How meaningful is the Obama-Tribe connection?

Here’s one we can file in the ever-expanding “much ado about nothing” category. The New York Sun reports that, as a law student, Barack Obama assisted Harvard’s Larry Tribe with an article Tribe wrote for the Harvard Law Review called “The Curvature of Constitutional Space: What Lawyers Can Learn From Modern Physics.” The Sun claims that Obama’s view of the Constitution is “hinted” in Tribe’s piece.
I read the Tribe article when it came out. I thought it was a fascinating and in some ways brilliant piece, but quite misguided. Without getting into the details, few of which I remember, let’s just say that Tribe didn’t think lawyers (and judges) can learn judicial restraint, originalism, or strict constructionism from modern physics.
But it’s difficult to believe that Obama had anything to do with the substance of this article. Although Tribe has been accused of plagiarism in connection with one of his books, and there were suggestions that a Harvard student wrote portions of that book, the “curvature” article is surely Tribe’s work. It is Tribe, not Obama, who has the background in higher math and physics, and this creative flight of the intellectual imagination has the Tribe feel to it, and certainly not that of a student. I’d be surprised if Obama contributed anything beyond research to the article.
That’s not to say that Obama’s theory of the constitution differs substantially from Tribe’s. But the same is almost certainly true of Hillary Clinton. John Edwards’ jurisprudence probably focuses on how to coax juries into awarding huge verdicts, but if he gets around to thinking about constitutional law, he’s likely to buy into the same liberal orthodoxy.
The Sun article also wonders whether, as president, Obama would nominate Tribe for the Supreme Court. The answer is that, at 65 years of age already, Tribe is too old. Expect the next several Democratic nominees to be at least 15 years younger than Tribe.
JOHN agrees: Paul and I knew Larry Tribe in college (he was Harvard’s debate coach at the time), and I took a couple of classes from him in law school. While we have come to disagree on a wide range of issues, I have only fond memories of my own contact with Tribe. He was, as Paul says, a math major. There is no conceivable way that he would have let a law student like Obama influence this sort of work, in either its mathematical or legal dimension, in any material way.
What Obama would have absorbed in law school was the conventional liberal view of the Constitution: 20th century professors and law students are more enlightened than the Founders; Constitutional law is a vehicle for enacting policies too advanced for the voters of the time; “liberal” decisions are entitled to the deference of stare decisis, while “conservative” decisions are forever up for grabs. These characterizations are too crude for Larry Tribe, who is a lot smarter than Senate Democrats like Ted Kennedy, Chuck Schumer and Barack Obama. His jurisprudence, unfortunately, would pretty consistently wind up in the same place.
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