By J. DeVoy, Madison’s second most famous blogger
In the land of big egos and petty catfights known as the legal blogosphere, Ann Althouse looms large. Beginning her blog in 2004, when the internet was a barren wasteland devoid of YouTube and easy file embedding, Althouse’s commentary on law, politics and life now garners more than 500,000 viewers per month.
The x-factor that put her in this position, a certain jai ne sais quis, irks some people, and one of them finally called her out on it.
UPDATE: This is far from the first time Althouse has come under fire from others. Last summer, commenters at The Volokh conspiracy raked her over the coals for giving this exam question (reprinted in part):
On May 1, having received notice that Justice Souter will retire, President Obama said:
Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as President. So I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives — whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation.
I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes. I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded, and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.
Let’s assume that the President — who used to teach constitutional law — has arrived at this preference through studying the cases that we studied in this course. […]
Where, in the cases that we studied, has it mattered whether a Justice followed abstract theories and dry text from case books instead of the things the President wants from a Supreme Court Justice? Choose specific opinions (majority, concurring, or dissenting) … that illustrate the two types of judicial reasoning that the President contrasted….
[L]ooking at the opinions you have written about, take a position on the importance of the quality of empathy in a Supreme Court Justice.
I took that exam about a year ago, and there was a 2,000-word length limit. I still remember sitting outside at Cosi after the exam, talking with my classmates, and will let the readers determine the substance of that conversation. I beat the median, so thank FSM for small miracles.
As Althouse’s student, I was impressed. Her ability to talk about intersecting doctrines and issues in Constitutional law without the aid of notes was impressive, and becoming of someone who graduated at the top of her class from NYU Law and clerked for the Southern District of New York. She did have a few quirks – one time she left the classroom with her clip-on microphone live and still attached to her – but it was a good experience. I have no idea where the meme that she’s a right-winger arose from, other than her own proclamation, because it doesn’t seem to be true.
As someone who has read her blog off-and-on for years, I think she is similar to some liberal Republicans in her views, in that she is fairly conservative on economic and foreign policy matters, but liberal on some social issues (like feminism and gay rights). It’s not really fair to categorize her, though, since she has a unique way of thinking about politics, kind of personal and impressionistic. The main reason she’s thought of as right-wing, I think, is that when you look at her posts that are about politics, most of them seem to be criticizing liberals. She rarely blogs about the issues she’s liberal on, like gay marriage. At one point she said that liberals call her evil whenever she disagrees with her, but that the conservatives don’t seem to react much to stuff they don’t like. So somehow her commentariat ended up being much more conservative than she is.
I can empathize with her. Despite being generally liberal in my sensibilities, I really can’t stand most liberals.