Thursday, January 16, 2003

Lessig discusses the Mickey Mouse loss.

But as I read these opinions, I realize the hardest part for me is elsewhere. I have spent more than a decade of my life teaching constitutional law—and teaching it in a particularly unfashionable way. As any of my students will attest, my aim is always to say that we should try to understand what the court does in a consistently principled way. We should learn to read what the court does, not as the actions of politicians, but as people who are applying the law as principle, in as principled a manner as they can. There are exceptions, no doubt. And especially in times of crisis, one must expect mistakes. But as OJ’s trial is not a measure of the jury system, Bush v. Gore is not a measure of the Supreme Court. It is the ordinary case one needs to explain. And explain it as a matter of principle.

I’m not sure how to do that here. I don’t see what the argument is that would show why it is the Court’s role to police Congress’s power to protect states, but not to protect the public domain. I don’t see the argument, and none of the five made it. Nor have any of the advocates on the other side identified what that principle is.

One friend offered a reason in an email of condolence. Those 5, he said, save their activism for issues they think important. They apply their principle to causes they think important. Protecting states is a cause they think important. Protecting the public domain is not.

Well, duh.