Life would be so much less interesting if Professor Robert George was not around. He has replied to my post yesterday with a post of his own over at Mirror of Justice. Among other things he accuses me of an ad hominem attack when I wrote that the tone of his first post was condescending and that condescension is his only key. I was wrong. Defensive self-righteousness is another key in which he sings.
Professor George accuses me of misrepresenting his words. My original post said that while I was no legal scholar and lacked the expertise to judge the legal arguments, I was pleased with the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision in Graham v. Florida. The Court ruled that it was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual to sentence a juvenile to life without parole. To make the point I referenced my mom, who was not a legal scholar, warning me about "bad kids" in the neighborhood and my belief that she was wrong. Kids do change when they grow up. Not all, but enough to make a life-time sentence seem unjust.
In reply, Professor George wrote these words: "His [MSW’s] confidence is not disturbed, by the way, by his professed incompetence to judge the legal arguments. I guess they don't matter to him. Evidently, he seems to think that the Supreme Court has plenary authority to invalidate laws the justices regard as unjust and uphold laws they deem to be just. It's a common mistake about the role of courts and the scope and limits of their authority under the Constitution, but a mistake nonetheless." I replied that, "If by this Professor George means that no one but a legal scholar is permitted to assess the basic justice of a court ruling, I will look forward to his making that point at next year’s annual March for Life. I deny the exclusive right to judgment by a priestly legal caste which alone can judge whether or not a given decision by the Court meets the standards of justice I think should be met. And every citizen has the same right to question the Court."
Professor George now says that I drew a false inference, and that my words "if by this" are mere cover to slander him, although those words were plainly meant to note that this was a possible, even probable, not a definitive, inference. He notes that he did not draw the inference that only legal scholars can judge court rulings, noting that it was me, not him, who professed a lack of expertise. True enough. But, I was not assessing the legal arguments, I was assessing the outcome. I would need a map-maker to tell me if my maps on how to get to Disney World are well drawn, but I do not need the map-maker to tell me if I arrived at Disney World. Mickey Mouse would tell me that.
But, who is the one who is selectively misrepresenting? Professor George now conveniently leaves out of his reply what to me were the key words in his initial indictment: "I guess they [the legal arguments]don’t matter to him." If those words do not reek of moral and intellectual condescension, as well as an assignation of motives, then I am Mickey Mouse. How else are they to be interpreted? And, to the point at issue, and the whole thrust of my piece to which he is now responding is this: The outcome matters to me as much or more than the legal arguments, and I suspect Mr. Graham, the juvenile who sued the State of Florida, feels the same way.
I need hardly point out that my charge of condescension was directed to the tone of Professor George’s words, not to the man. I have never met him. Yet, he is confident accusing me of dishonesty and manipulation. Go figure.
Professor George concludes his little opus by writing, "If he wants to criticize my views and arguments, it would be far more constructive---and honorable---to engage what I actually believe and say and offer readers his reasons for believing that I am in error." Well, Professor George, I am no psychologist and I cannot judge the way a psychologist would reach a conclusion, but it seems to my untrained eyes that these words are an example of projection. He conveniently leaves out "what I actually believe and say" from his own defense and his post does not once engage the point I made: I believe Mr. Graham achieved a measure of justice from the Supreme Court that had been denied him by the Florida legislature. Instead, we get a diatribe.
Professor George is a man of gifts. It is difficult for me to perceive how he has used them well in this exchange.
Michael Sean Winters