The 2012 Awards: “Law Professor of the Year”

This is the first in a series of back-and-forth posts in which the author of this blog and the more reputable Josh Blackman will hand out a series of year-end awards, all with a legal theme. Today’s award: “Law Professor of the Year.”

It’s that time of year again. Time, that is, to hand out unnecessary year-end awards.

Recently, I noticed that while there seem to be best-of / worst-of awards for everything: movies, TV, music, celebrity tattoos—no one recognizes the best and worst among law schools, judging, and the handful of related matters that, as a law professor, I am supposed to care about.

Of course, we all know that year-end awards are indulgent, arbitrary, and silly; in other words, a total waste of time. (Especially because the winners of these awards will receive precisely this.) On the other hand, there are approximately 190 fall-semester examinations on my desk, waiting to be graded. (*Pause*) So, hey, year-end awards! I’m excited! Let’s do it!

To lend an imprimatur of authority to these proceedings, I contacted Professor Josh Blackman, the proprietor of Josh Blackman’s Blog. I figured Josh would be the perfect partner for this project because of his uncommon wit and intelligence, and his especially uncommon willingness to return my e-mails. Josh and I agreed that we would go back and forth, identifying different award categories and the winners thereof, until we reach the point where we’ve driven the concept firmly into the turf.

I called “Ebert” before Josh did, so I get to go first. I’ll start by handing out the Law Professor of the Year Award, given to the law professor who “for better or for worse . . . has done the most to influence the events of the year.” Before I name the winner of the award, let me introduce the two runners-up.

The second runner-up is Randy Barnett of the Georgetown University Law Center.

Several months ago, I wrote that Professor Barnett was the leader in the clubhouse for this award, due to his close engagement with the ACA litigation. But the fact that some of you, upon reading the last sentence, probably nodded and thought, “oh yeah, the ACA litigation,” underscores why Barnett is only the second runner-up. His candidacy is just so OT 2011. Remember when the ACA cases were THE MOST IMPORTANT CASES EVER, EVER? Me too. But now, we’re in THE MOST IMPORTANT SUPREME COURT TERM EVER, EVER, due to Fisher, the same-sex marriage cases, the Voting Rights Act case . . . you get the idea. The bottom line being, if you’re in the running for the Professor of the Year award thanks to your engagement with topical public debates, your candidacy will live by the news cycle, and die by the news cycle.

The first runner-up is Brian Tamanaha, professor of law at Washington University and author of the book Failing Law Schools (earlier review here; Josh’s interview with Professor Tamanaha here).

One could make a good argument that, if this award captured only a professor’s contributions to the legal academy, Professor Tamanaha should win going away. Were Hollywood to make a move about the current crisis in legal education (which, I grant, would be the most boring movie ever), Professor Tamanaha would be the scientist who goes around telling everyone that that asteroid isn’t harmless and is going to hit the Earth / Soylent Green is people / “To Serve Man” is a cookbook / you can’t just have one jail guard watching Michael Myers, a man who is evil incarnate, for G_d’s sake — but no one listens to him until it’s either too late, or almost too late.

This movie metaphor, strained as it is, also demonstrates the problem with Professor Tamanaha’s candidacy, and why I only named him the runner-up. We’re still at the part of the movie where the generals are saying, “I know all about your fancy data, Dr. Tamanaha, but I am not about to declare war on a harmless bit of space dust.” We’ll check back in 2013. If this blog still exists, that is.

And so, it remains to name the winner of the 2012 Law Professor of the Year Award. And the winner is . . .

Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren, late of Harvard Law School. True, winning a Senate race as the Democratic candidate in Massachusetts is about as unexpected as Kanye West saying something stupid on live TV. And yes, Professor Warren had some avoidable bumps along the road, which made the Senate race messier than it could have been. And, soon, if not already, Professor Warren will no longer be Professor Warren, a switch that stretches the “Law Professor of the Year” designation almost to its breaking point.

But the fact of the matter is, Professor Warren not only won, but her politics and policies also won this year. Warren enters the Senate as a “rock star of the left” and plausible Presidential candidate in 2016. More to the point of this award, aside from its relationship with the kerfuffle over her possible Native American heritage, Warren’s status as a law professor actually seemed to help her in the election. Warren’s politics and positioning are so closely connected with her law-professor background that, notwithstanding her new job, I have no qualms about naming Warren the 2012 Law Professor of the Year.

So, Josh: Your reactions? Did I sell Professor Barnett short? Did I miss anyone? And what award are you starting with?

 

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  1. Pingback: The 8 Best Benchslaps of 2012 | Josh Blackman's Blog

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