Barack Obama, Legal Scholar
By Ed Lasky
Barack Obama promises to accomplish quite a lot if he becomes our next President. These promises are symbolized in his campaign themes: hope and change. But just how likely is he to fulfill his own promise and the promises he has made to the American people?
Judging by his previous career, not very likely. We have seen this movie before in Barack Obama’s life, and the end is not a happy one. In fact, when you examine his career in its various dimension, it seems to be marked disturbingly often by failure.
Faced with his failures, he tries to obscure the record; or else he blames mistakes on staffers or other people.
The “successes” he uses as campaign tropes often turn out to be due to the work of others for which he has claimed credit, or to be much less significant than meets the eye. Fortunately, the spell seems to be wearing off and the media has begun to scrutinize his career a bit more, and it has been found wanting.
Far more serious scrutiny of Obama’s professional track record is necessary, for there is a danger when an unexamined candidate meets an uninformed voter. In the case of Barack Obama, disheartening aspects emerge when one pulls off the rose-colored glasses.
His career has three chapters: academia, community organizing, and politics.
Today we begin where his national career first took off: Harvard Law School and examine his legal career. Future articles will cover Senator Obama’s community organizing and his political career.
Harvard Law Review president
Barack Obama originally emerged on the national scene as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. This selection may have been based
on factors that do not necessarily
, as he himself recognizes.
He has refused to answer questions about his days at Harvard (such holes in his life are a recurring feature). He was clearly a man of promise given the historic step that was taken when he was appointed President of the Law Review.
Has he fulfilled his promise as a legal scholar?
One thing he did not do while at the review was publish
his own work. The absence of a paper trail is a pattern throughout his academic and to some extent his political career.
The pattern of leaving no intellectual footprints pre-dates Harvard. He has claimed he lost his senior thesis
from Columbia University, where he majored in political science. The thesis was on Soviet nuclear disarmament. The depth of knowledge on display in Barry Obama’s undergraduate thesis is of particular interest because he was wrong
about a crucial Kennedy-Khrushchev conference, and about the diplomatic history between America and the Soviets.
How likely is it that someone would lose his senior thesis — particularly someone who thought his life was compelling enough that he would write an autobiography just a few years later?
Indeed, he has left little in the way of a record for Americans to judge his legal abilities. No written records, no signed legal papers, no research papers authored or co-authored by him. Nothing.
This is especially surprising because he served as a senior lecturer and law professor (there is some dispute over his title
) at the University of Chicago Law School for twelve years. He was certainly popular with his students, who were, like him, young and enthusiastic. “Liberals flocked to his classes” and they give him high marks as a professor.
But among his fellow faculty members, apparently the verdict was mixed.
He shied away from intellectual jousting that is otherwise the hallmark of academia. Jodi Kantor of the New York Times portrayed
his shortcomings as a colleague in an academic community:
The Chicago law faculty is full of intellectually fiery friendships that burn across ideological lines. Three times a week, professors do combat over lunch at a special round table in the university’s faculty club, and they share and defend their research in workshop discussions. Mr. Obama rarely attended, even when he was in town.
“I’m not sure he was close to anyone,” Mr. Hutchinson said, except for a few liberal constitutional law professors, like Cass Sunstein, now an occasional adviser to his campaign. Mr. Obama was working two other jobs, after all, in the State Senate and at a civil rights law firm.
Because he never fully engaged, Mr. Obama “doesn’t have the slightest sense of where folks like me are coming from,” Mr. Epstein said. “He was a successful teacher and an absentee tenant on the other issues.”
Senator Obama often invokes his expertise on constitutional law. Does he actually have any? You can’t tell from his publications, and he even lacks a record of intellectual engagement as a legal scholar.
Although he was president of the Harvard Law Review
as a student, in which capacity he no doubt wrote some unsigned notes, a search of the HeinOnline database of law journals turns up exactly nothing credited to Obama in any law review anywhere at any time. This is yet more indication that his status as “lecturer” at Chicago was not a regular faculty appointment, since regular full-time faculty are expected to produce scholarship. Notwithstanding an apparent eleven-year teaching career in constitutional law at a top-flight law school, not one
single article, published talk, book review, or comment of any kind, appears anywhere in the professional legal literature, under Barack Obama’s name.
As a person who prides himself on his legal background, should we be surprised that he did not seek
a seat on the judiciary committee, a coveted spot for the Senate’s most legal beagles?
On the campaign trail he has issued a series of statements that cast doubt on the breadth and depth of his legal knowledge.
During a fundraiser in Denver, Barack Obama was asked what he hoped to accomplish in his first hundred days in office. His response
“I would call my attorney general in and review every single executive order issued by George Bush and overturn those laws or executive decisions that I feel violate the constitution,” said Obama”
One should not have to remind the former President of the Harvard Law review that a President of the United States cannot overturn a law. Only the Supreme Court can overturn a law; Congress can change laws. A President — even one consumed by his own grandiosity — cannot “overturn” a law. That is Constitutional Law 101.
He misjudged the constitutionality of Washington D.C.’s gun control law — which is surprising considering this has been a signature issue for him throughout his political career. He believed the DC handgun ban was constitutional and supported it. The Supreme Court disagreed and threw out the ban. In a move that has become a pattern with Barack Obama, he sought to distance himself from his earlier opinion
, blaming an “inartful
” statement from an “unnamed aide” for stating that Obama believed that DC ban was constitutional. Blaming staffers
for his mistakes and problems may not be an inspiring campaign slogan but it is certainly a motif for Barack Obama.
Neither he nor his campaign objected or sought to clarify that statement when it was published last year in the Chicago Tribune. Only when the Supreme Court ruled and decided his view was legally wrong did he and his campaign try to disavow this position. This will be a problematic pattern: blame others for mistakes and seek to recreate history
State Senator Obama willfully misinterpreted a “Born Alive” bill that came before the Illinois State Senate when he served there. This legislation was meant to address the issue of babies who were born during abortion procedures. Illinois had been rocked by scandals of babies being allowed to die (there were even macabre “comfort” rooms set aside in hospitals where nature was allowed to take its tragic course). Legislation was submitted that afforded these babies the protection of the law. Babies born alive during an abortion would be treated just like every other baby born alive and prematurely. The legislation was also clear that it did not apply to unborn babies and would not restrict abortions or violate Roe v. Wade. Nevertheless, Obama spoke out against the bill saying it would not pass “constitutional muster” and three years later, in his book The Audacity of Hope, wrote that it would have overturned Roe v. Wade.
He was wrong. For those with a legal bent, the elements of this bill may seem familiar — as it should. Almost the exact same bill: the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which passed in the U.S. Senate in 2001 by a margin of 98-0, supported by Senators such as Barbara Boxer who are fervent pro-choice advocates. Neither these Senators nor has the Supreme Court seen any constitutional problems with the legislation.
But Barack Obama, the constitutional law expert, somehow did. The superb new book
, The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media’s Favorite Candidate provides a very insightful treatment to this and many other issues involving Barack Obama; see also this
However one may feel about abortion, the fact remains that Barack Obama was completely wrong on the legal merits of this legislation. Disappointing for a man who prides himself on being a constitutional expert.
For a man who was President of the Harvard Law Review and taught constitutional law for 12 years, he seems to have a very odd conception of the law. Or is there something more at work — a yearning to interpret and apply the law to advance his liberal goals, even if it means ignoring case law and the Constitution?
This leads one to question how Barack Obama would see to it that he fulfills his Presidential obligations as outlined in Article 2 of the Constitution to
“take care that the laws be faithfully executed” (Article 2)?
We may be skeptical of his fealty to this principle, when he told the Teamsters union he would end federal oversight of the union in exchange for their electoral support. Such oversight was the result of a long history of corruption of the union. It was an unusual stance for a Presidential candidate; one not taken at any time before by any candidate. Up until now, union anti-corruption efforts have been treated as a legal matter left to the Justice Department. Barack Obama instead offers to lift this monitoring
— meant to prevent crime — in order to gain votes.
How actively will he and the attorneys and judges he appoints monitor groups such as ACORN
Finally, how will a President Obama select Supreme Court nominees? They, too, apparently do not require a rigorous grounding in constitutional law. He disagreed even with fellow Democrats over the selection of Justices Roberts and Alito and voted against their confirmation
— despite (or maybe because of?) their sterling academic and legal credentials. He refused to participate in the so-called Gang of 14, a bipartisan group of Senators (including John McCain) who worked together to overcome roadblocks in the way of judicial confirmations.
His criteria for selecting justices (and remember a President appoints all federal judges and US Attorneys):
“We need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.”
How about legal acumen? A sterling record of scholarship? Are those just optional?
These are lifetime appointments.
Nobody can deny that Barack Obama has an impressive list of titles to his name as a lawyer. But when it comes to actual substance as a lawyer and a scholar, very few accomplishments can be pointed to. The pattern of leaving no footprints when it comes to ideas should raise questions in the eyes of voters still trying to understand the man behind the public persona of Barack Obama.
Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker.