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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Home-town law school consequences

From a revealing article in today's Dallas Morning News:

Ms. Miers lived with her mother, Sally, and younger brother Jeb during her SMU undergraduate and law school years. Her father, Morris Miers, suffered a stroke during her freshman year, leaving the family in financial straits.

Concerned that she couldn't afford to keep her daughter in school, Ms. Miers' mother telephoned SMU President Willis M. Tate, seeking help, said the nominee's brother, Robert Miers. The president arranged a scholarship and job for the student at the university's campus computer center, Mr. Miers said. "Harriet and the family are grateful to this day."

So my question for whoever was Rich Lowry's source of serious misinformation (which both Mr. Lowry and his fellow NRO blogger Jonah Goldberg, to their credit, have since corrected):

Hypothetically, if your daddy has a stroke when you're a freshman in college, and you stay close to home so you can work a scholarship job while you're going to the best college and then the best law school in town, and then you clerk for a local federal district judge, and you go to work for one of the best firms in town (but that town isn't Washington or New York), and you go on to rack up a string of exceptional professional successes — does that nevertheless mean you're forever after a "third-rate" lawyer, forever after unworthy to be considered qualified for the Supreme Court, because you didn't go off to some Ivy League school?

Just askin'.

Posted by Beldar at 10:25 PM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Home-town law school consequences and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Some thoughts on the Harriet Miers kerfuffle from Small Town Veteran

Tracked on Oct 7, 2005 2:55:33 AM

» Elite Schools And Elitism from Chapomatic

Tracked on Oct 7, 2005 11:51:11 AM


(1) geochem made the following comment | Oct 6, 2005 10:35:53 PM | Permalink

My case is similar. Because my father died the same month I started college forcing me to attend a university closer to home and not pursue a pHD so that I could run the family business does that make me inferior to those whose parents are still alive?

(2) Xrlq made the following comment | Oct 6, 2005 11:13:28 PM | Permalink

Just out of curiosity, do we know if Miers applied anywhere else, and whether or not she was admitted? For example, if she got into Yale or at least UT but chose to go to SMU for personal reasons, that would put everything in a very different perspective.

(3) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 6, 2005 11:22:01 PM | Permalink

Xrlq, I don't know the answer to your question, but from the story in the Dallas Morning News, plus reports I've read elsewhere that she's still taking care of her mother, it would not surprise me at all if she made no other applications, at least for law school. SMU is the obvious choice if you're limiting yourself to Dallas for other (e.g., family) reasons. But obviously, I'm drawing inferences based on what the papers are saying, not operating on any inside info.

(4) Rob made the following comment | Oct 6, 2005 11:51:18 PM | Permalink

Its true, the elite snobs already today were demanding to know why she wasn't at Austin at Univ of Texas Law School. Of course maybe she didn't get in or didn't apply or maybe as appears more likely she had reasons she wanted to be in Dallas - not sure if anything will satisfy this pathetic group of arrogant critics

Laura Ingraham tonight on the radio was in full hissy-fit "its not about elitism" mode, claiming her support for Janice Rogers Brown and several other candidates not from Harvard/Yale etc flat out refutes any charges of elitism

Ms Ingraham seemed to invent a new standard for this case, now claming ITS NOT ENOUGH THAT MS MIERS MIGHT VOTE THE "RIGHT" WAY IN THE FUTURE, per Laura she needs to have the reasoning to back it.

No kidding Ms Ingraham, and we both know Ms Miers is an airhead incapable of taking on Constitutional issues in a rational way as your specialists and intellectual constitutional geeks obviously can do

I don't buy this nonsense that mere lawyers have to lay down to the (alleged) Gods of Constitutional theory and scholarship as preached by (non-lawyer) George Will and (increasingly annoying lawyer) Laura Ingraham - and therefore forever be denied approval from the right wing intellectual elite

The White House is doing a poor job of handling this, for example sending out a otherwise capable but non-lawyer Ed Gillepsie to debate the Miers nomination issue on Ingraham's show. Next time at least The White House needs to minimally send a lawyer so Laura cannot just start tossing around legal issues using the jargon in such a way, that it is difficult for Ed Gillepsie to respond in a rational way

(5) Bill Faith made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 12:03:36 AM | Permalink

Xrlq, I'll yield to Beldar's opinion if he says I'm wrong but I don't think anyone outside of Austin would claim UT has a better law school than SMU. UT is an excellent place to get a technical education (my BSEE's from there) but there are several schools in Texas, including SMU, that have better law schools.

(6) Roger made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 12:10:05 AM | Permalink

The president arranged a scholarship and job for the student at the university's campus computer center, Mr. Miers said.

Universities had computer centers in the '60's?

(7) Rob made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 12:13:17 AM | Permalink

Univ of Texas by objective standards generally is deemed a top 10 nationally ranked law school

Now in practical terms, its often highly irrelevant

However for the elite snobs it would have defused their issue a bit has Miers graduated from Univ of Texas Law

(8) made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 12:35:27 AM | Permalink

Million dollar IBM 360 (and equiv) mainframes hidden behind glass walls in large rooms were commonplace at large universities by the late 60's , however only an elite group (sort of High Priests) got direct use, with more common students getting limited use via timesharing/punch cards etc using COBOL, basic, APL and various other languages

Personal computers a decade later in effect broke that glass, and unleashed huge pools of formerly heldback computer talent - thus changing the world

(9) Senator Palpatine made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 12:58:37 AM | Permalink

I don't care where she went to law school, Beldar.

It is not what is on her resume which is disqualifying, but what is NOT on her resume.

Today she said "Warren" was one of her favorite justices. Asked if she meant Earl Warrent, she clarified that she meant Warren Burger. Niether answer should be comforting to the base.

I think you've made some excellent points here, Beldar. But do you really think this justice is in the mold of Thomas and Scalia? Her record, now emerging, is becoming more discouraging by the day. I predict you, too, will oppose her as more information becomes available. Still, I applaud your efforts at beating back the snobs and elitists in our ranks. Coulter's column is the worst thing I have ever read from her.

(10) Ben Zeen (a pseudonym) made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 1:16:02 AM | Permalink

Slightly more specifically on the SMU computer center:

ITS is currently housed in the Bradfield Computing Center, built in 1957 and expanded in 1962, which was designed to support an earlier information technology environment.

It would have been a reasonable job for a math major.

You know, forget all this about what school she went to, or her ConLaw experience, or her proximity to Bush. She has a math degree. A MATH degree. That's all I really need to know (and the fact that I have a math degree has nothing to do with it). :)

(Group theory just has to be useful at the Court. It just has to).

(11) Beldar made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 1:30:06 AM | Permalink

Palpatine, I'm obviously just speculating, but if Ms. Miers is fond of the late Chief Justice Warren Burger, it may well be because of his ties to and support for, or her knowledge of him through, the American Bar Association. That, I know, won't comfort some other folks who already hold her ABA participation against her.

Roger, universities indeed did have computer centers in the latter half of the 1960s. They were huge rooms filled with 12-foot-tall tape drives and vast other boxes containing vacuum tubes, and you mostly talked to them through tall stacks of IBM punch cards. I'm not sure about SMU's, but UT-Austin's was located underground adjacent to and just east of the Main Building (out of which the famous UT Tower arises). I was summoned there in 1975 or 1976 as an undergraduate when my secret career as a hacker was exposed, but that's a story for another post, another time.

Mr. Faith, comparisons of law schools are ultimately pretty subjective. By some standards -- percentage of graduates who pass the Texas Bar Examination on their first attempt, for instance -- the University of Texas School of Law (which I've been informally calling "Texas Law School" here lately, and for which I've been properly rebuked by one reader's email) is not the top school in the state. (A fairly snotty explanation that UT Law loyalists sometimes offer for that is that UT Law doesn't "teach to the test" as much as other in-state law schools do; I think it's equally likely that UT Law grads may not study for the bar as diligently, but who knows?) And if one is certain that one wishes to practice law in Texas rather than elsewhere, decent arguments can be made that other law schools do a better and more comprehensive job of focusing on substantive law and procedure of Texas, as opposed to trying to maintain a more "national" curriculum. Some schools have particularly strong specialties — SMU in business and corporate law, for instance, or South Texas College of Law in moot court and mock trial programs. And there still are local ties and advantages: If one's expecting to practice in, say, Lubbock, then Texas Tech's law school would be more attractive than otherwise.

However, in terms of how law schools in Texas are regarded by both large firms within Texas and other such firms outside the state, almost all such firms would consider UT Law the state's best law school in terms of depth of talent in both faculty and student body. A great many out of state firms send recruiters to UT Law but not to any other law school in the state; although they'll quite often at least consider resumes from those schools that are mailed in to them, being able to sign up for on-campus interviews is a big plus from the students' point of view.

In terms of GPA and LSAT scores of its students, UT Law also is consistenly ahead of any other schools in the state. Its faculty contains more nationally recognized professors (although as Prof. Bromberg's example makes clear, UT Law emphatically does not have an in-state monopoly on that). And in the controversial but still widely consulted US News & World Report rankings, UT Law consistently rates among the top 20 schools nationally overall, and usually among the top 10 state schools. No other in-state law school does nearly so well in those rankings, for whatever they're worth.

Among law journals, in terms of national prestige, the Texas Law Review probably punches over the school's weight class a bit; UT Law's comparatively large class size dilutes the average LSAT and GPA some, but that's not considered to be as much of a downside for the TLR, so tenure-hungry profs nationwide are often quite happy to get their articles published in the TLR.

My constitutional law professor at UT Law pointed out to us that UT Law was at that point in time the only law school explicitly recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court to be one of the nation's best. Considerably less flatteringly, however, that came in the context of ruling that the State of Texas was discriminating illegally by barring black students from it (Sweatt v. Painter, a close forerunner of Brown v. Board). Michigan's law school probably now shares that distinction, albeit from the standpoint of having had its racially-discriminatory admissions program declared legal (for 23 more years now, but no longer, according to Justice O'Connor).

The short and sweet bottom line, though, is what I've been saying all week long here: The top students from SMU (or for that matter, several other in-state law schools) are absolutely competitive with students from more prestigious schools, whether that be UT Law or other well-regarded schools out of state.

(12) Bill Faith made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 2:54:12 AM | Permalink

Beldar, I thank you for the clarification. I studied Electrical Engineering at UT Austin (BSEE) and UT Arlington (MEEE) so I'm really not qualified to comment on law schools at all, but I won't apologize for my comment since it had the positive result of getting you to say more about the matter. (btw, I stayed in Texas when I got out of the Air Force rather than returning to Illinois because I liked the computer facilities at UT better than those at U of I.)

Ben Zeen, is the ability to think logically really such a drawback in a judge? Logical decisions could be a major improvement over just doing what "feels right" like too many judges do now.

(13) jt007 made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 4:34:46 AM | Permalink

All this focus on the academic credentials of a 60 year old lawyer is pretty ridiculous. Anybody who practices law knows that Miers' career accomplishments prove that she must be a very good lawyer and extremely intelligent. My sister (with a Stanford BA and Univ. of Texas JD) worked at Miers' firm in the late 80's to mid 90's when it was Locke Purnell, Rain, Harrell. She was very impressed with Miers. It was and is a blue chip firm full of attorneys like my sister. There should be no doubt about Miers' intellect.

Having said that, however, I have problems with the nomination. In order for the SCOTUS to undergo a fundamental change, we need to have judges who are deeply committed to the idea that the judicial branch should interpret the Constitution and operate as a check on Government power instead of acting as an entirely independent source of Government power. In order to influence this type of change, I think it will take more than a person who may take conservative positions in future cases. We need someone who has experience and who has developed this philosophy of judical restraint through years of experience ruling on difficult cases, having his/her rulings scrutinized by higher courts and other lawyers, and debating these ideas with other experts in the field of Constitutional law. Someone like Sam Alito or Michael McConnell.
That type of person stands a chance to influence the Court more than an otherwise very intelligent and accomplished corporate attorney.

Nothwithstanding the above, Beldar, I think your explanation of the relative quality of law schools in Texas was pretty spot on. As a graduate of the SMU School of Law who practices law in California I can tell you that there was no particular focus on Texas law. SMU grads have a good bar exam pass rate because they're pretty smart to begin with. I passed the California bar on my first try and the pass rate that year was about 50%.

SMU is not a top tier school but it is consistently ranked in the top 50 in the country (out of 150?) by US News and World Report. SMU's Tax LLM program is one of the best in the country but I don't think there was a particular focus on corporate law at SMU. For example, in my 3rd year I worked for credit in the criminal clinic representing indigent clients in Dallas county Criminal Court and I took a great course on speech codes which featured four guest professors (who taught for two weeks each) including Lee Bollinger (now the president of Columbia Univ.) and Nadine Strossen (national head of the ACLU). I believe that I got a great education there.

I clerked in Houston at Bracewell and Patterson (1990) with students from UVA, Stanford, Harvard, Vanderbilt, Univ. Texas etc. law schools and I think the SMU clerks held their own. The UT clerks didn't seem any smarter than my SMU classmates. Nonetheless, Beldar is correct that UT is considered to be the best law school in the state.

I think most law school graduates would agree, however, that there are at least a few extremely intelligent people at the top of most law school classes. Therefore, Miers' academic pedigree shouldn't be the main cause for concern.

(14) wayne made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 5:22:23 AM | Permalink


I think your reaching for a straw man here. The responsible criticism of Miers is not her acedemics or even her very impressive resume. At this point in her career Sandra Day O'Conner had a resume 10 times more reassuring than Miers; state legislature leader, active in Reagan's primary campaign against Jerry Ford, etc. The real objection to Miers is that every bit of evidence coming out points to another Souter; a person who's enthusiasme (Bush is the brightest man she's ever met) could easily be hijacked by the culture of the Court over time.

(15) Stephen Dugas, Esq. made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 6:21:06 AM | Permalink

I am a lawyer. I can read the text of the Constitution and all its Amendments. I do not need legal training to read. Therefore I am qualified to sit on the Supreme Court. Seriously, the reason we have gotten into this present fix over Constitutional interpretation is becasue we have had too damn many lawyers pettifogging their way into emanations and penumbras that are not in, and were never intended to be found in the text of the document. Give me a commonsensical ol' gal from Texas over any number of Ivy League graduating, federal judge clerking, ivory tower inhabiting self-annointed "CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLARS" any day of the week.

(16) JohnG made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 7:59:09 AM | Permalink

I agree with an earlier poster. Ms. Miers is 60 years old. She graduated law school when she was, what, 25? What relevance does her attendance at SMU or her grades while there have to do with the quality of her practice 35 years later? My God, she was the attorney for the President of the United States. How many other lawyers of her graduating year throughout the country, including the elite schools, can make that claim? In fact, how many other lawyers who graduated in her decade from all the schools in the nation can make that claim? The number can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I graduated what was then probably a second or third tier law school, St. John's University in Queens, NY, in 1976, passed the NY Bar Exam 1st time out and have been practicing ever since. I'm lucky if I can remember much of anything that I learned in school (fully cognizant of the distinct possibility that I may not have learned anything while there). However, it's what I know now that counts.

Same with Ms. Miers. Her attendance at SMU is a red herring. Her performance since is what is important. That should be the subject of investigation and inquiry.

(17) American by Choice made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 8:15:37 AM | Permalink

That a member of the supreme court has the most important, legal task does not mean he, or she has the most difficult one.

It's more about judgment than brainpower, common sense than analytical skill, logic than legal genius and integrity than a carefully honed intellect.

Then there's the issue of group dynamics. The last thing we need is nine, high intellect, large ego super-lawyers - that is if we want to get anything done.

Beldar's series of notes are by far the most pertinent evaluations of this nomination, I've seen. Please keep it up, sir.

(18) Mike in Colorado made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 8:44:29 AM | Permalink

Beldar: Thank you for your efforts to bring some kind of sanity and rationality to the discussion regarding Ms. Miers. The whining and crying of the elites is enough to make me sick. People who I previously have had pretty high opinions of (Laura Ingraham is only one of several) seem to have gone 'round the bend on this without any real investigation or even an attempt at objectivity. In the past they have railed against the Dems (rightfully so) for their elitist attitudes in telling everyone else what's "best" for the country, and now they're doing the very same thing. I don't think that they have any idea how dumb this thing is making them look. You and Hugh Hewitt are voices of reason and sense. Please keep up your good work.

(19) Mary made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 9:58:30 AM | Permalink

Ben Zeen

Justice Thomas had an undergraduate degree in English, so what? Which undergraduate degree, in your opinion, makes one more qualified?

(20) Jim made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 11:18:43 AM | Permalink

The bottom line on any of this discussion is the man that interviewed her for the nomination thought she was the best. The President based on his knowledge, experience, and commitment to this country decided she would be the best candidate for the job. The Dems have consistently underestimated the President and Reid did it again this time. When Reid put Ms. Miers on his short list it allowed the President to pick someone he knew personally would get the job done. Senator Reid should be careful what he asks for...

(21) Jim made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 11:20:01 AM | Permalink

The bottom line on any of this discussion is the man that interviewed her for the nomination thought she was the best. The President based on his knowledge, experience, and commitment to this country decided she would be the best candidate for the job. The Dems have consistently underestimated the President and Reid did it again this time. When Reid put Ms. Miers on his short list it allowed the President to pick someone he knew personally would get the job done. Senator Reid should be careful what he asks for...

(22) Ben Zeen (a pseudonym) made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 11:29:56 AM | Permalink

Bill: Quite the contrary.

Mary: I thought I was quite clear. A MATH degree makes one most qualified. Why? because I have one.

(I'm not being entirely serious. I think a math degree is a mark in her favor, but is neither a sufficient nor necessary criterion. However, things have been a little too serious and heated in this neck of the blogosphere lately. I thought an unserious reason might lighten things up a little.)

(23) PLM made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 11:50:10 PM | Permalink

Keep it up Beldar. I've been a lawyer for 42 years and a law prof for 33 years, and I think your posts have made far much more sense about Harriett Miers than most of the other bloggers. For a while I thought Ann Althouse might be persuaded by your comments. Maybe you can work on her more. I just hope you have a little time left over to practice law and earn a living.

(24) Chap made the following comment | Oct 7, 2005 11:57:25 PM | Permalink

Apologies for the triple trackback. I have no idea why that occurred, unfortunately...

(25) Bill Faith made the following comment | Oct 8, 2005 1:38:56 AM | Permalink

Ben Zeen: Sorry I misinterpreted your post. Guess I just got defensive cuz if a math degree mean's you ain't to bright then an engineering degree does too. I may not know much about the law, or law schools, but I'll stack my ability to analyze the data and reach a logical conclusion against anyone's.

(26) robtm made the following comment | Feb 8, 2006 1:35:28 AM | Permalink

ya guys and this nation never knew what you missed. It is sad. However Harriet picked two other fine men and they will do the nation fine. And they fit the eastern criteria. As for Bork and the senator from Kansas, and Coulter they lost the most, their integrity.

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