Bricker, you are not a law professor

To extend Bricker’s stupid atom/molecule metaphor:

Poster: How many atoms of water are in a glass of it?

Bricker Scientist: You can’t have atoms of water. You’re wrong, wrong, wrong. The question is meaningless. I’m right! I win!

Actual Scientist Who Isn’t a Pendantic Asshole: Well, while you said atoms, I think it’s pretty clear you meant molecules. So to find out how many molecules there are, you’d first have to know the dimensions of the glass. Can you tell me the glass’s dimensions?

Bricker, you’re trained as a lawyer, so you are familiar with a lot of the let’s say mechanical intricacies in the law; how it’s made and how it works.

The rest of us, however, us non-lawyers, live in a world largely shaped and guided by the same law. The law, in other words, is relevant to all of us. While we may not be able to deconstruct it with at the same level of minutiae that you are, we are nonetheless absolutely entitled to express our opinion or experience of it. I do not have to be a lawyer to earn the right to express my experience of the law.

I didn’t see THAT coming!


You’re surprised by someone being pedantic on the Dope? We argue semantics here. It’s what we do.

Of course.

But is it really valid for you to say, “Prohibiting fake medals violates the First Amendment!” and then defend that statement as your experience of the law?

I don’t think it is. I surely think you can say, “It doesn’t feel right to criminalize fake medals,” or “We shouldn’t criminalize wearing fake medals.”

But when you say, “It’s against the First Amendment to criminalize the wearing of fake medals,” it seems to me that you’re making a specific claim, about a specific fact and law situation. And to me, that takes it out of “It’s my experience…” and into “No, this is the actual law.”

But that’s not how it went.

You have Poster asking a question, not making a statement.

If the thread had gone like that, then we’d have seen:

Poster: Is the law Constitutional? Doesn’t it violate the First Amendment?

And I would have said:

Me: No, the law is perfectly Constitutional.

Instead, we had a pretty strongly phrased claim of certainty, which, in your water example, might have looked like this:

Poster: A glass of water can contain no more than 6.022 x 10[sup]23[/sup] atoms of water!

And my response, along the lines of:

Scientist Me: No. You’re thinking of Avogadro’s number, which refers to a mole, has nothing to do with a glass, and if you’re talking about water, it would be molecules, not atoms, since every molecule of water contains three atoms.

Well, what is against the First Amendment? Only what the Supreme Court says violates it. Which can theoretically change at any time that a new case presents itself.

When I, as a layperson, say “This violates the first amendment!” I’m not saying that “Current caselaw and legal precedent say this violates the first amendment!” I’m saying “This violates the principles of the first amendment as I understand them!”

To put it another way - whether or not a law violates the first amendment is a matter of fact, but it is not fixed fact. Ergo, when most laypersons talk about it, they’re in the realm of opinion.

Just out of curiosity, what if there was no prevailing statute or case law on the matter, but merely a longstanding convention?

(emphasis added)
Perfectly Constitutional? Not even presumptively Constitutional, but perfectly? So this law has been before the Supreme Court? Could you please cite the case? Reiterate the fact pattern? Not cases that you think will support your position. Not cases that are close. Not reasoning or analysis of the situation. The only way time can make such a claim (or similar) in Professor Bricker’s class is when referring to a past case and only as far as how that case worked out. Or so went your hijack.

This is the essence of the conceit.

Sorry, I can’t work up much righteous indignation about Bricker correcting a point of law. Error is never trivial or irrelevant. I don’t know about others but when I post something that’s wrong I’d expect my fellow Dopers to correct me, whatever forum I’m in, and be grateful for being so corrected. It’s what we do here, isn’t it?

And if we’re in Great Debates, and your opinion is based on … opinion… and I’m arguing the side that has the law on it, I should still feel restrained from pointing this out to you?

OK, fair enough. Presumptively constitutional. Not “perfectly,” although I’m not sure how something could be imperfectly constitutional. But I ceratinly won’t run shrieking from the thread now that you’ve intruded upon my “experience” of the law. You made a point, it’s better than what I said, so I acknowledge the correction.

See, here’s my problem with the way you argue these things, Bricker.

The Constitution is a legal document. Hell, it’s the founding legal document of an incredibly complex and successful nation. The laws of that nation require that the Constitution be interpreted, and we have specific people assigned with the responsibility of determining whether particular laws violate the Constitution. Furthermore, the decisions those people make in such cases are binding legal decisions; they not only make an interpretation, but they effectively constrain in certain ways the legal decisions that come after them.

Because of all of this, there is a necessity and a benefit in being precise about what the decisions are, and what legal status they give to certain actions. To take the thread in question, it is relevant to note that Congress has passed a Stolen Valor law, and a federal court with the appropriate authority has ruled that the law does not violate the Constitution.


As well as being a legal document, the Constitution is also a political and historical document, and as such is something that can be analyzed and interpreted without necessarily deferring to the decisions of Congress, or of a federal judge.

I can’t speak for other people, but it is often the case that, when i make a general argument about something violating the Constitution, i am usually NOT saying “This particular things has been found by the courts to violate the Constitution.” The point i am generally making is that, “This thing violates (the principles of) the Constitution.”

For example, i’m well aware of some of the arguments about “ceremonial deism” used by the courts to argue that things like “In God We Trust” on the money do not violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment. I also recognize tat these decisions have legal weight, and that any attempt i might make to have those words removed from the currency would run headlong into that legal precedent.

But i also still believe that having “In God We Trust” on the money IS a violation of the First Amendment, in the sense that, no matter what decisions the august justices of the Supreme Court might have taken, i think that their arguments on this issue are little more than sophistry, and that the whole “ceremonial deism” argument is uncompelling bullshit, and doesn’t change the fact that this stuff violates the principles of the First Amendment.

That is, in many cases, especially when offered by a layman, the argument “X is unconstitutional” is actually an argument that “X violates the principles of the Constitution as i understand them.”

Of course, your next argument will probably be, “Well, if that’s what you mean, then you should say that.” But the fact is that, in most cases, it is perfectly clear, to anyone who wants to see it, that this is the type of argument that people are making. I don’t believe that you are stupid enough not to realize this, so i can only conclude, in many of these cases, that your attempts to ignore the broader principled arguments and focus only on the strict legal issues is designed to either turn the argument in a direction where you feel you have an advantage, or deflect the other person from the substance of the argument they were trying to make.

In my experience it won’t make a difference. You will still be met with the retort of “yeah, but the courts and the law say it IS constitutional! I win!”

Yeah, I side with Bricker on this one. Sorry, if people are going to put forth falsifiable opinions (yes there exists such an animal) or propositions (in any forum, but GD especially) having to do with Constitutionality or other points of law, I have no problem with someone well-versed in the subject clarifying and/or correcting.

In other words, rather than assume he made a mistake, you’d rather assume his motives were bad. Why not just assume that, like every other nitpicker on the board, he has a tendency to notice technical mistakes, particularly in his field, and doesn’t notice what the poster really meant?

Smart, rational people make mistakes all the time. Heck, they’ll often make the same mistake over and over until they are called out on it, just like everyone else. It would make far more sense to point out that mistake and ask them to do better, rather than insult them.

Save the insults for the real assholes.

You mean like assholes who quote a 10-paragraph post when they’re only actually responding to about two sentences?

I wasn’t insulting Bricker. I’ve made similar points to him before, and so have other people. His mode of legal argumentation can be very interesting and valuable, but it also gets on my tits at times, and he’s a big boy and can take the criticism. It could well be that his legalism is something he can’t help–maybe doesn’t even want to–but even if the motivations are not exactly as i described, the effect is the same for the people he’s debating with.

No, actually, it often isn’t. IME, people frequently opine on issues without any idea as to what courts have already ruled, or even that it has already been addressed. It’s very a easy, and very common, mistake to make, and it leads to pointless arguments between people who don’t neccessarily disagree.

Frankly, I wish all posters, including me, were as precise as Bricker in their writing.

So, on a message board devoted to fighting ignorance you have a problem with a lawyer fighting ignorance of the law?

That seems mighty strange.

It also seems that you are expecting Bricker and others to know what <insert poster here> intended to convey instead of what was actually written. That doesn’t work very well.


Amazingly enough, there exist more than just legal questions about the content of the Constitution.