Mancini on Khadr

Announcing a guest post by Mark Mancini on the Khadr Settlement

I am delighted to announce a forthcoming guest post by Mark Mancini on the Canadian government’s settlement with Omar Khadr. There have been many hyperbolic reactions to it, so I am very much looking forward to what I expect will be nuanced and thoughtful comments on an important issue that deserves more serious treatment than it has mostly received. Mr. Mancini is a recent graduate of UNB, already a published scholar, and a friend of this blog. I am delighted to welcome him as a contributor.

The Blog of John Henry

A comment on Nick Barber’s thoughts on “The Legal Academic in the Internet Age”

How is the internet going to change the ways in which legal academics teach, publish, and engage with the outside world in the medium term? Nick Barber addresses this question in a provocative post over at the UK Constitutional Law Blog. Blogs, he argues are the way of the future, while both social media should be resisted, and traditional lectures are destined for the dustbin of history. You might think that as a blogging enthusiast I would agree, or at least find the idea exciting. But prof. Barber doesn’t think that the future belongs to any old blogs; he has a specific type of blog in mind ― professional, edited outfits (like the UK Constitutional Law Blog itself), which will fuse with more traditional journals. A future in which such outlets are the dominant medium does not strike me as blogging utopia at all.

I will not say too much about prof. Barber’s views on the future of teaching. He thinks

that lectures will increasingly be replaced by shorter, fifteen or twenty minute, vlogs that will be designed for the medium; that is, they will consist of lecturers talking to camera, perhaps with slides incorporated into the broadcast. A series of these vlogs will then combine to cover the material that used to be covered in the lecture.

This will be both less demanding for the lecturers, who will be able to re-use recordings, and less boring for the students, who will be able to consume them in more digestible chunks and at their own pace. Prof. Barber thinks that by replacing lectures, “the rise of vlogs will free up time for more interactive teaching” to small groups of students. It’s a tempting vision, as I’m planning my lectures next term to classes of, potentially, 270 and 60. But whatever the chances that it will be realized at Oxford, where prof. Barber teaches, or at similarly well-heeled institutions, I don’t see how law schools like the one at which I am will have the resources to replace my four hours of pontificating to 330 students by the appropriately astronomical number of hours needed to afford them all small group teaching.

Similarly, I will not say too much about prof. Barber’s dismissive attitude to social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter), which he says “encourage folly and, worse, they then go on to preserve this folly for posterity”. Steve Peers has responded with a Twitter thread that points out that Twitter, in particular, enables people to interact over the barriers that separate different professions (or branches of the legal professions) and academic disciplines, which (at least sometimes) makes it possible for conversations that would otherwise happen within these different groups to be enriched, for the benefit of all involved. I would only add that social media also help break down geographical barriers in a way that not only traditional publications, or even good old email, do not, and also the barriers of rank or standing within each profession or discipline. I understand why some people will prefer to heed prof. Barber’s call for caution, and do not agree with people who occasionally come close to saying that every academic ought to be on Twitter, but I am pretty sure that many will find it useful. I know I do; indeed I think that I have benefited a great deal from my (initially very reluctant) embrace of that medium. (To give just one example, I’m not sure if my collaboration with Benjamin Oliphant would have come about if we hadn’t been interacting on Twitter, as well as reading each other’s blog posts.)

I want to comment in some more detail on prof. Barber’s views on the present and future of blogs. Prof. Barber is enthusiastic about “the emerging capacity of blogs to permit academics to engage with important constitutional issues as they unfold”, without being constrained by the “glacial” pace at which articles, even short and topical ones, in traditional publications come out. Moreover, ” the rise of the blogs has also brought with it a welcome relaxation of style”, allowing scholars to engage with lay audiences. At the same time, as with social media, prof. Barber worries that

[t]he ease and speed with which material can be published increases the risk of error and of ill-considered scholarship. This may be partly due to the laziness of scholars but it is, also, the product of a collective pressure to publish quickly.

Half-baked or outright mistaken arguments that would never have made their way onto the printed page can appear in blog posts, and live on forever in cyberspace.

Prof. Barber sees the solution to this problem in the professionalization of blogs. “We need”, he argues, “to create structures that will make use of the speed and accessibility of the Internet whilst avoiding the risks of sloppy scholarship and blow-hard opinionizing.” Already, prof. Barber says, “[t]he best law blogs, like journals, now play an editorial role, reviewing and critiquing submissions before they are posted.” Whether these structures develop as part of what are now blogs or what are now journals, they will cause the quality of blog output to improve. This, in turn, will lead to academia finally crediting blog posts similarly to more traditional publications for the purposes of promotion, and also cause “the era of the personal blog as a serious academic enterprise [to] come to an end”, as independents are out-competed on quality by “edited blog[s]”.

Unlike prof. Barber, I do not see these developments as something to be wished for. It’s not that I’m against quality, of course ― I try to achieve it with my own posts here. But I know that I occasionally produce bloopers, and suspect that I am not quite alone in this. So I can see the attraction of prof. Barber’s position ― if we think that the most important thing for us (as scholars or as lawyers) is that everything written on law be of high quality. But I don’t think that this is the only thing that matters, and I’m afraid that rather more will be lost ― and perhaps less gained ― in the quest for quality than prof. Barber cares to admit.

For one thing, I’m skeptical about the ability of blogs to “play an editorial role”, at least a meaningful one, in a timely fashion. As they become more institutionalized, less the preserve of enthusiasts who pour the hearts into blogging without counting the hours, and especially if the volume of contributions (and perhaps the competition to get published) increases, as prof. Barber expects that it will, edited blogs will be likely to acquire some of the less pleasant characteristics of the journals, the “glacial” pace among them. The more quality assurance one wants to have ― the more editing and stages of peer review ― the slower the process becomes, until the only time savings over the traditional journals are those made by eliminating printing.

More importantly, the institutionalization of blogs and the disappearance of independent blogging would likely close down an important avenue that is now available to people who lack the exalted status and distinguished credentials of prof. Barber and his fellow contributors to the UK Constitutional Law Blog for communicating their ideas about the law. When I started this blog, I was a graduate student with exactly one academic publication to my name. Nobody would have given me a platform in a serious edited blog. But less than three years later, Double Aspect was named the best law blog in Canada. Paul Daly had a much fuller CV and a higher perch when he started Administrative Law Matters, but he too was “only” a junior academic at that point. Yet within a couple of years his blog was an indispensable resource on public law, and he also won (well deserved, in his case!) recognition as the best in Canada. Independent blogging democratizes academic and professional conversations about law by allowing upstart voices to join in and, just possibly, be heard if they have something interesting to say.

Independent blogging can also be an avenue by which unorthodox ideas that might not pass the test of editorial quality control can be developed. I doubt that any blog editor would have cared much for my early musings about originalism. Two peer-reviewed articles later, I can say that they were not as silly as they might have seemed at the time, though of course the process of working on those articles with Mr. Oliphant involved developing and clarifying my (and his) initial ideas a great deal. But without those early unedited musings, the articles would not have happened. And, to repeat, if I didn’t have my own blog, and had to count on the good will or open mind of an editor ― who would, in the nature of things, be an established, and more or less orthodox, academic ― to get them published, I doubt that they would ever have seen the light of day.

I also think that personal or (relatively) small-group blogs (such as the Volokh Conspiracy or Balkinization) have another advantage over institutional ones: they require, and thus select for, commitment. Institutional blogs make it possible for any given person to contribute at large intervals, perhaps only sporadically. That can of course be a good thing ― people who only sometimes think they have something to say in blog post form have an outlet for those occasions. (For this same reason, I think guest-posts are generally great, and am delighted to have hosted a number of them of the years.) But I do think that there is something to be said for committing to a platform that leaves you no cover and forces you to blog not just now and then, but week in and week out. It’s bloody hard ― as my occasional bouts of silence show, even maniacs like me sometimes find it impossible ― but as with so much else, there are benefits to regular practice. It makes one develop one’s voice and style; it allows one to cover a variety of subjects in some depth; it provides one with a well-developed record of one’s observations and opinions that can be useful for other purposes (like teaching, or simply keeping track of legal developments) in the future.

Even if the personal blog cannot compete with a professionally edited platform for high-level scholarship on pure quality, it has its own, different value. It can be a way for new and rebellious voices to enter into and enliven the conversation. It can be a proving ground for people and ideas. It can be the record of a coherent or developing thought process. In can, in short, be many things that a edited blog cannot. Call me a blogging romantic if you will,

But before I let your steam drill beat me down,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand, Lord, Lord,
I’d die with a hammer in my hand.


New Year, New Look

For 2017, Double Aspect has a new look and a new address

This is just a quick note to let my readers know that I’ve given the blog’s look an update. Nothing crazy, but I hope that it looks better than it did before ― or at any rate that it looks reasonably well. If you have any concerns please let me know.

In addition, the blog now has a new URL ― You don’t actually need to update your bookmarks, as you’ll be automatically redirected to the new address even if you go to the old one, but if you want to save yourself that fraction of a second, then go ahead.

I don’t suppose my posts were much missed during the holidays, which I hope were happy for all. But now that that’s over, I will resume normal blogging in short order. Happy 2017, everyone!


My nominations for this year’s Clawbies, and some other recommendations

December in the Southern hemisphere means that summer, not winter, is around the corner, and while the Santa Parade and Christmas trees are all there, they mostly provoke cognitive dissonance in those of us used to their being accompanied by snow (or grumblings about the lack thereof). That, and also concerns about Santa and his reindeer suffering a heatstroke. (On the plus side, I suppose there is no danger of getting burned in a chimney.) One holiday tradition that is not so weather-bound (though it will still be upended ― by the time difference that is; by the time the results come it, it will very much be 2017 in New Zealand) is that of the Clawbies ― the Canadian legal blogosphere’s yearly dose of self-congratulation.

We are about half-way through the nomination period, and some people, to whom I am very grateful, have been kind enough to put a word in for Double Aspect. It’s time for me to make my own suggestions. To be clear, by nominating some blogs and not others, I am not suggesting that these blogs are in some objective, absolute way “better” than others. What I am saying is that I like them, and think they deserve attention from readers and recognition from the Clawbies’ judges. Plenty of others do too, but the Clawbies’ rules say we are limited to three nominations, but the truth of the matter is that picking only three is pretty much mission impossible. So I will also bend the rules a bit, and make a few recommendations ― blogs I do not formally (and in some case am not permitted to) nominate, but which I still think should get considered for (and indeed win) some Clawbie or other.

Indeed, I will start with a recommendation, because it is for a blog that I could, and perhaps should, have nominated: Paul Daly’s Administrative Law Matters, last year’s big winner. Having nominated his blog repeatedly, I hope prof. Daly will forgive me for taking a break this time. I am pretty sure I will be nominating him again very soon, and indeed he would be a richly deserving winner again this time.

So for my actual nominations:

  1. The Université de Sherbrooke’s Law Faculty blog, À qui de droit: I mentioned it last year as a possible future nominee, and here it is. Sherbrooke’s response to Calgary’s ABlawg and the University of Alberta Faculty of Law Blog doesn’t (yet) have the former’s Clawbies-winning pedigree or the latter’s record of placing its contributors on the Supreme Court, but it is the best such collective effort east of the 110th meridian.
  2. Édith Guilhermont’s Juris Blogging: last year, I described Dr. Guilhermont’s as “the tireless apostle of legal blogging in Québec (although, ironically, not yet a blogger herself ― nudge nudge!)”; now, fortunately, the main part of this description is even more true, while the parenthetical no longer is. Juris Blogging is, so far as I know, the only blog devoted to law blogs in Canada. This may seem insular, but if Dr. Guilhermont is right that, for an increasing number of lawyers, blogs will be a supplement to, and even a substitute for, traditional legal scholarship, then she will be describing an increasingly important component of the legal culture and practice.
  3. Lisa Silver’s Ideablawg: Prof. Silver’s probing reflections on difficult issues in the criminal law are a must read for anyone interested in the subject. To my lasting regret, I didn’t care one bit for criminal law as a student, and avoided classes in it except for the compulsory one; Ideablawg helps me make up for the resulting ignorance, and I am grateful to its author for this! Thrice a Clawbie runner-up, it’s time Ideablawg were a winner already.

And here’s another recommendation, for a blog that I cannot nominate because I occasionally contribute to it (which reminds me that I’m overdue on my next installment): that of the CBA’s National Magazine. Its variety of subjects, contributors, and perspectives is pretty unique in the Canadian blawgosphere.

Finally, I thought I’d mention a couple of bloggers from my new home, New Zealand, which has more to teach Canadians about matters constitutional than we tend to suspect. One is Edward Willis, whose blog offers some very thoughtful takes on constitutional law and theory; the other is Andrew Geddis, whose posts on Pundit are always interesting, and will often highlight to Canadian readers the remarkable similarity of the issues faced in our two countries.

St-Hilaire on Parliamentary Privilege

I have been completely snowed under, despite the coming Southern hemisphere summer ― or perhaps because of it, since coming summer means end of the semester, and end of the semester means exams to grade (or to mark, as we say around here). 243 exam papers (or scripts, in Kiwi), to be precise, in my Constitutional Law class (or paper). This is very nearly done, and I hope to resume blogging by the end of the week. In the meantime, my friend, and occasional guest here, Maxime St-Hilaire, will entertain us with a post on parliamentary privilege, cross-posted from the Université de Sherbrooke’s blog, À qui de droit. I am looking forward to it!

The Chief Justice and the Law

The CBA National Magazine’s blog has just published a blog post of mine that comments on the speech which Chief Justice McLachlin gave at the “Supreme Courts and the Common Law” symposium held at the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Law last week. I argue that the Chief Justice misunderstands the history of the common law, and that this misunderstanding results in her believing that courts need no longer be constrained by precedent, doctrine, and perhaps even statutory and constitutional text in their quest for “truth and justice.” This leads me to ask:

Does the Chief Justice believe in (the common) law? All law means constraint, first and foremost for government officials ― judges among them. Constraining officials, as well as having rules announced in advance for citizens to follow, provides predictability. If judges do not regard themselves as bound by the law, the Rule of Law’s promise of limited government and certainty is an empty one.

The Chief Justice’s speech was, I confess, quite shocking to me. While I have never found warnings of judicial autocracy especially compelling, it illustrates the fact that all persons who exercise power, including judicial power, are liable to get caught up in the belief in their own importance to the world, and to dismiss any constraints on their world-saving actions as inimical to the greater good. When the Chief Justice retires within the next couple of years, I will not be sorry to see her go.

A Fourth Cheer

My thanks to my readers on the blog’s fourth birthday

Yesterday, this blog turned four. Its fourth year has, I am afraid, been marked by occasional periods of extended silence, as was trying to finish my dissertation. Still, I have managed to come back every time, and to keep going. I have also got some very flattering accolades from the judges of the Clawbies and from an actual judge of the Federal Court of Appeal. Benjamin Oliphant and I have also produced a couple of papers which originated, in part, in some blog posts of mine, including this one from this past year (and in part in one of his).

As on previous blogging anniversaries, I take this opportunity to thank all of you, my readers, for giving me some of your time, and also for bearing with me when I go quiescent, to borrow again Judge Richard Kopf’s wonderful expression. I wish I could promise that I will be more regular in my postings, but my life might be a bit too chaotic for that for next little while. (I hope there will be good news amid the chaos, but everything in its time.) Please keep coming back, and I will at least try not to disappoint you.