A Constitutional Law exam at UCLA Law School included this question:
CNN News reported: On Nov. 24, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch announced in a publicized press conference that Police Officer Darren Wilson (who has since resigned) would not be indicted in the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown. Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, was with hundreds of protesters assembled outside the police station, listening on loudspeakers and car radios when they learned Officer Wilson was not being charged. Standing on the hood of a car, Mr. Head embraced Michael Brown’s mother. Mr. Head asked someone for a bullhorn but it was not passed to him. He turned to the crowd, stomped on the hood and shouted, repeatedly, “Burn this bitch down!”
Police Chief Tom Jackson told Fox “News,” “We are pursuing those comments … We can’t let Ferguson and the community die [as a result of the riots and fires following McCulloch’s announcement]. Everyone who is responsible for taking away people’s property, their livelihoods, their jobs, their businesses — every single one of them needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
County Attorney Robert McCulloch asks lawyers in his office whether to seek an indictment against Head by relying on a statute forbidding breach of the peace and another prohibiting rioting (six or more persons assembling to violate laws with violence). A recent hire in the office, you are asked to write a memo discussing the relevant 1st Amendment issues in such a prosecution. Write the memo.
The question is a fair and legitimate one, and very typical of law school exams, which often ask students to apply course content to current events. Nonetheless, it provoked a controversy.
Shyrissa Dobbins, a second-year law student in the course and is chair of the Black Law Students Association, complained, “Daily I think about Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and I have a challenge. Every day I think about this injustice and how I’m in a law school that won’t even make a statement about it.” Hussain Turk, a second-year law student who took the exam, argued that exams should not ask students to address controversial events, and that the question was unfair, as it could be more emotionally difficult for black students to answer. “These kinds of questions create a hostile learning environment for students of color, especially black students who are already disadvantaged by the institution,” Turk said.
There is only one proper rebuttal for this foolishness:
“Grow up, deal with your biases, start thinking like lawyers or find a profession you can handle.”
Pathetically, the law professor, Robert Goldstein apologized in an email in an e-mail to students, saying, “I recognize … that the recent disturbing and painful events and subsequent decisions in Ferguson and New York make this subject too raw to be an opportunity for many of you to demonstrate what you have learned in this class this year,” and promised to discount scores students receive on the question if it lowers the overall score of the student.
Law school Dean Rachel Moran added to the misplaced sensitivity-fest, and her e-mail, said…
“In retrospect, however, he understands that the question was ill-timed for the examination and could have been problematic for students given the anguish among many in our community over the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases.”
1. It was not ill-timed. It was perfectly timed.
2. Will all students now have to be pre-screened for questions that might have emotional impact? No robbery questions for those whose families have suffered from theft, no real estate questions when a student’s parents lost their homes through foreclosure?
3. Any student who makes such a complaint is on-track to be a poor lawyer. The law school should be training such students not to be crippled by their emotions, not encouraging and validating unprofessional conduct.
4. Law professor Eugene Volokh states what is at stake here precisely, though he shirks his duty of pronouncing his fellow professor a craven, politically correct weenie:
“To be sure, some people might be deeply emotionally invested in an issue, and have a hard time viewing it from both sides. But a key part of a law school education is to learn how to do this, even when you are emotionally invested. If you want to work for, say, the NAACP (or the NRA), you will do your clients no favors by being so zealous in your opinions that you fail to grasp the best arguments on the other side. And that is also true when the matter is still raw in your mind. Often you have to make arguments just days after some traumatic event (here the exam was two weeks after). Indeed, often you have to make arguments just days after a traumatic event that involves you much more directly than the Ferguson incident involved UCLA students — for instance, what you see as a racist verdict that will send your innocent client to prison, or an appellate decision that you think unjustly rejects an argument that you’ve spent years developing. As a lawyer, you need to master your emotions enough to deal with such situations. As a student, you have to learn how to do that….Instead, it seems to me, students — especially (though not only) in constitutional law classes — should be expected to deal with such questions, both in class and on exams. Indeed, if professors studiously avoid any such questions on their exams, that itself will make the exams weaker at evaluating students’ knowledge and skills. And any policy of accepting demands to remove or avoid some such questions will lead to demands to remove or avoid still more. Indeed, it may lead people to be more upset when they see some such questions, because they have been taught that they are entitled not to be confronted with such questions.”
That’s correct: you have to learn to do that. The professor and the school, to the contrary, are apologizing for making it clear that this is true. That’s educational malpractice.
5. And, once again, the fair and legally proper verdict by the Ferguson grand jury is misleadingly linked to the as-yet incomprehensible verdict in the Garner death. This is pure “Print the legend” stuff: the Left will make sure that the death of Michael Brown is remembered as the murder of a innocent man with his hands up by a racist cop, because he Brown was black, and it will repeat this lie over and over again until that is the legend that becomes truth. It’s so useful, after all.
It even gets black law students a break on their exams.