Post written by Hether Macfarlane.
The most recent article from Ian Gallacher, winner of the 2018 Thomas Blackwell Award, is called My Grandmother Was Mrs. Palsgraf (find it on SSRN). Just as Ian has found a connection between his grandmother and an iconic name from our 1L experience, I propose a connection between Ian’s article and a podcast from RadioLab at WNYC.
Ian’s article focuses on what he sees as the “dehumanization of the 1L experience” and is a plea, among other things, to help students view the plaintiffs and defendants in the cases they read for class as “deserving of our compassion, our empathy, and our respect.” The podcast I recommend, “More Perfect,” presents famous cases in a way that the creators think of as “human, surprising, cinematic.” Most of the episodes consider an important case decided by the Supreme Court by looking at the people involved, not just at the legal issues. Listening to the podcast, I learned more about the Dred Scott case itself, but also learned about a gathering of Dred Scott’s descendants and the descendants of Justice Taney, who wrote the infamous opinion. I have met the plaintiffs in Craig v. Boren, the case that established the intermediate scrutiny standard, and learned more about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s connection to that case. I have learned about the background to District of Columbia v. Heller and the development of Second Amendment jurisprudence. And that is just part of the second season.
To get back to the connection, like Ian, I always try to get my students to think about the people in the cases we use in my LRW classes and to think about the “clients” they write to and for. I will start recommending More Perfect to them as a way to encourage them to think about the plaintiffs and defendants in the cases they read in my classes and their other classes. Perhaps listening to these podcasts will help my 2Ls who are taking constitutional law understand the various levels of scrutiny in First Amendment cases, a concept that seems to be eluding some of them. More importantly, perhaps the students will begin to think of their future careers as involving clients and opposing parties “deserving of our compassion, our empathy, and our respect.” And, at the least, they will find a way to learn about the law that is itself both informative and entertaining.
If you have not discovered this podcast, I recommend it to you as both fascinating and often enlightening.