A new law blog you should be reading (with a post on Quidditch)

May 14

My friend and law school classmate Richard Re will be starting as an assistant professor at UCLA law school next fall. Richard previously guest-blogged his recent article attempting to provide a formal justification for the exclusionary rule, and he has now started a blog of his own — “Re’s Judicata.”

I really liked the first post, on the Supreme Court’s decision in Schuette. It is too hard to excerpt only a part, so here it is:

When I read Justice Sotomayor’s powerful Schuette dissent, I found myself thinking about Quidditch, that favorite game of constitutional scholars and other wizards.

As Justice Sotomayor recounted, Schuette arose from political disagreement in Michigan as to the appropriateness of race-based affirmative action in higher education. To simplify the back-story, several years ago Michigan universities had more or less decided that affirmative action was a good idea and began to implement it. At that point, opponents of affirmative action could have engaged in political action to change university policy, such as by lobbying board members. Instead, Michigan voters adopted a referendum that prohibited state universities from making admissions decisions based on race, including race-based affirmative action. To trump the referendum, proponents of affirmative action would have to engage in their own state-wide political movement. For that reason — and with ample support in case law — Justice Sotomayor viewed the referendum as a procedural faux pas. As the Justice put it: “Michigan voters changed the rules in the middle of the game.”

That’s what made me think about Quidditch. If you’ve stuck with me this long, you probably know how the magical game is played, but in case you don’t, here’s the basic idea. Wizards and witches fly around on broomsticks essentially playing soccer. Meanwhile, there is a highly maneuverable, fast-fling object (the “golden snitch”) also fluttering around. For reasons that only JK Rowling knows, if you catch the golden snitch, then your team wins — right then and there. Obviously, the existence of the golden snitch has nothing to do with creating an easy plot device for a certain owl-eyed protagonist to turnaround losing matches and thereby instantly become Quidditch MVP. But I digress. The point for now is this: there is nothing inherently objectionable about having two parallel sets of rules: one that is just incrementally scoring points toward an ultimate total, and the other that trumps all the normal points and thereby brings instant victory. Boxing, for instance, is similar: you can win slowly on points, or you can score a knockout.

To me, the Michigan referendum — whatever its merits or demerits generally — does not seem like a mid-game rule change. Rather, it seems to be a product of the fact that state politics is a multi-level game, like Quidditch. You can “win” slowly, one university or board representative at a time; or you can “win” all at once, through something like a referendum. Of course, when a boxer scores a knockout or Harry miraculously catches the golden snitch, folks on the losing side are obviously going to be disappointed and frustrated — and they may well demand a rematch. But they also lost, fair and square.

I look forward to more posts.

UPDATE: Further thoughts on the rules of Quidditch for you quibblers.

Will Baude is an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, where he teaches constitutional law and federal courts. His recent articles include Rethinking the Federal Eminent Domain Power, (Yale Law Journal, 2013), and Beyond DOMA: State Choice of Law in Federal Statutes, (Stanford Law Review, 2012).
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