Uncharted Waters

Typos or omissions can be so entertaining — especially if it takes a while to realize they’re mistakes. Consider this from an article last week on the Oxford Political Review website: “Invented by Professor Christopher Columbus at Harvard Law School, the case method is based on the idea that law can be understood by reading cases.”

I immediately thought this was a fascinating piece of information that I should have known before. Christopher Columbus not only discovered America but he invented the prime method for torturing law students!

Who knew?

I was ready to have some fun with this fact. Maybe this law professor was a descendant of the sailor guy or maybe his parents had an interesting sense of humor. I could write about sailing into uncharted legal territory.

Sadly, this was not to be. It turns out that the professor’s name is actually Christopher Columbus Langdell. A lot less amusing.

The Review article, though, presents an interesting question: Should law schools confine themselves to teaching laws or should they also teach the humanities and critical thinking? It’s like the debate between strict constructionists and people who look out the window. My guess is that it will depend on who gets to appoint the most professors.

The Review essay, if you’re wondering, doesn’t exactly give us a definitive answer to this dilemma. The last phrase at the end of the piece is this: “There’s no telling what kind of lawyers we can produce.”

Yep. Sailing into uncharted waters.

Net loss. On April 20 this year, the Brooklyn Nets lost a close playoff game to the Philadelphia 76ers after the referees failed to call a foul on Tobias Harris, a 76er. Two days later, the National Basketball Association issued a report that included this: “Harris (PHI) wraps his arm around Allen (BKN) during the pick and restricts his FOM.”

In other words, the referees probably blew it. The NBA didn’t change the result of the game. Should it be sued?

I bring this up because the owners of Maximum Security, the horse who got disqualified after winning the Kentucky Derby, have sued the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, accusing them of getting the decision wrong and failing to provide due process.

Imagine applying this sort of due process to the NBA or any other sport. Really, go ahead and imagine it. It would be great!

Not only would we be more absorbed in the sports — have you thought about the Nets in the past week? — but suddenly there would be huge interest in the court system. The legal education value alone would make this worthwhile. You could sell season tickets to courtrooms.

There is, of course, a big difference between horse racing and most other sports: government regulation. That’s why the Wests, owners of Maximum Security, got to demand due process. They’re not suing the track or the horseracing league (which doesn’t exist), they’re suing a state agency.

So, depending on your point of view, this Derby controversy is either an argument for getting government out of horse racing or getting government into all other sports. Lawyers who need work should be lobbying for the second option.

By the way, my favorite part of the Derby suit is this: “The word ‘clear’ on its face, and in the context in which it is used, and as applied to Plaintiffs is ambiguous.”

Clear is unclear.

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