I commend to you Jeffrey's Rosen's article in this Sunday's New York Times Magazine, which describes the experiences of former University of Chicago Law School Professor Jack Goldsmith in the Bush Justice Department. Goldsmith and I overlapped briefly on the faculty. During most of his time at the Law School, I was serving as Provost of the University. But we got to know one another, and I was much impressed with his intelligence, integrity, and judgment.
Goldsmith and I disagreed about many issues. I am a civil libertarian. As Goldsmith says in the Rosen article, he is not. We therefore often came to quite different conclusions about the appropriate limits of government power, particularly in the realm of individual rights. In our discussions of such issues, Goldsmith was always smart, open-minded, and thoughtful. I learned a lot from him. I hope he felt the same about me. In some ways, our mutual respect, friendship, and colleagueship despite strong differences of opinion, like my more long-term relationships with Dick Posner, Richard Epstein, and Bill Landes, represent what is truly best and most unique about the culture of the University of Chicago Law School.
I knew that Goldsmith's stint in the Justice Department had been difficult for him, but I was not among his inner-circle of confidants and therefore never knew any of the details. But when people attacked Goldsmith for his presumed conduct within the administration, I invariably defended him (in the absence of clear facts to the contrary) on the ground that he is a first-rate lawyer, a person committed to the rule of law, and a man of character. I am pleased, though not at all surprised, that Rosen's article bears this out.
I commend the article to you for three reasons. First, it provides critical insight into some of the truly profound misjudgments of the Bush administration and confirms what civil libertarians (like me) have long argued about the administration's often blatant disregard for the rule of law. In that sense, I commend it to you both because it is essential that we understand the inner workings of our government when it is constitutionally dysfunctional, and also, I confess, in the rather petty spirit of "See, I told you so!" Second, it provides critical insight into the behavior of a public official (Goldsmith) who has genuine integrity. Goldsmith's behavior provides a fine and important role model for any of us who might someday find ourself in a similar situation. Character matters. Third, for readers of this blog with a connection to the University of Chicago Law School, Rosen's article is especially interesting because so many of the participants are connected to the Law School. Not only was Goldsmith a member of the faculty, but John Ashcroft ('67), Janet Ashcroft ('68), Dan Levin ('81), and Jim Comey ('85) are all graduates of the Law School.