Among the legions of devotees of the O.J. Simpson trial in the United States, some of the most devoted are the five classes of sophomores I teach at an inner-city high school in Jersey City. For my students, the Simpson trial is something of an obsession, a sentiment that is, I concede, encouraged by this self-confessed O.J. junkie. This fascination is not simply prurient or voyeuristic (though there is no doubt some of that); the trial has been a terrific teaching tool that has helped to illuminate aspects of the American history curriculum I teach.
The Senate Judiciary Committee this week debated a bill that would abolish the exclusionary rule, which bars illegally seized evidence from criminal cases. Instead, the bill would let victims of unreasonable searches sue the government for tort damages. "This hearing is an interesting and worthwhile academic exercise," intoned Senator Joseph Biden, who proceeded to browbeat the Republican's star witness, Akhil Amar of Yale Law School. Amar, a liberal Democrat, wrote an article in 1994 that criticized the exclusionary rule as a betrayal of the original understanding of the Constitution.
Your legal correspondent has been doing his part to keep this magazine 100 percent O.J.-free. My resolution to miss each moment of the trial of the century began out of indolence and has now blossomed into a ripe affectation. The truth is that I've always had an aversion to celebrity trials: the soap operatic narratives spun out to arouse the passions of jurors leave me alternately indifferent and uncomfortable; and the messy particularity of actual human experience tends to obscure the abstract legal principles that make my heart race.
George Stephanopoulos turned up at the Supreme Court last week, sitting next to Joel Klein, the deputy White House counsel. Their joint appearance seemed to illustrate the administration's anxiety about the case, Adarand v. Pena, in which the Court is being asked to strike down racial preferences in the construction industry that have been endorsed by every president since Nixon. But Klein assured me afterward that Stephanopoulos, who had never seen a Supreme Court argument before, had come along purely out of curiosity. He picked a good day.
On December 14, 1994, a federal judge in Los Angeles enjoined the state of California from enforcing Proposition 187, which would deny health, education and welfare benefits to illegal aliens and their children. The case eventually may reach the Supreme Court; and Governor Pete Wilson has called on the justices to overturn a 1982 decision, Plyler v.
"Let me begin," says White House aide David Dreyer, "by contesting the premises of your question." It's a windless evening in November, and Dreyer is in his West Wing office, listening to a new recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and defending the role of Tony Coelho, for whom Dreyer once worked, in the Democrats' electoral debacle. "First," he says, "Tony was not the party chair. He was never, to my knowledge, actually in the dnc building. Second, the role of party chair in a midterm election is relatively unimportant anyhow.
Hugo Black: A Biography by Roger K. Newman (Pantheon, 741 pp., $30) On February 17, 1960, at New York University, Justice Hugo Black defended his judicial philosophy against the sneers of Felix Frankfurter and Learned Hand. "Some people regard the prohibitions of the Constitution ... as mere admonitions which Congress need not always observe," said Black in backhanded response to Hand's lectures at Harvard two years earlier. This approach, which "comes close to the English doctrine of legislative omnipotence," Black could not accept.
Those with sympathies for Bill Clinton might be tempted—perhaps rightly—to view last Tuesday's election returns as an unmitigated disaster. Never mind sympathies; condolences seem in order. Newt Gingrich as speaker? Pete Wilson re-elected handsomely; moderate Democrats like Dave McCurdy and Jim Cooper humiliated; icons like Ann Richards and Mario Cuomo smashed. Worse still, Senator Alfonse D'Amato now controls the Banking Committee and the governor of New York. Let the Whitewater hearings begin!