(The Return of) Ignatz, by Sam Heldman

Saturday, February 26, 2005

that elusive thing called 'truth'
In high school I had a physics and calculus teacher who taught us to ask ourselves, upon working out what we thought was the answer to a math problem, whether that putative answer had "the ring of truth." Does the number you came up with seem to be of about the right order of magnitude? Is it a messy number when you expected a neat one? That sort of thing. Some people had an ear for the ring, and others didn't; I did, it turned out.

I was thinking about this earlier today when pondering, once again, the sperm-gift case discussed below. I keep thinking that you could do a whole semester in law school about various angles on the sperm-gift case; everything that you need to know about how to be a lawyer can be gained through meditation on, and vigorous discussion of, the sperm-gift case. I am not joking, in case you are wondering.

I was going to say that one of the lessons is a very important one for nearly every lawsuit and for public discussion of nearly every lawsuit: nobody, except maybe the parties to the case, can claim to know what the facts are until the case is over. Then, while it may be fun for people to criticize the fact-findings of the designated fact-finder (judge or jury), there's really not much point; it was somebody's job to find what the facts were, and that "somebody" wasn't you or me. So, even though my "ring of truth" detector suggests to me that the allegations of the plaintiff (male) are probably false -- i.e., I would bet that the pregnancy happened the old-fashioned way, as the defendant says -- I don't know and neither do you. And it is very very important that lawsuits not be dismissed based on what a judge's "ring of truth" detector says before hearing the evidence.

Then I was going to point out that so very many commenters and pundits ignore this important point, for fun or profit. You will be hearing a lot of this in the upcoming week, I bet, when the federal government (probably) files its petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case about whether law schools have a constitutional right to exclude military recruiters in protest of the military's anti-gay policy. You will hear people say that such action by law schools is horribly detrimental to the national defense, and impairs the ability of the military to attract top lawyers, and burdens students, and so forth ... and they will not tell you that in the case at issue there is absolutely no evidence of those things at all. That was, in fact, a large part of the point of the appellate court's decision, which the Supreme Court will likely be asked to review.*

So I was all ready to post something to that effect, when I read the lower court decision in one of the Ten Commandments cases that the Supreme Court will be hearing next week. You can find it on this page; it's the Texas case, involving a big stone Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas Capitol and State Supreme Court. And the Fifth Circuit, upholding the display and rejecting the constitutional (establishment clause) challenge, says: (a) the State's purpose in putting up the display wasn't to promote religion -- it was to thank the Fraternal Order of Eagles for all their good work on behalf of kids!!!, and (b) a reasonable observer would not infer an official endorsement of religious belief, but would think, "oh, this is just in reflection of the impact that the story of the Ten Commandments has had on our secular legal tradition!"

And my ring-of-truth detector went haywire and started smoking.

* I wrote an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in the case, which you can download from this site.

posted by sam 11:40 AM 1 comments


Pretty good post. Of course, if the Court decides to ignore what's at issue in the case and recount imaginary harms as if they were facts in order to reach the Court's 'correct' results, it sure as hell won't be the first or the last time, for them...

By Blogger Swan, at 10:58 PM  

Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger


email: first name@last name dot net