One of the things that law school has done to me is made me more able to see the other side of things. That's good, inasmuch as that is the avowed goal of the faculty of Stanford Law School. And I have to say that while I might have viewed the ability of lawyers to argue either side of a case sophistic or weasely before, now that I am beginning to acquire this ability for myself it doesn't strike me that way. It strikes me as grown up (don't worry, Esther, I don't mean "grown up" in the Peter Pan sense. May I never grow up in the "stop delighting in things" sense - but in the "stop being immature" sense? Sure, sign me up for adulthood).
One of the unanticipated side effects of this is that I can no longer opine about the law or politics with a lot of people. Not all people; I recently had a fairly long and refreshing discussion (not even a debate, but a real discussion) with some folks about the recent Supreme Court takings case (you can find the discussion here and the case here if you're interested; I'm Nabterayl). There are two basic problems.
First, I have a more faith in the political process now than I did a year ago. A lot more. Second, I have stopped believing in judges blindly following their own personal codes, which makes me suspicious that politicians ever blindly follow their own personal codes. Having read after one year of law school more cases than most Americans would read under threat of death, I am convinced that basically all judges do the best they can of following the law and upholding the constitution. The thing is that this is not always very different from what many people decry as following their own personal codes - but that strikes me as silly. What's really going on is that the judge has a personal code which embodies a certain commitment to follow the law and uphold the constitution and a certain understanding of what that means. Which is a good thing. A judiciary that didn't do precisely that would be an amoral monstrosity, and the fact that one might disagree with a judge's understanding of how to best follow the law and uphold the constitution is really immaterial.
Part of this is that I've read a lot of cases that I thought were rightly decided. I think it would do people's faith in the judicial system a lot of good if they read a decent sample of cases; they might be surprised by how often the supposedly evil judge got it right. I've read a lot of cases by "liberal" judges that I felt did justice, and I've read a lot of cases by "conservative" judges that I felt did the same. I am beginning to suspect, in fact, that "liberal" and "conservative" don't describe judges very well at all.
All of which makes me suspicious of people who prophesy doom and the destruction of liberty, Americanism, justice, constitutionality, and/or the forces of good now that Justice O'Connor has announced her retirement. When asked how she wanted people to remember her, she said she hoped her tombstone reads, "Here lies a good judge." I have a really hard time believing that she is unique in that sentiment among her peers. That's what all judges want, and I defy politicians of all flavors to find a Supreme Court nominee who would rather be remembered as a good liberal or a good conservative than a good judge. The fact that sometimes a person's personal understanding of what it means to be a good judge conflicts with yours does not mean that the sky is falling.
In general I feel like the past twelve months have been very good for my ability to empathize (which is nice, since they've also had their share of horrible). I don't think that has really affected my ability to judge things, though, which I suppose is probably what people really fear about lawyers. I think that's an important combination. Being able to see the other side of things is fairly crucial for being gentle, meek, and humble. But so is being able to say, "I understand where that's coming from, but I'm still not afraid to say that it's bad."