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Justice Scalia’s commencement speech at William & Mary Law School

Last weekend, Justice Antonin Scalia delivered a commencement speech at the College of William & Mary Law School. And unlike with most of Justice Scalia’s speeches, 1) it wasn’t about originalism or interpretive theory, and 2) it is available online.

From the beginning:

I have a philosophy of commencements. They are not for the benefit of the graduates, who would probably rather have their diplomas mailed to them at the beach. They are for the pleasure and satisfaction of the graduates’ families and friends, who take this occasion to observe and celebrate a significant accomplishment on the part of those whom they love. In that respect a commencement is like a wedding or baptism: the primary participants in those events would rather be elsewhere as well. Since that is the nature of a commencement, it does not much matter what the commencement speaker talks about. He can talk about whatever burr is under his saddle, so long as he does not go on too long.

And this, on whether he believes law school should take only two years:

It is a current proposal for reform that law students should be permitted to sit for the bar exam and otherwise be eligible to practice law after only two years of study. . . . I vigorously dissent. It seems to me that the law-school-in-two-years proposal rests on the premise that law school is — or ought to be — a trade school. It is not that. It is a school preparing men and women not for a trade but for a profession — the profession of law. One can practice various aspects of law without knowing much about the whole field. I expect that someone could be taught to be an expert real – estate conveyancer in six weeks, or a tax advisor in six months. And maybe we should train such people — but we should not call them lawyers.

And then there is this one:

In more than a few law schools, including some of the most prestigious (the University of Chicago, for example), it is possible to graduate without ever having studied the First Amendment. Can someone really call himself an American lawyer who has that gap in his compendious knowledge of the law? And can a society that depends so much upon lawyers for shaping public perceptions and preserving American traditions regarding the freedom of speech and religion, afford so ignorant a bar?

I am all in favor of more students taking constitutional law courses, but I am not quite sure why Justice Scalia picks on the University of Chicago as his example. I am pretty sure that one can graduate from Harvard, Yale and Stanford without taking the First Amendment, too (Harvard, like Chicago, does not require constitutional law, and I don’t think the intro course at Yale or Stanford necessarily includes the First Amendment, though some faculty may cover it briefly).