Thursday, April 29, 2010

Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow on the Stevens succession and other things.

Martha Minow is the twelfth Dean of Harvard Law School (not counting those who have served in an acting capacity) since the deanship was established in 1870 (the Law School itself was established in 1817), and the second woman--the first of whom was her immediate predecessor, Elena Kagan--to hold that office. She and Kagan, who left Harvard to serve as Solicitor General, are now both under consideration as the successor to retiring Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.

Last weekend, I attended a class reunion in Cambridge, and Dean Minow spoke to the returning alumni. As expected, she concentrated on what was happening at the Law School, prominent among which was the curriculum revision, the first of any real substance since the Law School's first Dean, Christopher Columbus Langdell, introduced the case method. Minow had been appointed by Kagan, while she was still Dean, to take on curriculum reform, and so was instrumental in adding to the first year curriculum (by reducing the traditional courses such as contracts to four hours from five) courses on legislation and regulation, as well as a January inter-term devoted to problem solving.

When she invited questions, Dean Minow got many about Law School issues, but some on national ones as well. One alum asked how she felt about a former student of hers, Barack Obama, becoming President. A Yale Law alumna, she responded with a paraphrase of the final words of another famous Yalie, Nathan Hale: "I only regret that I have but one faculty to give to my country." She explained that, since President Obama's inauguration, Harvard Law had lost seven faculty members (Kagan presumably included) to Washington.

Inevitably, she was asked her thoughts on replacing Stevens. She said that his were "very big shoes to fill." She recalled being called into his chambers, during her time as a clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, and told by Stevens that her memorandum had caused him to reconsider his position on a case. In any event, she said, she hopes his successor equals his qualities of character, independence, and conscience.

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