Friday, 16 May 2008

Defining judicial activism

My OTB co-blogger James Joyner considers the question of what constitutes “judicial activism” as part of the broader debate over California’s same-sex marriage decision yesterday. The admittedly imperfect definition I use—and, kids, this is the one that’s the right answer on my American government exams—is “a tendency for judges to oppose the will of other courts or branches of government.” Mind you, that activism has a long and proud history and not one confined to liberal justices either.

In the case of California, given that just a few years ago the people of that state, acting as its lawmaking body through its public initiative process pursuant to its constitution, decided to legally define marriage as involving one man and one woman, I think you can fairly characterize the California court’s ruling as “activist.” That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong ruling under the constitution and laws of that state, but it’s not deference to either the will of the people or the executive branch either.

On the morality of bullshit degrees

Margaret Soltan is on the case of yet another diploma mill fraud, this time the head of Jackson Academy in one of my former hometowns.

All involved apparently recognize that Pat Taylor’s doctorate is garbage. Yet I am forced to wonder how much we should really be bothered when Taylor could easily have gotten his degree from an accredited and moderately-well-respected institution such as, say, SIU Carbondale, where the standards for doctorates in educational leadership don’t seem to be significantly higher at least in some individuals’ cases. If the credentials in an entire field are deeply suspect to begin with, whether the degree was bought from Uncle Bob’s House of Academia and Animal Husbandry or “earned” at Harvard really doesn’t seem to make that much difference.

Things that are icky about R

Andrew Gelman notes that the default graphics functions suck and that R has no real idea that all numbers aren’t conceptually signed floats. Gelman is told that the default graphics functions aren’t the ones we’re supposed to use these days (e.g. Trellis graphics a.k.a. lattice and a bunch of stuff I’ve never heard of before today is preferable) and that R does have some idea that all numbers aren’t floats, but you have to convince R that the numbers you have aren’t floats, or something.

I think Gelman wins the argument by default.

Them boys are commencin'

Congratulations to all of my former students who are graduating this week or thereabouts. It’s certainly hard to believe that the freshmen I taught in Fall 2004 at Millsaps in my first year of full-time teaching are now going to be college graduates—I officially now feel old.

Having a gay old time in California

My office-neighbor just observed that state supreme courts seem to have a lousy sense of timing when it comes to inserting same-sex marriage into presidential election year agendas.

I tend to agree with Timothy Sandefur’s view that the California Supremes made basically the right decision for the wrong reasons. I think the right solution, broadly speaking, is to formally decouple the civil and religious institutions of marriage (as is essentially the practice in a number of religions anyway, most notably Catholicism)—confer legal recognition only on civil unions licensed by the state (or recognized as common-law unions, where applicable), with criteria that are constitutionally permissible under strict scrutiny (for example, requiring that all parties be humans, limiting the number of participants, and requiring them to be of legal age of consent—no Rick Santorum or Warren Jeffs fantasies here), and make marriage something that can only be recognized by religious institutions or civil society and can be decided based on whatever criteria they choose. If the Washington Times and the Pope don’t want to say that Adam and Steve are “married,” so be it; if Adam and Steve want to say they’re married, more power to ‘em.

A pipe-dream, I know. But a man can hope, can’t he?