A Look Behind the Curtain

First things first. I hate flying. It's just not my thing, and I don't do it if I don't have to. If I'm going to Paris, yeah, that's worth it. But if I'm going to Roanoke, Virginia, to take the bar exam, it is just an added aggravation. Thankfully there are direct flights from Atlanta, because I do not think I could have handled making a connecting flight just to go 400 miles.

Second things second. It is a desecration of all things rational that the Virginia Bar Exam takes place in Roanoke every July. This is a city that is so accidental in existence, haphazard in design, and inconvenient to every major graduating source of law students in the state that the choice can only be described as immensely wrong-headed and transparently political. Though if I had stayed until tomorrow, when the Roanoke Civic Center is playing host to Hillary Duff's Most Wanted tour, maybe I'd feel different. That's quite a week for the Roanoke Civic Center: Tuesday/Wednesday - Virginia Bar Exam; Friday - Hillary Duff.

I flew into Roanoke on Monday afternoon. In a sense, my fear of flying put the whole bar exam into perspective. The plane landed safely, and I said to myself, "You're half-way there. Just one more flight.... and something in between, an exam of some sort." For at least a few minutes I was more bothered by the thought of another flight than taking the bar.

I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott. On Monday night, there was a thunderstorm. At 8pm, the power went out in the hotel. That's right. No lights, no alarm clock.

Now you have to remember, I can be a pretty arrogant person when it comes to exams. I was never particularly concerned that I was not going to pass the bar. So I took this simply as a sign it was time for me to lay down and relax. But many of the other bar takers in the hotel (and there were quite a few) were not so ready to acquiesce.

The first innovators took flashlights into the hallways (where there was still some light, from generators I presume), and read there. I don't know if they brought flashlights for just such an emergency, or if they went out and braved Zeus' wrath to buy them, but there they were either way.

The second group of innovators went down to their cars and read by the glow of the overhead light in the cabin. It would be all too ironic if any of them were unable to start their cars the next morning because the battery was dead.

Anyhow, I set the alarm on my cellphone, listened to my Ipod, and went to bed. Unfortunately, I forgot to switch off all of the lights, so when the power eventually came back on around 1am, I had a rude awakening. Sleep was intermittent thereafter, and I ended up getting up a little after 6am.

I got to the Civic Center a bit early, since I also have a bit of a parking phobia (airplanes and parking and heights, that's all). I did not wear sneakers, since I have a nice pair of soft-soled Bostonians. There were plenty of suits/skirts with sneakers, and it was absolutely ridiculous. That is another piece of Virginia Bar stupidity that should be put to death.

I found my seat in the Civic Center, which like many bar exams, I'm sure, had all of the tables laid out where the basketball or hockey court is supposed to be, surrounded by thousands of empty seats where I half-expected to see family members and faculty cheering us on.

The girl sitting next to me. My oh my, this poor thing. She was certainly nice enough, and I really do hope she passed. She's from Panama (which for some reason she felt the need to tell me was a "republic"), and I think she was an attorney there, though I could not quite piece together what she was saying. However... she showed up without a pen. Not a single thing to write with. I had a dozen, so I had no problem giving her a couple. But that was strange.

I honestly don't have much to say about the essays themselves. I thought they were surprisingly fair and straight-forward. I think I did well. But I also think that most people felt the same way, so you never know.

I left about twenty minutes early because I was basically finished, and because I didn't want to get stuck in the guaranteed awfulness that would be the Civic Center parking lot traffic after the session ended. It would have been interesting to see whether, if I really had needed all three hours, my fear of failure or my fear of parking lots would have won out.

I went back to the hotel, ordered room service (a delicious caesar salad and chips with spinach dip), spent hours watching TBS (that Jerry Seinfeld sure cracks me up), and tried but failed to muster the energy to study for the MBE. I sympathized with my poor wife, who sat for the Georgia Bar which chose to use its meager four essay questions (Georgia has the MPT) to put its applicants through the gauntlet of Corporations, Con Law, Secured Transactions, and Partnerships. And the Corporations question had a subpart about arson, if you can believe that. My wife, who has a brilliant knowledge of property, trusts and estates, family law, and evidence, couldn't get even one question that was remotely up her alley. Meanwhile, I got adverse possession and a wills contest. No justice there.

I showed up early again the next day, read the USA Today, and waited for everyone else to show up. The Panamanian girl? Yeah, she was there. And she brought a writing instrument: the pen I'd given her the day before. No pencils. That's right. No pencils. I had a dozen finely tuned Mirado Black Warriors ready, so I gave her a couple of those as well. I think that if I see her name when the successful names are posted in October, I'm going to send her a bill.

I thought the MBE went very well. There were some "known knowns" and some "known unknowns" but hopefully not too many "unknown unknowns", as the SecDef would say. The Panamanian seemed incapable of doing two questions in a row. As far as I can tell, she was just flipping back and forth through the question trying to find ones she could answer. Not a good sign, and extremely distracting. I think if she had shared her table with someone less sure of himself, she'd have been on the receiving end of some nasty looks.

I went through the questions at a pretty good clip, about 1 question per minute, but I still found myself depressed every five questions or so, at the Sisyphus-like effort of trying to do 100 of these question in one sitting.

I'll tell you the one good bit of paranoia that I experienced. I became convinced that none of my circles were sufficiently darkened. It does not matter how hubristically confident one is about the quality of one's answers. If those bubbles aren't filled in properly, it is all for naught. So when I finished with time to spare, I sat and methodically gave a meticulous second coat to each little bubble. I'd like to have added a clear polyurethane finish to protect my efforts, but alas, the soft lead is all the technology will accept.

I walked out of the hall, got in my car, rolled down the windows, rolled the windows back up (I'd momentarily forgotten it was 97 degrees out and I was still wearing a suit and tie), and cruised back to the hotel. I felt tired, and I felt free. Free to come back and read the new Harry Potter book, close on our new condo (11am tomorrow!), and starting painting and decorating.

It's good to be a member of the human race again.

Off to See the Wizard

I'm off tomorrow to scenic Roanoke, Virginia, where I will join hundreds of fellow lawyers-to-be in undergoing that most famed test of will: the bar exam. There will be much relief and merriment when the sun sets on this experience.

31 Out of 100

Having finished James Dickey's chilling and excellent Deliverance (#42), I have read 31 of Modern Library's 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th Century. A lot of good stuff to go. If I could just get this bar exam over with.

Breaking News.... in England?

I said it after Justice O'Connor's retirement and I'll say it again. I think it is very strange that individual Supreme Court retirements/nominations make headline news at the BBC. I'm quite sure virtually no American can name a single Law Lord (neither could I until I took a class with Alan Ryan):


UPDATE, Via Brett, I see that there have been efforts made to educate the world about the Law Lords. For what it's worth, Lord Hoffmann is my favorite.

Justice Roberts

A colleague who generally shares my centrism and knows Judge Roberts personally says he is a "classy guy and a first-rate intellect" and that this is a "great choice." All in all, I have to agree.

Whatever political or constitutional views one holds, I think it was unrealistic and unfair to expect the President not to nominate a conservative justice. It is a president's pregorative to nominate who he wants, subject only to the advice and consent power granted to the Senate (which I think should be exercised robustly, but not obstructively).

Republicans won the White House and the Senate, and there are some spoils that go with it. There were a lot of names being thrown around the past few weeks (and today in particular). Some of them were probably on the list based more on reasons of partisanship, loyalty, or electoral machinations than on finding the most qualified possible individual.

In the end, worthier considerations prevailed. To my mind, an intellectually rigorous and honest conservative is the best case scenario for everyone.

Well done, Mr. President.

JAG Objections to Interrogation Tactics

I am not at all surprised to see that senior JAG officers raised serious objections to the Pentagon's interrogation policies when they were in development:

Three top military lawyers said yesterday that they lodged complaints about the Justice Department's definition of torture and how it would be applied to interrogations of enemy prisoners captured by U.S. forces, the first time they have publicly acknowledged that they objected to the policy as it was being developed in early 2003.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, the judge advocate generals (JAGs) for the Army, Air Force and Marines said they expressed their concerns as the policy was being hashed out at the Pentagon in March and April 2003. Though their letters to the Defense Department's general counsel are classified, sources familiar with them said the lawyers worried that broadly defined, tough interrogation tactics would not only contravene long-standing military doctrine � leaving too much room for interpretation by interrogators � but also would cause public outrage if the tactics became known.

The Army JAG Legal Center and School sits adjacent to the University of Virginia School of Law, from which I recently graduated. I distinctly remember a panel event focus on the interrogation policies, and either John Yoo or Jack Goldsmith (maybe both) were on the panel. They have become (in)famous as authors and architects of various terror-related policies. Anyhow, there were a number of JAG officers in attendance, and the discussion became quite heated. It was abundantly clear that the JAG folks felt a lot of disdain for the policies that were being handed down from DOJ and DOD. It was very interesting to see, especially since it occurred at a time when civilians were being labelled unpatriotic or charged with giving aid and comfort to the enemy for raising the same objections.

So Long Patrick, It Was Good to Know You

So long Patrick, it was good to know you. Best of luck in Italy, and thanks for the memories. You will be missed.

Homicide Bombers

You may or may not know that FOXNews refuses to use the term "suicide bomber," presumably on grounds that it puts the focus on the terrorist rather than on his victims. Several Volokh conspirators have posts up explaining the difficulties of this practice (here, here), but I wanted to add a clear example of just how presposterous this ends up being, especially when it seems like someone just went through and replaced the word "suicide" with "homicide":

New evidence suggests four bombers blew themselves up on the London transportation system last week, killing at least 52 in what could be the first homicide attacks in Western Europe, officials said Tuesday.

Here is similar language from the original AP story:

Police raided six homes in Leeds searching for explosives and computer files that would shed more light on what were believed to be the first suicide bombings in Western Europe.

It is one thing to call the individuals "homicide bombers," though this is problematic for all the reasons pointed out by the Volokh conspirators.

But it obliterates any reasonable use of the English language to call the bombings the "first homicide attacks in Western Europe." There have been homicide attacks in Western Europe before. Terrorist bombings. Murders. War.

Incredible Ignorance About JAG

An incredible amount of ignorance is being portrayed by several prominent left-wingers in the blogosphere today. Both Atrios and Armando at Daily Kos are attacking the son of Governor Pataki because he has been granted an educational delay from his Marine Corps service in order to attend law school and become a Marine JAG officer, just as I have done with my Army ROTC committment.

Both posts demonstrate an utter lack of understanding regarding the way the military allocates its officers and a reckless desire to blame a child for the "sins" of his father. Furthermore, they are quite insulting to those of who are choosing to serve our country in a way that has become increasingly vital to our national security.

It is beyond belief to me that these same bloggers attack those who don't serve (the "chickenhawk" label), and then attack those who do serve in a way they don't approve of. Or that they are outraged at things like Abu Ghraib or torture at Gitmo, but don't appreciate how important a role good JAG officers can play in preventing such things. The base assumption that Lt. Pataki must be doing this to avoid service in Iraq is demeaning to all who choose JAG, and especially those JAG officers in Iraq right now.

The commenters in Armando's post do a great job of displaying the untenability of his position, and the way he tries to defend himself... well I think his statements speak for themselves.

Poor form all around, and really personally disappointing to me. I truly believe that you can support the soldiers without supporting the war. Here, I don't think they are even doing the first.

Just Under the Radar

I doubt you've heard, so let me be the first to tell you: Sandra Day O'Connor has announced her retirement from the Supreme Court:

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court and a key swing vote on issues such as abortion and the death penalty, said Friday she is retiring.

O'Connor, 75, said she will leave before the start of the court's next term in October, or when the Senate confirms her successor. There was no immediate word from the White House on who might be nominated to replace O'Connor.

It's been 11 years since the last opening on the court, one of the longest uninterrupted stretches in history. O'Connor's decision gives Bush his first opportunity to appoint a justice.

I've always had mixed feelings about SDP. I liked where her vote put the court on some issues, disliked it in others, and cannot remember a single opinion she wrote that I found particularly persuasive. I certainly will not miss the game of "What will SDO do?" that court watchers played everytime a big issue came before the Court.

But this could get real ugly, real fast.

It was one thing to prepare for a Rehnquist replacement, who would not create much shift in important cases. I now fully expect the nomination system as we know it to utterly self-destruct. I guess it will be interesting to see what rises from the remnants.

UPDATE: I do find it a little bit strange that this is the headline story on the BBC's website. Important? Yes. International headline news? I would not have thought so.