Friday, November 18, 2016

At a Loss for Words

The United States Supreme Court, via.

I've struggled for days to figure out what to say. One obstacle was that, as a judicial clerk, I have an ethical obligation to abstain from all political activity (save for voting), as well as any commentary that suggests a lacks of neutrality regarding issues that may come before the court. I'm bound by that obligation for several more months. My writings that predate the start of my clerkship may strongly imply how I feel now.

This is an unsatisfying post, and I know it. I thought, for a while, about whether I should or could say more, but concluded that it would not be proper. Over the course of the past few months, with all of the election discussion on social media and elsewhere, I've realized that I am perhaps overly strict in my reading of the ethical canons, more cautious than the rules require. There are clerks who, doubtless with their judges' permission, post political articles on social media with the disclaimer that they themselves "have no opinion" on the contents, for instance.

The ethical canons had affected my writing before this. I read them so broadly and take them so seriously that, between when the clerkship began and this moment, I've been refraining from touching anything that could be remotely construed as political. I've stayed away from topics beyond my shopping and personal finance management.

I believe in the importance of our judicial institutions, in the values embodied in our laws, and in the ideals of what our laws could or should be. It isn't much of an exaggeration to say that I do, in my heart of hearts, believe the federal courts' role to be nearly sacred. This is true even if I do object to some (many, even) of the resulting outcomes, which means that I know all too well that the institutions are fallible. A courts' role is, after all, typically to apply the law (no easy feat, oftentimes), not to create it.

The Constitution, as it is written, stands against racism, hate, and bigotry. It stands for tolerance and equality under the law. That much is explicit, even if I know - as does everyone else with the barest knowledge of American legal history - that there have been so very many times throughout our history where the law has nonetheless fallen short of the ideals that we now know they should protect. That much, I think, is fair for me to say. Anything more will have to wait. 

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