Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Graduation Speech

The following is a speech I wrote to present as a candidate for my law school's graduation student speaker (the graduation took place earlier today). Though I wasn't chosen to speak ,and the student who ultimately gave the speech was excellent, I thought I would post the written version of my speech online:

On a Sunday afternoon in August 2005, we arrived at school to have our pictures taken in Golding Lounge and to receive our orientation materials. Little did we know that those pictures would be the last time we would look so relaxed. Three years later, after toiling through long nights in the law library and after heeding dire warnings that missing any one of the endless series of mandatory career service information sessions would prevent us from graduating or, worse yet, would require us to watch a video recording of the information session that we missed we are now about to receive our diplomas, accompanied by the customary exhortations to apply our extraordinary education and freshly minted JDs to achieve excellence in our chosen profession, without forgetting of course to pass the bar exam on our way up.

Before we look ahead I would like us to step back in time for a moment and imagine that those pictures in Golding Lounge were never snapped. I would like us to imagine a world without lawyers. No doubt, many outside this theater will be quick to conclude that our world would be a better place. They might say that lawyers only make life more complicated and contentious. But what would a world without lawyers really involve?

This past fall in Pakistan, General Musharraf disbarred lawyers en masse and ousted the chief justice of the Supreme Court, leaving bloodshed to fill in the vacuum where the rule of law once stood.
By contrast, lawyers and judges in our own country have helped to ensure the integrity of political processes without resort to civil unrest.

Recently, I took a class field trip to the federal women’s correctional facility in Danbury, CT. We left at 7AM at an hour that is much earlier than law students – and law professors – are ever expected to be functional. Admittedly, many of us arrived at the bus with a headache, a result of the previous evening’s activities after our crushing loss to our uptown rivals (Columbia) in our annual head to head charity basketball game. In a meeting at the prison that we had with several inmates, one woman in particular stood out. Vicky, who has no law degree or formal legal education, has dedicated herself to becoming the prison’s resident legal scholar. Unlike many of us sitting here today, she can actually shepardize a case by referencing the bound court reporters without clicking on Lexis and Westlaw. Vicky stood out because she spends virtually all her free time in the law library and counsels every newly-arrived prisoner on her rights to appeal. She does this precisely because most of the prisoners do not have effective lawyers representing them. “Remember” she told us before we left, “there’s freedom in these books.” There is freedom in these books.

Our collective experience at NYU Law School has led us to the realization that the law provides us with a key that will unlock many doors in front of us and in front of the clients for whom we work. Two years ago, I traveled to New Orleans to aid in the massive relief effort that took place after Katrina, as part of NYU Law School’s inaugural Alternate Spring Break program. The work and energy that we brought to New Orleans and, as our Alternate Spring Break program has expanded, to communities throughout the country, have helped pave the way for individuals to move ahead in their lives. In the classroom, our law school professors have given us the tools to resolve complex problems and issues that affect real people. Besides our formal training, the bonds that we have formed with one another and that sustained us these past three years will continue to provide support as we move forward in our personal and professional lives. Our minds are sharper and our horizons have been expanded because we engaged each other in substantive debate, forcing us to think critically and also to respect opinions different than our own.

Our achievements as law students allow us to imagine what we will accomplish when we take off our cap and gown and begin our careers in earnest. Because of our work, merger agreements will be completed, securities regulations will be enforced, and labor rights will be applied. We will improve the welfare of our local communities by advocating for laws that protect groups of individuals routinely disadvantaged in our country. We will push for democratic reforms and accountability around the world.

Today, we know that a world without the NYU Law School Class of 2008 is a world that will not be a reality. And the world will truly be a better place for it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I Did It


Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Primary Must Go On

The following post is adapted from a recent email conversation I initiated on one of my school listservs:

Based on an informal survey of emails that I've seen posted online recently (it didn’t take rocket science), the majority of speakers seem inclined to think that Obama’s nomination is inevitable at this point. I disagree, but I think everyone knows I’m not an impartial observer on this one.

A few comments:

#1: Thus far, the Democratic Party primary has been most notable for the fact that it is (not entirely, but at least mostly), a truly democratic election and the candidates have remained pretty civil towards each other all things considered (especially compared to the full-on body slamming that McCain and Romney were engaging in during the Republican primary debates). Sure, those of us in New York might be experiencing election fatigue, but imagine what it’s like to be a resident of Indiana or North Carolina right now. Primary votes are usually worth less than the paper they’re printed on in those states, and in a few days residents there have the chance to have a major say in picking the Democrats’ presidential nominee.

#2: I think McCain is a formidable candidate no matter when the Democrats pick a nominee. However, if the long primary were really hurting the Democrats’ chances of beating McCain in the general election, then McCain should have been able to raise more money while the Democrats fight it out. Instead, he’s had to commit to public financing because he can’t raise enough on his own. There’s also an advantage to holding off on picking the nominee because so long as there are two candidates on the Democratic side McCain doesn’t know who to target. Finally, at least in Obama's case, there's an advantage to being fully vetted by the Democrats and going through a rough patch now before he faces the barrage of attacks that are sure to come his way in the the general election.

#3: Fighting an uphill battle and having no chance to win the nomination at all are two very different things. Hillary right now is engaged in the former kind of race, not the latter. With a win in Indiana and a narrow margin of defeat for her in North Carolina – both of which are realistic outcomes – Hillary makes a convincing argument why she should be the nominee, while Obama’s claim to the nomination will lose the shine it had before the Pennsylvania primary. (If Hillary loses both Indiana and North Carolina then she will certainly be in a weaker position to go on). Yes, it will be up to the superdelegates to select the ultimate nominee, and yes, they might contravene the “will of the pledged delegates.” But, that was exactly what the Democratic Party intended when it decided that a mere majority of pledged delegates would not be significant enough to win a primary if no candidate reached a certain threshold of pledged delegates.

#4: Obama doesn’t really need more money for his campaign right now - he already has plenty in his coffers. If you want your contributions to make a difference (and a donation to the Hillary campaign isn’t an option ), then I’d suggest donating to a charity rather than a political campaign. Seriously. If there’s one thing that’s blown my mind in this election, it’s the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent that could have gone to other causes.

Here is some of the (summarized) feedback I received as well as my own responses (This is an "Awake at All Hours Exclusive" since I never sent my responses out to the listserv):

#1: Aren't you contradicting yourself by first praising the primary process for being so democratic, and then saying that the superdelegates should go with Hillary even if she doesn't have the majority of pledged delegates?

No. The role of the primary voters is to indicate who they want as the president. Each state then divides its "pledged delegates" among the Democratic candidates in proportion to the votes that each candidate received in their respective primary. The Democratic party made a decision in the 1980s that when no candidate reaches a somewhat arbitrary threshold of 2,025 pledged delegates (not counting Florida and Michigan's tally) then the superdelegates had to make up the difference so that one candidate could reach the threshold and secure the nomination. The superdelegates were not created as a majoritarian body, and while they may consider which candidate has the majority of pledged delegates they are not bound to. Super delegates can also consider other important factors, such as which candidate has greater momentum going into the general election and which candidate has a stronger base of support, as well as nonimportant factors, such as which candidate is more likely to win a game of head-to-head Trivial Pursuit. The point is that superdelegates can decide who to support for any reason or no reason at all. You can criticize the candidates if you disagree with their positions, but you can't criticize the candidates for playing within the rules of the system that the Democratic party set up.

#2: I'm a Democrat, but if Hillary wins I may just stay home in November because of the image I now have of her.

That's an unfortunate response and I've heard variations of it from people supporting both camps.
I also think it's unlikely that many voters will act on this threat once the general election comes around. In reality, the policy differences between Hillary and Obama are small, so Democrats who traditionally support the party's platform should be able to unite behind the eventual nominee. Also, while no one is obligated to exercise their right to vote, boycotting an election is generally an ineffective way to impact policy or political change.

#3: Why is making contributions to Hillary's campaign more worthwhile than making a contribution to Obama's campaign? All she's going to do is spend it on commercials advertising her tax holiday, canceling her debt owed to Mark Penn or pay off the $5 million in debt her campaign owes to her.

For people who aren't Hillary supporters I would definitely not encourage them to contribute to her campaign. At this point, however, Hillary needs the money to continue getting her message across to voters and to pay off the debt that her campaign has incurred so making a contribution to her campaign would make a difference in terms of her ability to get the nomination. Obama on the other hand - and he deserves major kudos for this - has not incurred debt and has enough money to carry him through the end of the primary season on June 3rd while still outspending Hillary on advertising. For that reason, I believe that contributing money to a charitable organization will have a greater net impact on bringing positive change than would contributing to Obama's campaign.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Reading of the Names

I have a lot to write about, but unfortunately no time to write since I'm in the midst of finals and have a paper due tomorrow. I did however want to write this brief post, which is a repeat of a post I wrote last year.

Tonight (Wednesday night) begins Yom Hashoah - the day of commemoration for those people killed in the Holocaust.

At the 24-hour reading of names of some of the six million Jews who perished, and which I attended earlier tonight, I read the names of the following family members, hoping that they will be remembered so that this horrific event will never be repeated.

On my maternal grandmother's side:
-Artur Fischl, my namesake and my grandmother's father
-Tilly Fischl, my sister's namesake and my grandmother's sister
-Maria Fischl, my grandmother's mother
My grandmother's uncles: Otto, Paul and Hugo
Hugo's children: Hans, Otto and Hugo's daughter (name unknown)

On my maternal grandfather's side:
-Telsha and Volushu Baum, my grandfather's cousins
-Joseph Gerstmann, my grandfather's grandfather