What happened when a public school teacher went to Stanford Law School for an immersion course on Constitutional Law? For starters, 1) she paid too much for merch, 2) she pined for Palo Altoian weather every day, and 3)…
…She got to be the beneficiary of tag-team instruction from powerhouse legal scholars Larry Kramer, former Dean of Stanford’s law school, and law professor Pamela Karlan.
Karlan also gets a ‘former’ added to her title. News broke in December of 2013 that she is headed to the Department of Justice to take a position as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Voting Rights in the Civil Rights Division. Karlan will investigate states that have changed their voting laws in the wake of Shelby County v. Holder. Shelby was a case from the October 2012 term in which the SCOTUS overturned section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which said specific localities needed preapproval from a federal court or the Department of Justice before modifying any of their election laws. States like Texas and North Carolina immediately made changes to their election laws days after the Shelby decision. We wrote a post about it and even podcasted the case here [give it a listen; it’s a good and heated debate between SB writers Cara & Jim].
Karlan’s legal specialty, among many, is enforcement of voting rights laws. This is likely the reason she got the call from the Obama administration. Karlan went to law school at Yale, clerked for Justice Blackmun the same year Kramer clerked for Justice Brennan, and has argued before the Supreme Court seven times. When we saw her at Stanford, she discussed contemporary challenges of segregation in public education and an end to at-large elections in states, which may be unfair to minority candidates and voters.
We had strong reactions to this appointment at SB, as did several other legal news sources (Toobin wrote piece for The New Yorker, Politico did too). We, meaning Jim and I, met at the Stanford seminar the summer of 2011. We had the same fervor and love of constitutional law, but with polar opposite political ideologies. The seminar covered numerous topics that naturally incite discourse and debate, and Professor Kramer welcomed both. Unless you disagreed with him, in which case you were wrong. Very, very wrong. Especially if the argument was about Marbury v. Madison. We had a couple of guest lecturers who were faculty at Stanford Law come in that week. Pam Karlan was one of them and it was clear she and Kramer had fiery, passionate beliefs that at times put them at odds with one another. Regularly on opposite sides of the argument (abortion, death penalty, 4th Amendment searches and seizures, New York vs. Chicago-style pizza), Jim and I connected with the oppositional synergy of Kramer and Karlan. Here’s what I remember about the experiences with Karlan and Kramer that summer:
Professor Karlan came in to speak with us on the day we were covering the 4th Amendment. Coincidentally she opened her discussion with us about a case she was working with the Stanford Supreme Court Clinic that I’d been researching. It was a case involving a strip and body cavity search of a man in New Jersey after a minor traffic stop (Florence v. The Board of Chosen Freeholders). Three weeks prior, SCOTUSblog creator Tom Goldstein taught me and a small group of teachers about this case in D.C. Goldstein was preparing to give oral arguments for this criminal procedural case that fall in the SCOTUS and had really piqued my interest. He and Karlan started the Stanford Supreme Court Clinic together and defended the petitioner in the case, the man who’d been strip searched, in such a way that appealed to my natural concern for the rights of the accused. Karlan was a firecracker. She was passionate, whip smart (obviously), outspoken, and brought a house full of teachers nearly to its feet with her thoughts on inequalities in public education. Karlan’s strengths lie in her infectious energy, candid demeanor, and unwavering drive to enforce civil rights policies.
I’d emailed her after the seminar to say ‘thanks’ for taking the time to give such a great presentation-especially on the Florence case-and asked for additional sources and her thoughts on public school equity issues like ‘pay-to-play’ programs, school funding via referenda, and student speech rights. She wrote me back soon after with an article and a personal contact of hers in case I needed additional resources. I ran out and got my Team Pam tattoo that night.
Now, this does not imply I wasn’t on Team Kramer. As an educator, I use Professor Kramer’s lecture in my curriculum design more than any other SCOTUS expert and we dedicate almost every podcast to him. Kramer recently left Stanford Law for a position with the Hewlett Foundation. Stanford described him best in a departing tribute as “a personality that his fans describe as melding a bull in a china shop with a cuddly teddy bear.” I concur. The experience in Kramer and Karlan’s classes were educational game-changers that eventually led to the hatching of this website’s writing team, so we remain fans of both. Good luck to Pam Karlan in her new post and, if you’re an educator, take Kramer’s class at Stanford offered through Gilder Lehrman. You’ll get so much more than an awesome sweatshirt.
~Cara L. Gallagher