Patterico's Pontifications


More on Prof. Geoffrey Stone

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 2:30 pm

The other day I told you how a University of Chicago law professor had blatantly misstated the holding of the partial-birth abortion case. Now, a commenter claiming to be a third-year law student at Chicago has the following hilarious comment:

Hey Professor Stone,

When I write my Con Law III exam, will you expect the exam answers to follow your mischaracterizations and falsely state that the Justices “reversed” Stenberg and “accepted” Congress’s findings?

Are you going to deduct points if an answer accurately describes the Court’s opinion, which distinguished Stenberg and refused to place dispositive weight on Congress’s findings?

Maybe you can tell us in class next which approach we should take.


I assume that the commenter is not really a law student in Prof. Stone’s class — but the comment is a scream, whether he is or not. And it does raise a real issue: when you are a student and your professor is advocating things that you know are factually untrue, how do you structure your answers — according to the truth, or according to the professor’s mindset?

I’m glad I’m not in a position to have to make that decision.

By the way, I am currently in an e-mail exchange with Prof. Stone regarding his misinterpretation. So far, he is standing by it. And I didn’t think my jaw could drop any further . . .

I’ll have more on that exchange tomorrow.

14 Responses to “More on Prof. Geoffrey Stone”

  1. “By the way, I am currently in an e-mail exchange with Prof. Stone regarding his misinterpretation. So far, he is standing by it. And I didn’t think my jaw could drop any further . . .”

    There’s nothing a didactician hates worse than being shown he’s wrong.

    nk (6415d7)

  2. You might want to continue your argument at the Chicago blog.

    AF (d700ef)

  3. Understanding the difference between reversing and distinguishing a case is a fundamental difference that law students learn in their first year of law school. To confuse the two after reading a case is as basic a mistake as missing a limitations deadline. It almost seems like Stone wrote his response based solely on reading the dissent and perhaps glancing at the opinion. I can’t think of any other reason he would say the Court reversed Stenberg when it was actually distinguished.

    DRJ (50237c)

  4. I suspect that Stone is arguing that the facts in Stenberg are so close to Carhart that they are indistinguishable irrespective of Kennedy’s characterization. If so, he should have compared the facts to back up the argument.

    vnjagvet (d3d48a)

  5. when you are a student and your professor is advocating things that you know are factually untrue, how do you structure your answers — according to the truth, or according to the professor’s mindset?

    I actually learned this lesson in junior high geography, c. 1970 — I colored in the post-1967 war borders of Israel, while the ancient textbook we used only acknowledged the prewar borders. I was marked down for this, because my map didn’t match the book’s. When I informed the teacher that the textbook was wrong, and proved it, he just pegged me as a smartass.

    On the other hand, my younger brother totally ruined a fellow junior high student’s grade when he pointed out that the girl who was praised by the teacher for her humor and creativity was actually just redrawing old “B.C.” strips (from the same reprint anthology that we had at home) and submitting them as her own. This was after a flattering profile of her appeared in the local paper. Oh, my.

    Tragic Christian (53eee0)

  6. I know from bitter experience that you answer the way the prof wants. Period. Or find that you are Phi Beta Crapper…..

    Howard Veit (4ba8d4)

  7. The rule in our home is: answer “as the teacher/professor expect, not with the truth” then you’ll pass and move on. We’ll take care of the truth at home.

    Sue (af7b95)

  8. Patterico, you clearly feel strongly about your conclusion that the professor has missated the holding of this case. But frankly, you’re being an ass in the way you’re pointing it out. Stating that he’s an “embarassment to the University of Chicago Law School” is shrill and unnecessary.

    You aren’t the University of Chicago, and determining whether or not they’re embarassed is not your place, and irrelivant to your analysis. It looks to me like just want to embarass the professor, because he’s made you mad with his knee-jerk, exagerated analysis. But you’re turning around and doing the same thing.

    If you’re right, and his conclusions are blatantly and obviously wrong, then just point that out. Don’t stoop to Sean Hannity tactics.

    Your measured analisis of issues is what makes this blog great. If I want hysterical,polarizing outrage, I’ll real Malkin.

    Phil (427875)

  9. Stone refers to Findings. The decision refers to witnesses and testimony that Congress relied upon to make those findings.
    That distinction is the basis of your screaming hyperbole. The distinction may be important in a court of law but not in general discourse.
    And we’re taking about a blog post not a brief. As usual, when it suits you, you choose to ignore the forest for the trees. And I’m still waiting for a detailed discussion of the decision itself and a response to Balkin and Lederman.

    AF (d700ef)

  10. AF,

    The difference between the evidence and the findings is crucial. According to the opinion, both sides presented evidence on the issue of the relative safety of the procedures, both in Congress and the lower courts. The Court said it had an independent duty to assess that evidence, and concluded that both sides had medical support for their conclusions. But, the Court said, it would not put dispositive weight on the Congressional findings, which it acknowledged were flawed.


    I probably could be more polite in expressing my opinion, but it’s my honest opinion. If you were to read the decision with our arguments in mind, I think you’d agree.

    I am mostly foregoing the invective in my e-mail exchange with the professor, which I would have published except that it is still ongoing.

    Patterico (3d73f6)

  11. Put simply, AF, Stone is employing a strawman when he said the Court relied on the findings, because the findings are easy to attack. The evidence isn’t.

    And I’d happliy continue the argument at the Chicago blog, but he didn’t respond to any of my comments there. He has responded to my e-mails.

    Patterico (9aa451)

  12. Speaking of hysterical, has anyone read Hugh Hewitt’s argument on why NBC could be liable for the infliction of intentional mental or emotional distress for showing Cho’s video.

    Jim (6d4ad1)

  13. Pat, what are the “easily attacked” findings based on?

    AF (d700ef)

  14. I think that the statement that the court both “reversed” Steinburg and accepted the findings of Congress is wrong only in that he uses the conjunctive “and.” Had he used “or” it would have been correct.

    The truth is that the Act would be upheld if (1) the Court overruled Steinburg, or (2), the Court accepted Congress’s obviously erroneous findings. The Court chose (1) so two didn’t matter — the Court could accept or not accept the findings, and either way, the government would win.

    The confusion probably comes from the fact that the act’s attackers — and Congress — had been playing with a different rulebook, racing to a different finish line, so to speak, until this decision was issued.

    The court acknowledge that under Steinburg, it would have been necessary to accept Congress’ findings. Up until this decision was issued, everybody else probably thought that in order to save the Act, the Congressional findings would have to satisfy Steinburg (and as the court acknowledged, they didn’t).

    The congressional findings attempt to prove that there is no substantial medical authority indicating that banning the procedure would endanger a woman’s health. That’s what Steinburg would have required — until now. So the professor’s claim that the Court accepted the findings is really just a case of applying the law as it was last week, rather than the law of today.

    Had the Court not overruled(or rather, “clarified”) Steinburg, it would indeed have had to “accept” the findings in order to uphold the law.

    But, instead of giving Congress an obvious push, the Court moved the finish line from where the challengers thought it would be. It decided that Steinburg was “too exacting a standard” to place on the Act. Suddenly, these obviously wrong findings weren’t necessary at all — they could be wrong, and it didn’t matter. And they were wrong, and the Court explictly held that they were wrong … but suddenly it didn’t matter.

    If you act like it’s obvious now that the findings weren’t necessary, that’s because you’re watching the end of the race. Of course it’s obvious where the finish line is supposed to be — to you. Congress obviously thought the findings were necessary, so you can’t fault the professor for thinking so as well.

    Phil (427875)

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