Which of your recent books or articles should I read?
I am pretty excited about my recent article The Rhetoric of Racism in the United States Supreme Court. In that article I studied every use of the words “racism” “racist” and “white supremacy” in Supreme Court decisions, looked for patterns and changes of meaning over time, and catalogued the words by how the Justices used them and for what meaning. For example, I called one category “the usual suspects.” The “usual suspects” are just what you’d imagine we think of as racist: the Confederacy, the Klan, the Aryan Nation. But the fact that this is one of the most common uses of the words suggests that the Court has a very narrow definition of racism. Another interesting phenomenon I noted was a new, more modern meaning that emerged at the end of the 20th century, which I called “blame-shifting.” This refers to uses of the words in a way that turns racism on its head, such as using the word “racist” to describe affirmative action laws or to describe activists who fight against white supremacy. This use of the words did not exist in SCOTUS decisions prior to the late 20th century, but it is on an upswing now. That also demonstrates a change in meaning over time.
How do you approach teaching your favorite topics? Your least favorite?
I know this sounds Pollyanna-ish, but I love teaching everything that I teach. I love teaching writing and lawyering. I’m a big writing nerd; I think writing and legal writing can be fun and interesting. I know writing can sometimes be a slog, but when you hit that zone where it’s just effortless and the words are just coming out, that just makes it all worth it. I compare it to the runner’s high. You feel like you could run – or write – forever.
I loved Nancy Drew as a kid and I really enjoy the process of researching to find a solution to someone’s problem. So, I love teaching it too. When one of my former students was researching the law and exclaimed “I feel like Nicholas Cage in National Treasure” I knew I had done my job.
And I especially love first semester first year law students. Their energy and enthusiasm for the law is just amazing and so infectious.
What have you read, listened to, or watched recently that has influenced you or your work?
I’ve become a big fan of Ipse Dixit, which is a podcast by law professor Brian Frye. He interviews legal scholars about their work and it is great to listen to in the car. (I told you I was a writing nerd, right?). One of my recent favorites was listening to Eric Seagall talking about what he believes drives Chief Justice John Roberts to make the decisions that he does. It was fascinating in a scholarly way but also had this gossip element to it. Totally fun listen. And that’s what law is really…it’s just people, with all their flaws and quirks and foibles and blinkered vision. As for my work, it really made me want to examine the Chief’s approach to rhetoric and language. Maybe that’s my next article…