This piece is a response to “Twelve UChicago Law Professors Sign Letter Against Kavanaugh.”
The signatories from the University of Chicago Law School assert that Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh lacks the temperament needed to effectively serve on the Court. Based on their argument, the professors may appear to lack legal or pedagogic temperament.
By making this assertion, the signatories seem to violate at least three bases of reasoning. First, the Justice wasn’t fulfilling a judicial role during his Senate hearing, nor was he expressing any kind of legal opinion. Rather, he was exercising his right both to defend himself, but also advocate for his family, including his parents, his wife, and children. As the law professors surely know, advocacy is the center of the legal system, yet sadly, rarely done well, if at all. The Justice demonstrated his commitment to this lost art. Aristotle famously asserted that law is reason free from passion. But by “passion,” he meant bias, confusion, prejudice, or hysteria. He did not assert that law is free from enthusiasm, strong moral conviction, or aggressive championing: These are the cornerstones, in fact, of a living, legal moral code. The Justice upheld that code.
Second, the signatories confuse temperament with responsiveness, and misapply temporal mode (a singular argument) to inherent nature (a repetitive trait). Put another way, the professors succumbed to a fairly common logical error of making judgments from more recent and dramatic signals, rather than from more comprehensive and representative data (or over-relying on the Justice’s televised remarks, rather than the entirety of his positions).
Third, the professors, rather than expressing their professional legal interpretations as to the Judge’s judicial record, attempt to mask their political ideologies and partisanship by mistakenly focusing on the Justice’s temperament. By maintaining such emotional and ideological barriers to judgment, the professors make it difficult to collect the feedback necessary to generate sound decisions, let alone coherently teach legal theory. But they also reveal the unfortunate tendency within the classroom to mask one’s true intent. Honesty and disclosure would reflect a higher standard of care.
In my experience, it is a disservice to students when professors put their academic credentials in service of special interests. It not only corrupts the integrity of rational inquiry—so integral to our very University—but also in this case casts a shadow over an otherwise fine Law School.
—Matt Andersson, M.B.A. ’96