Remembering Dan Markel

July 22, 2014

Ilya earlier noted the death of FSU law professor Dan Markel, who was shot in his home in circumstances that remain frustratingly unclear but now look like an intentional homicide. I originally planned not to post a remembrance, as many others have done so and I wasn’t sure I could add anything new. But I now think that there’s no harm — and perhaps some good — in the possible repetition implicit in this sort of writing. So here are some fond recollections of my friend Dan.

I first came to know Dan around 2002, when he moved to DC to practice law at Kellogg Huber and I was in my second year of teaching at GW. We had a ton in common and became friends, hanging out socially and often commenting on each other’s articles and ideas. Dan left DC in 2005 to teach at Florida State, and we then kept in touch mostly by seeing each other at conferences. I last spent a lot of time with him two summers ago, when we sat next to each other at a conference for a full week. And I last communicated with him just two weeks ago, when we were messaging over Facebook about a blog post he had written.

To me, the most remarkable part of Dan as a person was that he was so happy bringing people together. If you walked into a room and Dan was there talking to someone, he would invariably wave you over, say “Hey Buddy!,” and introduce you to the person he was speaking with. He was delighted to help others make connections. He was always the guy who organized the happy hours and made sure new people met more senior scholars. If you were a new professor who didn’t know anyone at a conference, Dan would take you under his wing and introduce you to everybody. He wanted everyone to schmooze and click with the rest of the group. The less comfortable a person felt, the more efforts Dan would make.

Dan also stood out for the intensity and seriousness with which he took his work. Some law professors are smart people who wrote a few articles, got their foot in the door, but along the way lost their interest in ideas. Not Dan. Dan was passionate about his ideas, and he thought deeply about what he was saying and why. At that summer conference two years ago, Dan and I spent around an hour debating whether it is better for new scholars to start their careers by joining preexisting conversations or trying to start new conversations. I argued that the better strategy was to start a new conversation (more likely to lead to a unique contribution); Dan believed that the best strategy was to join a preexisting conversation (more likely that the scholar will focus on something serious and important). It’s the kind of academic topic that even a lot of law professors consider just navel-gazing. But to Dan it was a hugely important issue, as it raised fundamental questions about what law professors should be doing and why.

Dan was also one of the most stubborn people I know. He would get ideas in his head about the way the world should be, and darn it, that was the way the world should be. This no doubt annoyed some people. But it was also his most endearing quality. Sure, you could roll your eyes and laugh at Dan’s eccentric reaction to this or that. But you always knew that when you talked with Dan, he was telling you exactly what he was thinking. Dan wasn’t timid or cautious: He was completely open and unfiltered about what was on his mind. Witness Dan’s involvement with the Federalist Society despite himself being very liberal. To him, it didn’t matter that he was an ideological outlier. He was in it for the ideas, and he was going to tell you exactly what he thought.

Anyway, I’m sure these limited thoughts can’t do justice to Dan, so I’ll conclude by linking to my three favorite remembrances of Dan that other friends of his have posted. Each captures different aspects of Dan, and each is a wonderful tribute to him. First, here’s Dave Hoffman at CoOp. Next, here’s David Lat at ATL. And finally, here’s Abigail Shrier in the Jewish Journal.

Dan, buddy, I’ll miss you.

Orin Kerr is the Fred C. Stevenson Research Professor at The George Washington University Law School, where he has taught since 2001. He teaches and writes in the area of criminal procedure and computer crime law.
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