Constitution Daily Update: Booker closer to Senate, lawyers as an endangered species

Newark Mayor Cory Booker took a big step on Tuesday night to becoming the highest-profile Democrat in the U.S. Senate; also, a look at Justice Anthony Kennedy’s remarks on the legal profession.

512px-Cory_BookerWednesday, August 14, 2013

Items To Watch

1. Cory Booker’s win in New Jersey’s Democratic Senate primary is a national political story for several reasons. The Washington Post believes Booker, if he wins easily in November as expected, could quickly become the highest-profile Democrat in the Senate. Booker will also be a counterbalance to New Jersey’s top Republican, Chris Christie.

2. Military drones may have met their match off the battlefield. Drones have raised plenty of Fourth Amendment and legal issues at home, but as the website The Hill says, the upcoming sequester cuts in October could be the biggest threat to the Defense Department’s desire to upgrade the drone fleet.

Developing Questions …

Here are some updates on new discussions about top-of-mind constitutional issues.

1. Are quality lawyers becoming an endangered species?

In a speech to the American Bar Association, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy warned that this nation of lawyer-statesmen, as the organization has often touted its leaders, is at risk of turning into a collection of second-rate lawyers.

A draft report by the Illinois state bar association tentatively finds that the $150,000 to $200,000 debt burden of new graduates of law school makes it hard for small firms to hire and keep good young lawyers and difficult for public interest organizations to hire and keep good young lawyers, so many more are turning to underfunded solo practices, where they barely make enough to service their law-school debt and don’t have much time for pro bono work.

Heavy debt drives lawyers from rural areas, reduces the diversity in the legal profession, and seems to cause ethical problems: young lawyers carrying debt “may take work beyond their level of competency, face financial pressures to prolong litigation, or terminate a representation inappropriately if a client has difficulty paying.”

Justice Kennedy cast a spotlight on a problem affecting the whole legal profession, including elite firms.

A series of announcements of lay-offs at big firms led The New Republic and the NCC to sponsor an event about “The End of Big Law.”

The dramatic change in the global and American economies since 2008 has forced major changes in hiring and firm structure at big law firms. It has also transformed law schools, causing a grave crisis for schools because of the severe drop-off in applications and raising fundamental questions about what schools should be teaching now. (Justice Kennedy said more skills and based on experience of what lawyers do.)


It was on this day in 1935 that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. The act was a cornerstone of Roosevelt’s New Deal program.

Closing Notes

1. Legendary political journalist Jack Germond has passed away at the age of 85. Germond was also familiar to a generation of TV viewers from his appearances on PBS’s “The McLaughlin Group” and other shows.

2. The eminent historian Pauline Maier has also died at the age of 75. Say MIT, “Her work often recast conventional wisdom about 18th-century America, reconstructing long-forgotten public debates over the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution while bringing crucial figures in American political history into sharper focus.”

Editor’s note: The Update is a summary of news and commentary about the Constitution and related issues, as reported around the digital world. Guest contributors and our editorial staff add to the daily update, and we welcome your suggestions (and reports) at [email protected].

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