“America’s Political Dysfunction” Conference

It’s a rare occasion when you get to see your law professor raise his or her hand to ask a question. It’s not often you see your professor engaged in a spirited debate with a faculty member of another law school about the holding of a case you studied in constitutional law. It’s not every day that the author of your constitutional law textbook visits your school.

This past weekend, BU Law hosted a conference on “America’s Political Dysfunction: Constitutional Connections, Causes and Cures.” The conference included two days of panel discussions with names like: “Is the Constitution Responsible for Electoral Dysfunction?” and “Has the Constitution Exacerbated the Crisis of Governance?” One of the panels posed the question, “have we reached a dysfunctional situation in which disagreement about constitutional visions is so fundamental that one side’s ideal is the other’s nightmare, and vice versa?”

Those are some weighty questions. Weighty, and also incredibly timely. Although I did not attend every panel, the speakers I heard weaved together politics, history, science, economics, and even behavioral psychology to discuss the causes of recent political gridlock and its connections to the Constitution.

I was also fortunate enough to hear the keynote address by Cass Sunstein of Harvard Law School and the lunch address by Jack Balkin of Yale Law School. In case you’re not up on your constitutional law scholars, these are two of the greats.

Though Sunstein, Balkin, and each of the panel participants (including several BU Law professors) gave fascinating talks on the nuances of the American political process, my favorite part of the conference was listening to the dialogue among the participants.

It is one thing when a relatively uninformed audience member asks a genuine question and the presenter responds, but it is a different dynamic entirely when the audience member stands up and presents his own ideas on the subject – adding a new dimension to the conversation and pushing back on the presenter’s points just enough to provoke an enthusiastic response from the presenter delving deeper into the intersection between their areas of expertise.

Attending the conference was an opportunity unlike any that I’ve had at BU Law so far, and it reminded me of the role of our law professors beyond that of lecturer. In the day-to-day grind of classes, we tend to forget that our professors are working on their own academic projects at the forefront of their respective fields. We forget that our professors are part of a larger community like the one that gathered at BU Law this weekend, and that we as law students are part of a larger community of law students across the country who will be continuing these conversations in the coming decades.

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