Dispatches from the Creation Wars

O’Leary and Van Dyke

Denyse O’Leary has a post defending Frank Beckwith’s credentials from an anonymous attacker on her blog. The anonymous critic wrote:

Beckwith is not a law professor. He does not have the requisite education to be a law professor. He has no juris doctorate. Therefore, he can only teach at the undergraduate level. And even then, he can only teach the “philosophy of law.” Not law itself.

Now, I fully agree with O’Leary that this is a silly and pointless attack on Beckwith. She is absolutely right to point out that he has a Masters in Juridical Studies from Washington University-St Louis, which is an excellent law school, as well as a PhD in philosophy. She’s also correct to point out that many respected legal scholars hold similar degrees, including Paul Finkelman and Kermit Hall. But this part jumped out at me:

Unlike the requirements for the JD, he was required to write a scholarly dissertation for his degree, which was published as several law review articles and then revised as a book and then reviewed positively in Harvard Law Review. Not bad.

Now we can certainly debate the merits of the book in question, Darwinism and Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design. I obviously do not find it persuasive, but I like and respect Frank Beckwith. But to say that the book was reviewed positively in the Harvard Law Review leaves out one important detail: it was reviewed not by a professor at Harvard Law but by Lawrence Van Dyke, who I believe was a 2L at the time (possibly a 3L).

More importantly, the review and Van Dyke’s subsequent attempts to defend it was highly amateurish and ended up making him look quite absurd on a national stage. Leiter was correct to point out that Van Dyke’s review read like a press release from the Discovery Institute, as he credulously repeated all of their talking points without a hint of having actually given them any thought. As a result, he passed on one false statement after another and ended up looking quite silly. But you would certainly not know any of that by reading O’Leary’s simple claim of the book having been positively reviewed in the Harvard Law Review.

Comments

  1. #1 Gretchen
    October 5, 2006

    it was reviewed not by a professor at Harvard Law but by Lawrence Van Dyke, who I believe was a 2L at the time (possibly a 3L).

    Forgive my ignorance– what’s a 2L?

  2. #2 Michael LoPrete
    October 5, 2006

    Gretchen,

    Law school shorthand. A 2L is a second year law student.

  3. #3 TomS
    October 5, 2006

    This statement makes me curious:

    He does not have the requisite education to be a law professor. He has no juris doctorate. Therefore, he can only teach at the undergraduate level. And even then, he can only teach the “philosophy of law.” Not law itself.

    This gives me the impression that there is a requirement that one have a JD in order to teach law. Is this true?

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    October 5, 2006

    TomS-

    I don’t believe so.

  5. #5 Jim Lippard
    October 5, 2006

    No. David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) is someone who has taught law and economics at top law schools (Univ. of Chicago, Cornell) and colleges (UCLA) without having a degree in either law or economics. He has a B.A. in chemistry and physics from Harvard and an M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from Univ. of Chicago.

    He currently teaches law and economics at Santa Clara University.

  6. #6 kehrsam
    October 5, 2006

    It is actually quite common for law professors to not have JDs, although most do. When I was in school, since the Law School had joint programs with the Business, Medicine, and Nursing schools, we could take a number of courses taught by members of those faculties but which were counted as “law” courses.

    In any case, the degrees which Beckwith has are in no way inferior to a JD as far as teaching is concerned. Strange argument all round.

  7. #7 Reed A. Cartwright
    October 5, 2006

    I believe that I’ve seen Beckwith correct people who refer to him as a laywer or law professor.

  8. #8 Ed Darrell
    October 5, 2006

    As a lawyer, my complaint about Beckwith’s writings in this area is that he concludes with real lousy legal advice. It’s bad enough that, were an attorney to give it to a client, the attorney could be wide open to a malpractice suit from the client. It’s not legal to teach ID as science in science classes to innocent children. Beckwith says the resolutions from the school boards must be phrased differently, but that it would be legal.

    In several discussions with him over the past three years, he has backed off only slightly, noting that he thinks it’s philosophically okay at one point, and at another saying that he passes no judgment on the validity of ID as science, so his writings should be looked at in that regard, as a hypothetical.

    There’s nothing wrong with Beckwith teaching, or even teaching attorneys. His degrees, or lack of a law degree, have no real bearing on the debate. His lack of a law degree and lack of a law license, on the other hand, and his lack of subscription to the ethical canons of lawyers, allow him to take a stand on the legal issues that no lawyer could take.

    We shouldn’t pretend Beckwith’s advice is legal, or scientific. It’s neither. That’s the issue.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    October 5, 2006

    I don’t think I buy this argument, Ed. There are many people with law degrees who take essentially the same position that Beckwith takes (David DeWolf, Derek Davis, Wendell Bird, even Michael McConnell). They are all wrong, of course, we agree on that. But clearly it’s false to claim that no lawyer could take the position he does because of the “ethical canon of lawyers”.