Upcoming generation of lawyers too sensitive to be, you know, lawyers
In the mid-1980s, during my first-year torts class, the case at issue somehow revolved around the word "vagina." The professor called on a shy young man who stumbled every time he had to say "vagina." The professor admonished him that, as a lawyer, he needed to be ready to hear and say whatever words were necessary to represent his client.
Fast-forward to Rutgers Law School in 2021: Black students were so horrified to hear through the school grapevine that another student, while reading aloud from a 1993 decision, uttered the infamous "N" word in its entirety, that the whole school descended into a Maoist struggle session.
According to the New York Times, here's what happened: after a first-year criminal law class at Rutgers Law School, a professor held a videoconference with three students. A middle-aged White woman who had gone back to law school as a second career — and, apparently, was insufficiently woke — repeated a line from a 1993 opinion that contained the epithet.
The other White student later scolded the middle-aged woman for reading the word in its entirety. The middle-aged woman, who has since gotten a lawyer for herself, therefore reached out to the third student to agonize over the problem. When word got out to the Black students, they dug up the recorded meeting (which is no longer available); got offended; and talked to a professor who talked to a dean, David Lopez.
Black students then circulated a petition, says the Times, "calling for the creation of a policy on racial slurs and formal, public apologies from the student and the professor, Vera Bergelson." The petition, which has since been circulated to law students and campuses nationwide, states, "At the height of a 'racial reckoning,' a responsible adult should know not to use a racial slur regardless of its use in a 1993 opinion." The petition adds, "We vehemently condemn the use of the N-word by the student and the acquiescence of its usage."
All this percolating and petitioning took five months before bubbling up to Bergelson. An accomplished linguist, she has been steeped in academia long enough to understand the language of the mob. She promptly announced that she didn't hear the student quote the case with that word, but if she'd heard, she would have put a stop to it.
Bergelson then convened a meeting of her entire criminal law class and other first-year students to discuss what happened and publicly apologize. The middle-aged White woman apologized as well. Next, Dean Lopez apologized for failing to understand how serious it was that Black students had to dig through digital files to find a classmate quoting an old decision so they could get offended.
Lopez also asked that, even if something icky is in a judicial decision, nobody should have to say the words out loud.
A few sane people have spoken up:
Among the professors who have signed a statement in support of Professor Bergelson and the student are some of the school's most prominent faculty members, including John Farmer Jr., a former New Jersey attorney general, and Ronald K. Chen, the state's onetime public advocate. Both are former deans of Rutgers Law School.
"Although we all deplore the use of racist epithets," said Gary L. Francione, a law professor who also signed the statement, "the idea that a faculty member or law student cannot quote a published court decision that itself quotes a racial or other otherwise objectionable word as part of the record of the case is problematic and implicates matters of academic freedom and free speech."
The problem for Bergelson and that middle-aged woman is that, if you don't apologize, you lose everything: you lose your job, your place as a student at Rutgers, your friends, your ability to get a new job or attend another school...everything. While what we're seeing isn't yet as violent as the Cultural Revolution under Mao, the consequences for those whom the leftist mob targets are, in their own way, severe.
At some point, this must stop. The presidents of every college and university in America should get together and make a pact: they will absolutely resist the mob. No matter what the mob demands, even if there's an element of sense to it (although it's hard to imagine the mob making sensible demands), academia's only response should be "no, and if you say another word about it or do another thing you will be summarily expelled from this institution." That kind of collective action, not from the mob, but from the people cowering before the mob, may be sufficient to keep America's institutions from sliding ever deeper into struggle sessions that do turn deadly.
And one more thing: If you have a young lawyer, you might delicately want to inquire into that person's level of wokeness. When those young lawyers are very woke, remember that they will never truly represent you; they will always represent only themselves.
Image: Rutgers Law school. Public Domain.
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