Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ethics v. Morals, III

Back when I'd been out of law school just over a year, there was an article in the New York Times Magazine by Scott Turow in which he urged a greater connection between law school and legal practice with particular focus on the "moral issues that govern law."

I wrote a lengthy letter in response, from which the Times ran three paragraphs:

I agree with Scott Turow's call for serious exploration, in the law schools and out of them, of ''an understanding of the moral issues that govern law.'' But I am also concerned about what seems to me a misunderstanding, by Mr. Turow and much of the profession, of what those moral issues are.

When Mr. Turow reports his public vindication from charges of unethical conduct and provides as evidence a statement by the public integrity section of the Justice Department that he and his superiors in the Justice Department had not violated any law, he shows a blindness to the issues he addresses. It is the same blindness that former Attorney General Edwin Meese 3d showed in his similar declaration that he was vindicated when the independent prosecutor decided not to seek an indictment against him.

It doesn't matter, here, whether Mr. Turow or Mr. Meese actually did violate any rules, laws or ethical standards. What matters is that neither one can see that it is possible to adhere to every rule and code around and still be immoral.
Which brings me to former Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales.

As you probably know, he's going to be teaching political science this year at Texas Tech University (where I taught English for a number of years and where I went to law school). It is, I suppose, no surprise that a number of the faculty (including some friends of mine) think Gonzo too ethically challenged for the job (a PC way of saying they think he's a crook and a fool and should be in prison, not given an opportunity to corrupt young minds and pretend to be able to teach anything of consequence and to be their colleague, fergodssake) and have signed a petition protesting the appointment.

In this week's New York Times Magazine, Deborah Solomon's Q & A page is with Gonzo, and she raises that point with him.
Some 70 professors at Texas Tech have signed a petition that protests your appointment and cites your “ethical failings,” including misleading Congress abut the firing of nine federal prosecutors. What will you tell your students about that?
His answer, and you might expect this, both avoids the implications of the question and defends, sort of, his position.
All the inspector-general investigations, they’re now over with. They found that I had not engaged in any criminal wrongdoing.
La plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

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