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Law lecture challenges contemporary views of law education

Professor Pesser speaking at the podium to students in the Moot Courtroom (Photo by Ohio Northern University/ Trevor Jones).

Professor Stephen B. Presser gave a lecture to a crowd of law students in the Moot Courtroom titled with the question, “Do Law Professors Understand American Law?” on Tuesday February 16th.

Presser’s credentials include undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University and his academic research has made him an expert of constitutional law. His lecture is part of a “book tour” for his recently published book “Law Professors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law."

The lecture is somewhat experimental for Presser, as he has been tweaking it and changing it throughout several presentations, one of which was at the Federalist Society. Presser began his discussion by asking, “What is it that law professors think about? How is it that we come to this particular pass that we are at now? Do law professors really understand the law?”

Presser addressed the political element of society and the recent election of President Trump. He focused on the division within our system and the clustering of electoral votes for President Trump that show the division. 

Over 1,400 law professors from institutions such as Harvard, the University of Chicago and Stanford University signed a letter that stated Jeff Session’s confirmation for Attorney General should be denied based on his personal life that kept him from being confirmed under the Reagan administration. They also expressed concern about pieces of the Trump campaign, such as immigration and clean energy. The letter ending with, “We urge you to reject his nomination.”

This is one example Presser used to show the conflict between law professors and lawmakers who are becoming political. He gave the responses by other law professors that oppose the action taken by the 1,400 law professors, with sharp criticism at the evident partisanship from their position. Presser quoted other professors who called the 1,400 individuals “Partisan Hacks.”

One of the voices against the 1,400 professors was Ohio Northern University’s own law professor Scott Gurber, who pointed out that this partisanship has happened before and alluding to Clinton’s impeachment. 

Presser then moved the discussion to focus on the way law used to be taught without the palpable political influence. James Wilson, the first American law professor to teach law following the idea that the law is composed of timeless principles, is product of inspiration. Wilson said common law can work in the U.S. during the constitutional convention. 

Law moved into a state where judges alter the law to fit the needs of the time. 

The life of the law is not logic; it's experience. Is that right?”

Presser’s motives in the lecture involve the shift in how law has been treated. He said, “There’s a traditional understanding of law and a rule of law,” and added, “But over the past 50 to 60 years we have lost sight of that.”

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