Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why You Should Apply to Law School -- Geek Test

This vignette is how I know that I belong at law school; hopefully it will help those of you who are considering whether to start preparing for the LSAT if this path is right for you.  Be warned, I am a big nerd (in case you couldn't tell from my graphs of LSAT statistics).

In the middle of my morning routine, I listen to NPR streaming from my iPhone plugged into a speaker. This morning, there was a story about Arizona's immigration law that allows state officials to revoke businesses' licenses after using a federal database.

Click on the image to go hear or read the original story.
Although I'm in the middle of reading week--that is, preparing for my final exams on Friday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday (eight hours each day on the first three, three hours the last Friday but with only paper notes allowed)--I couldn't stop myself from walking through the different theories of statutory interpretation the court would use that I'd learned in my legislation and regulation course.

My professor, probably the leading scholar in the world on the subject, had taught me so well that I couldn't help but see the opinion forming.  And by opinion, I mean the structure and argument of the court's opinion, not my own reaction to the policy matters involved.  I have complicated views on immigration, but what's important for you to understand is that in law school, you have to learn to understand someone else's reasoning first.

Then I shot off an email to the professor; I promise only the second email I'd sent (the first being that I would miss class to have my wisdom teeth removed).  I'm horrible about visiting professors during their office hours or outside class, even when I truly love the subject and think they're a top-notch teacher/researcher/etc.
I think Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting is a fantastic case to highlight the intersection of texualism and dynamic purposivism.  In fact, I think you need both in order to fully analyze the issues.
The text is unambiguous--in my opinion--in that it has a savings clause allowing states to flesh out the federal statute within "licensing and similar laws." Arizona arguably shifted the level of generality of that text, and maybe runs afoul of a term of art in "license," by imposing penalties on businesses for hiring illegal immigrants--as measured by a federal data system--and then revoking the license for a second offense. Beautiful case for textualism, and I think more interesting and timely than Moskal.
However, there's more!  The federal preemption doctrine appears to have express--i.e. textual--AND "ordinary working of conflict"--i.e. Congress' intent/purpose--prongs, opening the court for a discussion of the doctrine within the scope of the INTENT of the federal statute, and in my opinion, a litmus test for the court's view on federalism.  The 9th circuit's opinion, which I looked up after walking through all the arguments I'd make, talks about all of these issues, but please let me know if I've drastically misunderstood the factpattern or the court's opinion.  I'm fascinated to see who writes the SCOTUS opinion and what tools of statutory interpretation they'll use.
Anyway, if you don't use it for the casebook, I think it'd be a humdinger of an exam question or a great review example.
If you don't see yourself as the kind of person who can't stop themselves from doing research on a case because you're freaking out about the purpovist prong of federal preemption, then you're going to have a rough time in law school.  I love reading cases, and make no mistake, it is a very specific and idiosyncratic genre of American Literature.  I know I couldn't handle reading stacks of mid-century poetry, which is why I didn't go after a PhD in English. Make sure you're ready for some heavy doses of Scalia, because even if you can't stand his views, he can be an entertaining read.

If you're a geek.