In Class with Marty from Highland Park

Article excerpt

I can still remember my first day as a student in Marty Redish's first-year class in constitutional law. Our section was very strong, containing two future members of the law school's clinical faculty, a student who would later teach at Oxford, and a disproportionate number of students who would eventually serve on this Law Review. The section was also quite outspoken, with many members holding strong views and not hesitating to give them voice. Every day was an intellectual challenge as we struggled to grasp what Marty was trying to teach us and grappled with the ideas advanced by our classmates.

I did not know any better at the time, but I now recognize the immense breadth of the material we covered. The typical first-year constitutional law class focuses only on structural issues, such as federalism and the separation of powers. Marty covered those subjects as well as substantive due process and constitutional standing as part of a three-credit introductory class. Now that I teach law myself, I can appreciate the scope of what Marty shared with us.

All of that was lost on me at the time. What I remember most were the moments of humor and the way that zingers used to fly across the classroom. No quarter was asked for, and no quarter was given. Early on in the class, when Marty was trying to explain to us what it meant to be a Hohfeldian plaintiff, he mentioned in passing that the ultimate honor that could be bestowed on legal academics is to have their name turned into an adjective. For the rest of the semester, a group of students were determined to work the term "Redishian" into the classroom discussion as often as possible.

Every student of Marty's will always remember his frequent references to "epistemological humility" and his other distinctive turns of phrase: "Whose Constitution are you interpreting, ours or utopia's?" "Is it just a matter of whose ox is being gored?" "Rights don't have rights; people have rights." "That proves too much." And of course, "A wet bird flies at night," the phrase he used to describe language of a judicial decision that he thought represented a type of code that only the cognoscenti understood. Some enterprising students even turned some of Marty's most memorable sayings into a bingo card and waited every class to see who, if anyone, would be lucky enough to get five in a row. I am sure all of this was lost on Marty. Now that I am a law professor myself, I am amazed by how little professors know about what goes on in their classrooms.

Any class taught by Marty from Highland Park could not pass without some mention of sports. The most memorable such occasion occurred following the University of Michigan's loss to the University of North Carolina in the NCAA basketball tournament after its biggest star called timeout at the end of the game even though the team did not have any remaining. …