Professor Obama on sexuality, gender and health

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Must reading for all law profs – the NY Times has published eight of the exams (scroll to bottom of link) given by Barack Obama while he was teaching at the University of Chicago Law School, together with two sample answers, one course syllabus, and commentary by Akhil Amar, Randy Barnett, John Eastman, and Pam Karlan (all at the same link). Obama did not produce any legal scholarship – he was after all, simultaneously with adjunct teaching, also a practicing lawyer, state senator (for part of the time), and, perhaps even then, a presidential wannabe.   But the legal academy is clearly the loser. His exams and especially his model answers reveal a cool, critical intelligence applied to the trickiest legal issues.

Naturally, since sexuality, gender and health are my primary fields, I looked for questions relating to these issues. I was not disappointed.   Almost every exam includes a question that involves sexual orientation or reproductive rights or a combination. His 2001 con law exam, a few months after September 11, contained a question involving bioterrorism.

The model answers are elegant and supple, with no easy outcomes.   This is clearly a professor who would give an A for an analysis with which he personally disagrees.Indeed, his model answers are too smooth to give away what position he would himself endorse.

Most readers of these materials will probably nonetheless search them obsessively for clues to what Obama really believes. To me, the most important aspect of this window into his thinking lies not in his answers, but in which questions he found intriguing and rich enough to build an exam around. Consider the 1996 con law exam (Part I), in which students had to analyze a “Preserving Family Values Act (PFVA),” that prohibited furnishing infertility services to homosexuals.   This was seven years prior to Lawrence v. Texas, although even today the Equal Protection Clause analysis would be centered on Romer v. Evans, then only a year old. Read Professor Obama’s analysis of that aspect of the hypothetical statute (pp 5-6). Not bad. He passes my test for presidential.

Nan Hunter, cross posted from

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