Mine enemy would write a book, the old saying...


June 07, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

WOULD THAT mine enemy would write a book, the old saying goes. Even better, would that she would write a law review article. If that won't do you in, nothing will.

Bill Clinton and I spent last Thursday afternoon reading some of the legal scholarship of Lani Guinier. I read "Keeping the Faith: Black Voters in the Post-Reagan Era" in the Harvard Civil Rights/Civil Liberties Law Review (Spring 1989). I read "No Two Seats: The Elusive Quest for Political Equality" in the Virginia Law Review (November, 1991). And I re-read "The Triumph of Tokenism: The Voting Rights Act and the Theory of Black Success" in the Michigan Law Review (March, 1991). (All available at the Pratt. What a public library!)

Reading such stuff is a real chore. I haven't done anything so onerous in the line of duty since 1972, when I read all of Jesse Helms' broadcast editorials in one day.

The problem with legal scholarship is that it is so dense. Law professors try to pack so much into every sentence that they overload the system. Note Guinier's titles. Each has a colon in order to get two ideas into one utterance. Law profs love colons. Most writers get paid by the word. I think law profs get paid by the colon (and the footnote, about which more later).

When Kenneth Lasson of the University of Baltimore School of Law wrote the definitive criticism of law reviewese in the Harvard Law Review (February 1990) he naturally titled it, "Scholarship Amok: Excesses in the Pursuit of Truth and Tenure."

Lasson mocked legal scholarship, but he became what he beheld. Not only did his title and some of his sub-titles include colons for cram-packing purposes. He also resorted to the prime stylistic overload of law review writing, the footnote. Like Supreme Court justices (all of whom read and sometimes write for law reviews) law profs cannot let a paragraph stand by itself.

One purpose of the footnote in law reviews is to show agreement with the author's point.

Another is to make sure you get it. Footnotes often include lengthy explanations of what the text means and what the footnote means.

And another purpose of law review footnotes is to demonstrate to the reader that the writer has read widely. So the more the merrier. Lasson's article, for example, is 24 pages long and has 114 footnotes.

Guinier sins worse than most in the footnote follies. She footnotes paragraphs, sentences, clauses, phrases, words, syllables. Many of her footnotes contain more words than this column. She quotes everybody, from Madison to Toqueville to Earl Warren to Lyle Denniston.

Guinier said in an interview that legal ideas cannot be reduced to journalism. Wrong. Kenneth Lasson's Harvard Law Review article is tedious, but when he threw away the footnotes and the academic baloney and published it in The Evening Sun (July 12, 1990), it became a delight.

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