Torture Memo, Racial Unrest & (Perhaps) a Job Applicant’s Cover Letter Wake Up the School’s Faculty, Staff and Once-Floundering Social Justice Center
News Item – Atlantic Magazine Dec. 16, 2014 (6:00 AM ET):
“John Yoo: If the Torture Report Is True, CIA Officers Are at Legal Risk:
A surprising admission by an attorney who was instrumental in enabling the Bush Administration's brutal interrogation practices”
By Conor Friedersdorf
“In a little-noticed CNN interview, John Yoo, a primary author of the torture memos, took a surprising position. Although the former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer isn't sure that the Senate torture report is accurate, he says that if all of the interrogation tactics it describes were really deployed by CIA officers, some of them broke the law and are vulnerable to prosecution.”
News Item: UC Berkeley School of Law Dec. 15, 2014
“Faculty and Staff Statement on Brown and Garner Cases:
“As members of the Berkeley Law faculty and staff, we write to express our despair and outrage about the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Missouri and New York. These cases again exposed the failure of the criminal justice system to value Black lives. The Brown and Garner cases have undermined our trust as legal scholars, advocates, and educators in the fundamental fairness of our legal system. We share with our students the struggle to reconcile the constitutional values that we teach in the classroom with the reality that race determines how communities of color experience our legal system. We support the members of our community who are exercising their constitutional right to free speech through protest and peaceful civil disobedience. We call on the United States Department of Justice and other authorities to investigate further. As a community of legal scholars and advocates, we commit to addressing these issues in the days to come.”
Dimple Abichandani, Executive Director of Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice joined by ~150 other members of the UC Berkeley law school faculty and staff
In our contemporary “scoundrel times” (redux) progressives understandably tend to doubt our capacity to reverse or even limit the regressive conduct and trends we see all around us. And indeed, there is no doubt that in marginalizing our society’s morally “best and brightest” our fellow Americans have made a catastrophic error, as the recent historical episodes alluded-to in the news items quoted above illustrate: Our nation’s torture of prisoners and relentless injustice-mongering toward our minority citizenry terribly stain the escutcheon of the United States, and will blight our nation for generations to come.
The dramatic Senate torture disclosures and events in Ferguson and New York City and elsewhere comprise dual shocks to mainstream America’s self-image (of rectitude) and to our “domestic tranquility”. On a salutary note, these recent events have served as a “wake-up call” at what should be a citadel of decency and justice-promotion, namely UC Berkeley’s School of Law (aka Boalt Hall). UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo himself – doubtless in response to the bold (and merited) call by his fellow UC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky for Yoo’s criminal prosecution under the federal anti-torture statute – suddenly “walked back” (at least in part) Yoo’s (obscene) authorship and defense of torture. To this progressive civil rights lawyer (and UC Berkeley undergrad alumnus) who has been livid for years about Yoo's continued presence on the Boalt Hall faculty, Yoo's admission is a startling and welcome sign of changing times (however qualified and self-serving Yoo's new position may be).
The two news items above sent me back to my word processing program files to review a (blunt) application cover letter I had sent to UC Berkeley’s law school in July 2013, in support of my application for the Executive Directorship of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice there. The Center, named for (but alas, not substantively guided by) the great liberal-minded San Francisco-based federal District Judge Thelton Henderson, advertises itself as “[t]he intellectual hub of the law school's vibrant social justice community.”http://www.law.berkeley.edu/HendersonCenter.htm. Its faculty co-directors appointed last summer now describe it (more incisively) as “the conscience of the law school” and “central to the school’s public mission.” (Emphasis added.) It was not always thus. In my letter I had minced no words about the state of my (fallen) profession and my acute disappointment in particular with the tepid and ineffectual nature of the activities of the Henderson Center in the preceding years.
Needless to say, I did not get the job (or even an interview). But, in hindsight, perhaps I catalyzed some soul-searching among at least the UC Berkeley law school personnel who were forced to read it, about how complacent and remiss they had become relative the magnitude of the legal and social justice challenges presented by our contemporary (decidedly) Not-Great Society. I re-print it here in part as a reminder that the conditions that have caused the current protests have been obvious to those of us "with eyes to see" for a long time. And I also hope to inspire fellow staunch progressives to similarly apply for positions of influence and leverage for which they are qualified, as a means of constantly asserting the primacy and moral superiority of our ideas and prescriptions over those of the life-style opportunists and pin-striped barbarians who dominate America’s institutional landscape from sea-to-shining sea. After all: “this land is our land!”
July 8, 2013
To Whom It May Concern:
I would like to return as leader of the Henderson Center to the halls I once walked as an inter-campus exchange student (from UC Davis law school) in 1981 and help one of the nation’s most elite law schools restore its reputation in the area of social and legal justice and (if you’ll permit me) thereby help save its soul.
I have good memories of the public interest-oriented courses I took there with Sidney Wolinsky (Public Interest Law), Charles R. Lawrence (Education and the Law), Michael Hone (Law of Non-Profit Organizations), and John Dugard (Human Rights Law). These classes I took at Boalt (and another Constitutional Law Seminar on Minority Rights I took with Professor Lawrence at USF law school) helped redeem my entire law school experience in an era when UC Davis was essentially bereft of courses and faculty congenial to students oriented to the public interest. Indeed I constructively criticized King Hall’s stewards in an op-ed article published in the Davis Daily Democrat on the day I joined my class of 1981 at our graduation ceremony, for not embodying the values of the man for whom the building had been named. (King Hall is much closer to doing so today.) I have attached that article herewith.
From my law school years to the present day I have worked to advance the enlightenment cause, in words and deeds. And it would be my highest priority (if hired) to help ensure that the current generation of public interest-minded Boalt students have ways and means to retain and give meaningful expression (throughout their legal careers) to the ideals which brought them to law school, about which more below. That is a tall order and I intend to speak candidly in this cover letter about the magnitude of this challenge. (The stakes for our society are too high to do otherwise):
In one respect, I would be an untraditional pick for the position. Unlike Wilda White, who I note was the most recent Executive Director, I am not a person of color. But a more determined advocate for the multitudes of persons of all colors, class disadvantage and oppression (African-Americans in particular) you will not find. For the past decade I have been running a super-busy civil rights litigation law practice virtually single-handedly. My practice is confined to cases that safeguard the interests of parolees and their family co-habitants. That entry and the others on my attached Curriculum Vitae attest that I have made the pursuit of social and legal justice my life’s work.
The big attractions to me of the Henderson Center position are the opportunity to apply my progressive ethos within a tolerably receptive institutional environment (quite unlike eg. the callous-to-hostile contemporary federal courts or California corrections bureaucracy). And the privilege it would afford me to help shape the direction of the legal profession and its future practitioners.
If hired, my highest priority will be to place the Henderson Center into the very forefront of the war for the soul of the American justice system that has arisen in recent decades. The passivity with which liberals and leftists in general and public interest-minded members of the legal profession have reacted to the conservative movement’s 5 decade offensive, has now become pernicious and dangerous. (“Jihad” is now overused but would also be an appropriate term for the war conservatives have waged.)
For example, conservatives have shamelessly packed the federal judiciary with reactionary activists and vetoed all judicial nominees by Democratic presidents except (frankly, spineless) “moderates” who lack any real sense of justice and are unable or unwilling to properly frame issues and effectively oppose their arch-conservative brethren. And this, in turn, has not only (plainly) politicized the outcomes in the Supreme Court (Bush v. Gore and rulings such as the just-issued invalidation of a section of the Voting Rights Act and multiple pro-business rulings being paradigmatic), it has fundamentally changed the entire culture at circuit courts of appeal throughout the country. As Erwin Chemerinsky (who was kind enough to serve as one of the sponsors my recent application to the U.S. Supreme Court bar) observed in a law review article a decade ago: “The Myth of the Liberal Ninth Circuit”. (Emphasis added) And it keeps getting worse!
The packing of the federal courts with activist conservative judges (who are essentially robed bullies of both litigants, counsel and their own fellow jurists) means that justice in civil rights cases, to name one important category in which I practice, is rapidly being hollowed-out as a meaningful phenomenon in American life. This alarming power imbalance is rarely publicly acknowledged, and is never sternly opposed, at least by “anyone who is anyone” within the legal profession (with very few exceptions). Rather, “denial” and/or complacency seem to be the prevailing attitudes.
That enabling posture would be inverted if I were hired to lead the Henderson Center. For decades now (in my view) both the public interest law community and liberal elites more generally have not just “brought a knife to a gun-fight”. We have “brought a pea-shooter to a tactical nuclear war”. Little wonder then, that conservatives are now on the verge of successfully purging staunch liberals (such as myself) from respected positions in the corridors of legal power in our own country. For the “everyday people” and clientele whose cause is the concern of liberal-minded attorneys and citizens, this is alarming to say the least. I know this from several serious conversations on point I’ve held with several of my own non-privileged civil rights clients for over a decade. (Their sense of betrayal at the steady degradation of the civil justice system is palpable.)
Indeed it is hard to overstate how asymmetrical this war has become and the magnitude and ramifications of the problem this presents for our society and world. I tried to do so in an op-ed article in 1997 (also attached herewith), when all the current trends toward lawyer- (and judge) abetted plutocracy and oppression were already crystal clear. In it I called for a sea-change in the way in which elite law schools evaluated applicants, to vet them for non-materialist values. Yet that situation too keeps getting worse:
Year after year, decade after decade, elite law schools such as Boalt, my alma mater UC Davis and many other top law schools, mint students bound for well paid legal positions (and riches in many instances) but not for any kind of “glittering prizes” (meaning statesmanship and distinction). Rather (it pains me say) most are destined for lives as well-paid pliant (intellectual) vassals for financial elite supremacist private clients. Given human nature, perhaps such super-bright self-serving “well-adjusted” law students will always be the majority.
But elite schools owe the minority of students (from all ethnic backgrounds) that come to law school with firmly idealistic goals and life trajectories in mind a far more determined effort to create career paths in ethical employment environments (today there are far too few) and a professional judiciary that is not hostile to them (as the current judiciary clearly is). And it owes the (amoral opportunistic) majority of students some form of inoculation before entering the real world, where they will inevitably become (alas) “part of the problem”.
To do this effectively will require the Henderson Center to place itself on the front-lines of the crucial legal, ethical and policy debates of our time, without fear or favor. And operate not exclusively (or even primarily) as a boutique entity that caters to a small minority of ideologically or politically minded left-leaning law students, but as a place that also challenges the more mainstream (and even the handful of arch-conservative) Boalt students (throughout their careers) to temper or renounce the baleful contemporary trends towards greed, opportunism and indecency uber alles.
Lawyers graduating from elite schools simply must be better steeped in ethics and public morality than they have been in recent decades – when cleverness and sharp practice have become aptitudes prized by employers across-the-board (not just in the private-firm world). For example, I can personally attest that a depraved (highly conservatively politicized) orientation (famously implemented by George W. Bush and his ruthless hyper-partisan Attorney Generals) still prevails within the civil divisions of U.S. Attorneys’ offices. I spent years litigating against a particularly unscrupulous and abusive AUSA in the O’Neal-Gonzales case, on both sides of the Bush-Obama Administration divide. This “gentleman” also heads a nationwide special interest group of AUSAs and, in that capacity, had the temerity to pen a letter, which is posted online, seeking to ensure that the Ted Stevens’ prosecution fiasco did not yield remedial action by the U.S. Senate. See http://www.naausa.org/2013/images/docs/OppositionS2197Statement.pdf. Obviously, the depravity is not confined to U.S. Attorney civil divisions, as the recent suicide-inducing persecution of internet activist Aaron Swartz, and the Administration’s oppressive “war on whistleblowers” and journalists they speak with, attests.
Nor does any better situation pertain within the California Attorney General’s office. There (I’ve also learned from years of practicing against them) the Deputy Attorney Generals plainly have “marching orders” to obstruct justice, engage in sharp practice, make frivolous arguments and eschew settlement of obvious exposures. See Judge Noonan’s admonition to the Defendants’ state Attorney General’s office counsel in response to their obtuse extremism in Watts v. McKinney, 394 F.3d 710 (9th Cir. 2005): “A lawyer must be zealous on behalf of his client. But zeal needs to be tempered by commonsense.”1 [Footnote 1: On appeal from denial of a summary judgment motion, the Attorney General argued in Watts that even if the prisoner’s (Watts') contention that a prison guard kicked plaintiff inmate “in the groin” (as the Attorney General put it) while handcuffed behind his back is true, the act did not constitute a violation of the Eighth Amendment and that “‘a reasonable officer in defendant McKinney’s position would not necessarily have believed’ that his conduct was unlawful.” Judge Noonan ridiculed the Attorney General’s position as “beyond belief”.]
And these examples are public sector employers with a public trust! Most private sector attorneys likewise revel in their reputation as ruthless operators. The kind of institutional rot that now besets the bar and justice system is not easily cured (absent a political sea-change that may or may not be in the offing) but entities within elite law schools such as the Henderson Center should challenge public sector legal departments (and the private firms) to temper their (passive-aggressive) “pin-striped barbarism” and “elevate their game”. And the Center can (at least) alert their students regarding what to anticipate, and inspire and equip them to become part of the solution (at least at some point in their careers).
As leader of the Henderson Center I would focus the Center’s work on big issues such as the corruption and degradation of the justice system and its increasing incapacity to remotely well-serve the legal needs of disadvantaged and oppressed segments of the populace. In addition to filling judgeships with rightist and centrist ideologues (something that the Henderson Center could monitor and protest and perhaps sporadically blunt), this is wrought by:
• the conservative movement’s tactic of starving the nation’s federal and state courts for funds – something I believe is also driving the increasingly (systemically) decrepit performance of appeals courts, where resort to (by definition unjust) summary- and rote memorandum affirmances are ever-more frequent;
• growing practical and doctrinal limits on injured parties’ access to courts and on accountability for governmental tortfeasors (such as “plausibility” pleading); and
• the non-existence of mandated neutral evaluations and economical prompt arbitration-based resolution of meritorious claims. (I understand Boalt has a small program seeking to promote “mindfulness” amongst lawyers. It’s an excellent thought; what is needed however are ways and means of mandating this orientation, including major changes in the rules of court so to do.)
Other baleful signs of the times I would wish the Center to address include:
• The myriad symptoms of our society’s prevailing “policing state” including the manner in which unionized police and corrections personnel have: controlled and intimidated politicians and perverted criminal justice and corrections policies in California and (to varying degrees) elsewhere in the country, fomented mass incarceration and de-legitimized rehabilitation. Worse: they have established a climate where unchecked police (jailor and prison guard) brutality up to and including extralegal homicides, as well as pervasive cultures of law-enforcement “gangs” (complete with tattoos and jumping-in ritual violence), deceit, cover-ups and conspiracies of silence surrounding criminal and tortious activity within law enforcement, have become sad (and still highly alarming) facts of contemporary life. This is particularly so within inner-city precincts where abusive, paramilitary, occupation-style (anti-community-) policing is now an accepted norm. Although our society is becoming evermore inured to it all, we must never regard any of it as permanent features of American life.
• The lack of a systemic response to the staggering implications of the increasing number of DNA exonerations, which by one seemingly reliable statistical extrapolation I have run across, means that some 150,000 provably innocent persons are languishing (unassisted) in custody nationwide.
• Systemic problems surrounding the conduct of elections, from state and local voter suppression schemes aimed at minority voters (just aided and abetted by the Supreme Court) to multiple issues surrounding various forms of machine-assisted vote recording and counting that have (with disturbing regularity) cast doubt on the bona fides of election results in recent decades.
• The manner in which the nation’s intelligence agencies have in the aftermath of 9/11/2001 run amok and created a blatantly unconstitutional Big Brother-ish privacy-obliterating and dissent-deterring surveillance state. See http://investigations.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/06/12/18925384-secret-court-wont-object-to-release-of-opinion-on-illegal-surveillance?lite.
• And (indirectly related to the two just-listed issues) the constellation of emerging legal issues connected to the developing possible (in my view inevitable) sea change in American politics and government in the direction of (hopefully enlightened versions of) populism, protectionism and isolationism. Because they have created the prevailing plutocratic, oppressive, nihilistic and dystopian trends, the current generation of dominant American elites (ones affiliated with both corrupt old parties) already stand discredited in the eyes of the American people (as Congress’ 6% approval rating attests). At some point in the 21st century (possibly during the careers of some contemporary law students) American politicians, policy-makers and private-sector decision-makers will be forced to accommodate the demands of an angry, aroused and betrayed public (a time that will almost certainly make the occupy movement literally “look like a picnic”). Those in power at that juncture will face thorny legal issues, up to and including the framing of new Constitutional amendments. Eg. the constitutionality (under current rubrics) of measures to steeply reduce the extreme inequality wrought by the “one world economy”, including “protectionist” measures to stop “cold” the export of manufacturing jobs so badly needed by unemployed working class and poor minority- and white Americans, to China and India, may be called into question. As I have opined in one of my Huffington Post comments, a constitutional amendment to legalize legislative reductions in extreme wealth and income inequality will likely be required. The Center can alert current students to the transitory nature of the current dismal status quo, remind them that another, just world is not only possible but almost inevitable, and anticipate the legal landscape that may well arise after an “American Spring”.
On another front (mentioned in the job description), my central approach to fund-raising for the Center will be to locate and appeal to those who have most prospered in our society but who have retained a serious social conscience and “get” the salience of some or all of the weighty issues and progressive agenda I’ve discussed above. These are the same very well-heeled folks who may soon band together to fund the “super-pac to end all super-pacs” of which Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig now speaks. (I must add here that Professor Lessig’s idea is a variation on one I first espoused in the wake of the Citizens United ruling. See one or more of my Huffington Post comment entries on my CV.)
On the other hand, if I am hired to lead the Henderson Center (again candidly), the Center will not be known as a place that actively promotes “social liberalism” and “identity politics”. For example (and completely respectfully), the Center’s January 2013 symposium (described at http://www.law.berkeley.edu/15102.htm), strikes me as a missed opportunity for the Boalt community to have clearly spoken “truth to power” about a great moral and policy challenge of our time (one that I have been trying to catalyze remedial governmental action on for a decade now) – the need for a conversion from “mass incarceration” to “mass rehabilitation”. Instead the topic was melded with subtle vexing issues surrounding domestic violence. And it further appears that the latter subject was addressed primarily through the dubious (simplistic) prism of “politically correct” identity (here, ultra-feminist) politics.2 [Footnote 2: Since this is a controversial point, I looked for substantiation online, and ran across the following seemingly important academic article surveying multiple studies of domestic violence: “The Gender Paradigm In Domestic Violence: Research And Theory” by Donald G. Dutton and Tonia L. Nicholls © 2005 Originally published in Aggression and Violent Behavior, vol. 10, p. 680 – 714; found online at http://ncfm.org/libraryfiles/Children/DV/Gender%20Paradigm%20In%20Domestic%20Violence.pdf. It suggests that the feminist paradigm is unproven to say the least.] Although obviously there are points of overlap, making the latter subject a focus of the event, instead of, say:
• the manner in which the CCPOA and other labor unions representing police and corrections personnel have fomented mass incarceration by corrupting all politicians and criminal justice policy in California;
• the seminal role of the“drug war” in fomenting “The New Jim Crow”, per Michelle Alexander; and/or
• California’s “useable past” in the 1950s and 1960s as a national leader in rehabilitative based corrections)
is an example of how easy it is for an (already small) institution such as the Henderson Center to serve as a “force-marginalizer” instead of a “force-multiplier” in the overall cause of social and legal justice.
Lest I be misunderstood (and my application be unfairly dismissed): I am personally a social liberal. Eg. I am a Jewish man married to a Muslim woman. (My wife and I were married on the Queen Mary, the ship my German-Jewish [then 16 year old] father and his family traveled to America on in 1938 as refugees from the Nazis). One of my first cousins is gay and has been with his partner for decades. (They are wonderful people.) I have no truck with discrimination or bigotry of any kind, and abhor (alas still extant) “hate” crimes and the obnoxious actions of extremist religious conservatives such as picketing military funerals.
My skepticism of social liberalism and identity politics stems from the fact that “the powers that be” have generally deployed them as smokescreens for immoral “economic conservatism” and other regressive initiatives. Here, United Colors of Benetton’s manufacturing its (warmly advertised) fashions in highly dangerous and exploitative cheap labor factories in Bangladesh is illustrative. See
http://www.thewire.com/global/2013/05/benetton-finally-admits-its-role-bangladeshi-garment-factory-collapse/65034/. Likewise, of what remote salience is it that, say, an unscrupulous tax-dodging hedge fund operator (or say, Ted Olson, George W. Bush’s fanatic conservative lead attorney in Bush v. Gore), supports gay marriage? Indeed, in my civil rights work I came across the (frankly disappointing) fact that two of the most ardent defenders of California’s unconscionable policies of mass incarceration in recent years (who served as top aides to California Governors Schwarzenegger and Brown respectively) each are married to partners of the same sex. Plainly, sexual orientation has no correlation that I know of (one way or the other) with public morality (or personal morality for that matter).
Nor, obviously (as we are learning nowadays), is racial or ethnic identity any type of per se index of social or ethical responsibility. As Erich Fromm correctly stated, and Martin Luther King later seconded, “character is man’s fate.” For example, our nation’s first president of African descent is a former teacher of Constitutional law undoubtedly familiar with Article III, §3’s edict that “No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court”. Yet (alas) he has done his predecessor George W. Bush one better and liquidated through drone strikes American citizens he (Barack Obama) unilaterally decided had committed treason (one, a 16 year old who clearly hadn’t). In enabling him to take these and other illicit actions the president is being dis-served by a plethora of Cabinet members and senior advisors, several of them minorities and women, that surround and isolate him in a proverbial Beltway “bubble”. Similarly, closer to home, the California AG’s office has likewise continued its “evil ways” under Kamala Harris.
Where minorities seek and achieve leadership of mainstream institutions that have become ethically compromised if not utterly corrupt – without aspiring to radically reform them or serve the public interest – they do the cause of social and legal justice no credit and let down the multitudes whose hopes they raise. And for anyone to temper (much less withhold) merited criticism of these stewards and institutions under the aegis of ultra-“politically correct” identity politics or social liberalism, would itself be highly disrespectful, patronizing and indecent. As head of the Henderson Center (if I am hired), in solidarity with the multitudes who bear the brunt of our society’s elites’ relentlessly oppressive patterns and practices, I would “speak truth to power” irrespective of the ethnic, racial or gender identity (or sexual orientation) of the officeholder.
Returning to the essence of my application: I have perused the roster of distinguished faculty advisors to the Center. I recognize a few names, ones I have run across in my civil rights practice. And I am certain I would get along with all of them. But as someone quite proud of my UC Berkeley undergraduate degree (with distinction in general scholarship) and who, as mentioned, considered my course work at Boalt an important part of my legal education, it pains me to say that the faculty member who has most come to define the public image of Boalt in my mind (and I venture to say in the minds of most members of the public) is conservative Republican apparatchik John Yoo.
Although I realize the position of Executive Director of the Henderson Center is a relatively small “platform on which to stand”, my intention (if hired) would be to use it to help rehabilitate the public image of Boalt Hall as a place congenial to progressive leadership in the legal world and society as a whole. During my tenure as Executive Director I would earnestly work to raise the Center’s public profile and help ensure that Boalt’s (alas tarnished) reputation is re-defined in the public’s mind as it should be – a place where legal and ideological debate is, in Justice Brennan’s phrase, “robust, uninhibited and wide-open.” And where left-liberals “kick ass, take names” and invariably WIN those jousts.
At the risk of occasionally being a lighting rod, I would join the staff of Boalt able and willing to be an (always appropriate but) uncompromising outspoken progressive presence at the school. And I will not be satisfied unless and until the views of Mr. Yoo and others of his rightist ilk (the Federalist Society, eg.) are properly marginalized, and a dominant left-liberal stewardship ethos and reputation is restored to the University of California’s premier law school.
In terms of being a “role model”, I will create an office environment that can give interested current students a glimpse into the life of someone who has “stayed the course” of left-liberal values and not succumbed to the pressures of opportunism. Students visiting my office would see, for example, inscribed photographs of myself with George McGovern (who I was privileged to get to know and work with in the 1990s) and some of my civil rights clients, and other mementos of my life and work for the progressive cause over the years, alongside some of my framed degrees and credentials such as my recent admission to the U.S. Supreme Court bar. Of course I hope my office would be one where students came to collaborate in the Center’s work, exchange views, and receive guidance, support, mentorship and personal engagement to the maximum extent my regular duties permitted.
I would also eventually re-create the hospitality towards small groups of current students that Sidney Wolinsky and his wife (I believe they were married) offered myself and other students in his Public Interest Law course >30 years ago, by occasionally inviting students over to my residence to talk shop and enjoy my wife Jasmine’s wonderful maklube (and other dishes), ones she learned to cook from her Palestine-born mother. Her parents are diaspora Palestinians who immigrated to Canada in 1967, where Jasmine was raised. My father-in-law, an electrical engineer, works for Canada’s defense department in Ottawa, a capital city I have come to love (more so than my wife who was raised there).
On a personal note, I am highly responsible in all my words and deeds. Everything I do and produce as a lawyer and writer is either “on the record” or could be put there without any embarrassment to me. It is, for better or worse (in my view) the only practical lifestyle for anyone with stalwart (somewhat controversial) left-liberal views in this age of wholesale collapse of privacy. In the decades since my first op-ed on the occasion of my King Hall graduation ceremony, I have often published articles and letters to the editor (including 4 in the New York Times). Of those I’m perhaps most proud of the ones related to Bush v. Gore, published on the first anniversary in the Daily Journal and on the tenth anniversary in the Washington Post (which further linked to the opinion of the only hero of the epic travesty, Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw. See http://censurethefive.org/ladj.jpg and http://www.washington post.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/12/18/AR2010121802827.html. Since 2005 I have also published 687 comments on Huffington Post consisting of 250 word signed mini-essays; a body of work that appears to have qualified me as an online “pundit” of sorts, albeit one who reaches a rather small audience. (Fwiw, 154 HuffPost readers have “fanned” me over the years in response to my comments.)
I am proud to say that I do not post anything online anonymously, and have little to no personal presence on conventional “social media” which I regard skeptically, particularly in view of Edward Snowden’s recent confirmation of the hitherto “open secret” that the NSA was “Hoovering” all of our personal information. (I read that the personnel of telephone companies and internet service providers that were forced to break their customers’ confidences cleverly referred to the Feds’ subpoenas by that term – a double entendre referring both to J. Edgar Hoover and the Feds’ gigantic [surreal] indiscriminate [clearly unconstitutional] ingestion of Americans’ personal data.) I would not however, extend my personal skepticism of social media to The Center. The Center should employ all the social media tools currently available (including the – to me besotted – Twitter) to publicize its activities and good works.
Further to my personal life: I have no vices; and, as alluded, am happily married. Jasmine, a singer-songwriter (www.yasmeenmusic.com) and I have no children, but enjoy attending to- and having the company of our dog, a Shih-tzu we rescued, 2 cats, and 1 other large black cat we rescued and are fostering. (I dubbed him Robeson, and we hope to find him a good home, possibly in the Bay Area.) My sister and brother-in-law live in Albany and work in the East Bay. Their daughter, my niece, attends Oberlin College and is extending the Jacobson family’s staunchly liberal tradition into the next generation. My father, the late Dr. Gerald F. Jacobson, MD was a public health psychiatrist, and founding executive director the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Culver City, California. See http://articles.latimes.com/1987-09-08/local/me-6693_1_jacobson. I have visited the Bay Area semi-regularly over the years, including attending a few Cal homecoming weekends. So I would be right at home there within a few weeks, and can envisage a long tour of duty as Center director (although I recognize it is formally initially a 1 year appointment). I have now litigated enough for multiple lifetimes, catalyzed all the (limited) change in California’s infernal corrections system one earnest sole practitioner can, and wish to have a more macro-influence on the legal profession and its practitioners.
In closing, the days when liberal law school faculty and staff could afford to be insular careerists and conscientious but low profile “nice” guys and gals are long gone. Obviously, I could have been more circumspect in this letter. But given my 33 year record as a political activist, civil rights lawyer, and as a political and legal commentator, a more pedestrian application would have served no purpose. I believed I owed it to the hiring committee to be candid about my ethos, goals and intentions (and have been). My application does not present a Milquetoast “value proposition”. But if the stewards of Boalt and the Henderson Center understand (if not necessarily enthusiastically agree with every dimension of) my aforementioned sense of crisis, and want someone with the temperament and inclination to help advance the interests of justice, and change the direction of the law school’s public profile in a more balanced equitable direction, then I’m the man for the job.
All the best,
Eric C. Jacobson
Public Interest Lawyer
Whether my letter in support of my unsuccessful job application had any impact or not, plainly the combination of the torture disclosures by the U.S. Senate and the extralegal police killings of recent months, and the explosive protests in response to them, have snapped the UC Berkeley law school and its stewards out of their lassitude. It's a start. But America's legal and judicial systems have been so conservatively politicized and degraded over decades it will take sustained effort by left-liberals over generations to repair. Nor is it reasonable to expect -- simply because the left-liberal answers are now "blowin' in the wind" -- that conservatives will cooperatively vacate the positions of power within the legal system they worked long and hard to occupy and now use to expertly maintain the execrable unjust status quo.
Which brings me to my final point: because John Yoo is (alas) not likely to be criminally indicted and convicted for his validating America's illegal torture practices begun by President George W. Bush, and is a tenured member of the Berkeley law school faculty, he would appear to be able to remain a permanent (discordant) presence there -- the functional equivalent of a money-changer in the temple of legal education. In spurning my application to run the Henderson Center, UC Berkeley's law school may have lost their last, best chance to encourage its resident rightist fanatic to voluntarily depart. The law school would not have been big enough to house both John Yoo and myself. Before too long, one of us would have had to go. And it wouldn't have been me.
Eric C. Jacobson is a public interest lawyer living in Los Angeles. His last op-ed article for LA IndyMedia (in April 2014) called attention to the schism within the leadership of Pacifica Foundation Radio about the future and unity of the 5 station network. http://la.indymedia.org/news/2014/04/263659.php In a July 2013 op-ed published in Counterpunch.org, Jacobson called upon the U.S. Justice Department to criminally prosecute George Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin’s federally protected civil right to commute to a convenience store and return alive. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/07/29/why-justice-department-can-and-must-criminally-prosecute-george-zimmerman/. In July 2014 Jacobson joined Twitter and now uses it avidly. His tweets can be found at www.twitter.com/ECJLA. A tweet by the Henderson Center's capable current Executive Director is found here: https://twitter.com/CenterHenderson/status/542883734270509056
Original: Are the Times A-Changin' at UC Berkeley’s School of Law?