By William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection
You thought it was bad that law students at Columbia, Harvard, Georgetown and Berkeleydemanded exam delays because of the failure of grand juries to indict in the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner?
The original story is from the UCLA Daily Bruin, Law school exam question on Ferguson shooting draws criticism:
Some students at the UCLA School of Law have expressed concerns after a professor asked an exam question this week relating to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, in Ferguson, Mo.
The exam, given by Professor Robert Goldstein in Constitutional Law II, asked students to write a memo related to the Ferguson shooting. Some students who took the exam said they found it difficult to write about the incident in terms of the first amendment while ignoring issues such as police brutality….
Hussain Turk, a second-year law student who took the exam, said he thinks the question was problematic because he thinks exams should not ask students to address controversial events. He added that he thinks the question was more emotionally difficult for black students to answer than for other students.
“These kinds of questions create a hostile learning environment for students of color, especially black students who are already disadvantaged by the institution,” Turk said.
Goldstein apologized for the question in an email.
“I recognize … that the recent disturbing and painful events and subsequent decisions in Ferguson and New York make this subject too raw to be an opportunity for many of you to demonstrate what you have learned in this class this year,” Goldstein said in the email.
Goldstein added that he will discount scores students receive on the question if it lowers the overall score of the student.
In an email statement, law school Dean Rachel Moran said the question was intended to have students examine the Clear and Present Danger Defense.
“In retrospect, however, he understands that the question was ill-timed for the examination and could have been problematic for students given the anguish among many in our community over the grand jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases,” Moran said.
Eugene Volokh, also a UCLA law professor and whose post has the full exam question (see below), notes among other things:
… I think the original question was perfectly proper, and I don’t agree with the criticism of the question. The question doesn’t penalize people for having particular personal opinions on the subject. Like most law school exam questions, it just asks them to discuss how the precedents apply to the facts, in the process explaining the arguments on both sides….
Questions about restrictions on Koran-burning or the Mohammed cartoons can be upsetting to Muslims. Questions about abortion rights, or anti-abortion picketing, can be upsetting to those who view abortion as the modern Holocaust, or to people who have had abortions, or to people whose prospective children have been aborted by ex-lovers who didn’t share the person’s desire to let the child be born. Questions about the Hobby Lobby case can be upsetting to people who are appalled at the very prospect that the government would suppress their religious freedom rights, and force them to be complicit in what they see as mass murder. Questions about gay rights, or about anti-gay-rights speech, can be upsetting to gays and lesbians, or to people whose deeply felt religious beliefs are constantly derided as bigoted and tantamount to racist.
The list could easily go on. Indeed, note that this question isn’t even about racial epithets, or racist speech used against blacks; apparently its mere connection to the Ferguson verdict was enough to lead to condemnation. If people accept the view that such questions are improper, it’s hard to see how that view would stop at this particular question.
You will not be surprised that I have little tolerance for the whining and hyper-sentitivies exhibits at numerous law schools.
Here’s the full exam question, in case you are interested:
Question I (35 minutes)
CNN News reported: On Nov. 24, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert McCulloch announced in a publicized press conference that Police Officer Darren Wilson (who has since resigned) would not be indicted in the August 9 shooting of Michael Brown. Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, was with hundreds of protesters assembled outside the police station, listening on loudspeakers and car radios when they learned Officer Wilson was not being charged. Standing on the hood of a car, Mr. Head embraced Michael Brown’s mother. Mr. Head asked someone for a bullhorn but it was not passed to him. He turned to the crowd, stomped on the hood and shouted, repeatedly, “Burn this bitch down!”
Police Chief Tom Jackson told Fox “News,” “We are pursuing those comments … We can’t let Ferguson and the community die [as a result of the riots and fires following McCulloch’s announcement]. Everyone who is responsible for taking away people’s property, their livelihoods, their jobs, their businesses — every single one of them needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
County Attorney Robert McCulloch asks lawyers in his office whether to seek an indictment against Head by relying on a statute forbidding breach of the peace and another prohibiting rioting (six or more persons assembling to violate laws with violence). A recent hire in the office, you are asked to write a memo discussing the relevant 1st Amendment issues in such a prosecution. Write the memo.
I understand a law student not being able to handle the question intellectually.
It’s not an easy exam question, particularly if you haven’t listened during class or studied for the final exam.
But please leave the excuses at home.