The Right Coast

November 03, 2005
For God, for country, and for the usual reasons
By Tom Smith

I knew him when, at the Yale Law School (hat tip to a loyal reader):

Guido Calabresi, a former dean of the Law School who now serves as a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, said Alito's preparedness and emerging legal acumen were evident in Calabresi's first-year torts class.

"I remember his exam, and I remember that it was lucid, well-written and that he had an imagination which, like many first-year students, he was careful about exercising," Calabresi said. "He was careful to walk before he would run."

The technical term for this phenomenon is "confabulation." I mean, seriously. A first year torts exam from thirty years ago? I can barely remember my own life thirty years ago. I took torts from Guido and actually attended many of the classes, and I remember it only vaguely. I have not the faintest recollection of what I wrote on my exam. Guido is much smarter, richer, and more accomplished than I, but I simply do not believe it. And I say that as a Catholic, a Republican, a middle aged novice surfer, and someone whose spouse still tells him he is good looking, i.e., a person prepared to believe a lot of improbable things. By way of disclosure, I should say I certainly hope my teachers at Yale do not remember me, since I was, in retrospect, pretty insufferable, but then, in my own defense, so were many of my teachers. I cut many classes, it is true, but my teachers showed only trace evidence of remembering me while I was there. It could be like something out of an Oliver Sacks book -- remember me, we were just talking? No? Well, two exceptions I can think of. George Priest complimented me strongly on my Antitrust exam, but I had the impression he might have been confusing me with somebody else, since it was not such a great exam I wrote. But maybe not. In any event, George has written some nice letters for me over the years. The other event occured because I had the misfortune to run into Michael Graetz at graduation while I was with my parents, one of whom was a state court trial judge at the time. I said something self-deprecating about my final exam, and Professor Graetz confirmed it was indeed notably lousy in front of my father. The exam was, in truth, a piece of excrement, but really, have some manners, dude. As my mother would say, what a pill. Professor Graetz went on to give an impressively stupid and self-serving speech to our graduating class, which every one stood up to applaud at the end, including, to my shame, me (peer pressure), except for Tony Kronman, who remained in front of everyone, seated and applauding only politely. Say what you will, the man is a stud. Well, bright college years, but enough of that.