supreme Court, and in particular Justice John Paul Stevens, who is the true guardian of our constitutional rights.”

Whenever somebody whips out that word “true” in a context like that, it makes me cringe a little. Sort of like when people start talking about “true believers.”

Here’s another weird bit:

[He] told interviewers with the Michigan bar’s character and fitness committee that he had little respect for the state court system, and federal courts are the guardians of the Constitution.

Yes, federal courts are the guardians of the Constitution, but state courts have the same obligation. It’s not clear from the journalist’s paraphrase of that remark what he means. If he means that state courts are not obligated by the federal Constitution, he’s just flat wrong. If he means that Michigan state courts have failed in that obligation, well, that seems to me like a matter of opinion that deserves to be aired.

This part is not so weird, though:

He also operated a website called StateBarWatch that criticized the State Bar of Michigan and the State Board of Law Examiners.

People don’t like to be criticized or reviewed in public (see, e.g., Metallica—yeah, Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot on that one), but I can’t offer much support to anybody who thinks its a bad thing to operate a website like that. (To be fair, it looks like the website was just one factor in the determination, and judging from some of the things the guy is purported to have said, I suspect there was a bunch more that didn’t make it into the article.)

Sure, after I pass the bar and get admitted, if there is ever a website like that in California, I’d not be happy to find myself criticized on there, but people should be able to do that.

During law school, a fellow student once decided to start telling people that I had exercised some improper influence over other students, pursuant to one of my extracurricular activities. (Sorry, no specifics here.) It was absolutely not true and perhaps one of the most offensive, hurtful things someone has ever said about me (that I heard about). I despaired. I complained to my friends. I was angry. But one of my good friends said, “You have to trust people to consider the source.” That’s a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true.

So I had to try and give it up, to hope that people who heard what this student said were considering the source. Some of them probably weren’t. Or they considered the source differently than I did. But ultimately, it might have done more damage to my reputation if I had tried to squelch the lies.

When you go out into the world, or onto the internet, where all of us bloggers are banging away on our keyboards, you have to consider the source. I do my share of complaining here on my blog. Especially, recently, about bar review courses. If you ask me, I think everything I say is right. (Not necessarily “true” though. See above.) But you still have to consider the source. (For example, with the bar review courses, I happen also to be in the unenviable position of studying for the California bar exam. No matter how much I know I’m right, you have to stop and consider my perspective.)

Even when you’re talking to somebody who seems like the smartest, most level-headed, most even-keeled, most well-educated, highly reliable person you ever met, you have to consider the source. Why? Because even that person has limited perception and finite resources.

Freedom of speech is pretty important. People need to be able to say what they’re thinking. They need to be able to toss around ideas. Even the bad ones. Even the ones that are shameful or embarrassing.

There is this whole body of law for the torts of defamation and invasion of privacy. People drag it out when they are offended that someone else has said unsavory or objectionable things about them. I have to know it for the bar exam, so I have been studying it. But a lot of it is pretty weak, which is fine with me. People are always going to say bad things about each other. You can’t stop them. So why not use that inevitability as an excuse to spread the skill of critical thinking and considering the source? Do you really think that filing a lawsuit for defamation or invasion of privacy will improve or rehabilitate your reputation?

But anyway, back to the guy in Michigan. He does seem kind of nutty to me. But he has a right to be nutty and the rest of us have an obligation to consider the source. Maybe he would make a lousy lawyer. Maybe he would be great. I have no idea. But nobody should criticize him for running State Bar Watch, or construe that as something bad about him.

Nor should he be penalized for criticizing courts. Obviously, you don’t want to pull a Bubba, but generalized criticism? Of a court where you’re not a party? Or any other instrument of government? Sure seems like a good idea to me. But consider the source.

And, like another blogger says: “[I]f you can’t get a law license for thinking the Michigan Supreme Court is activist, then a lot of people will need to bite their tongues.”

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