I’m happy to be here, and I’ll try to hold down the fort while Michael’s out of town. This is the first blog I read every day; I can’t really live up to Michael’s standards, but I’ll give it my best shot.
As Michael explained in his too-complimentary introduction, I’m a law teacher. The O’Connor resignation, though, has been reminding me of the year I spent, way back when, working for the Justice Department. Late in the year, Harry Blackmun announced his resignation, and I found myself part of an ad hoc team putting together a memo for a White House working group on the decisions of Richard Arnold, an Eighth Circuit judge then being considered for the top job. I got the gig helping to summarize Arnold’s jurisprudence not because of any merit of my own, and not because I’d done anything like this before (I hadn’t), and not even because I worked for a unit of the Justice Department that was concerned with such things (I didn’t), but pretty much by happenstance. I thought we wrote a pretty good memo, considering that none of us had ever vetted a potential Supreme Court Justice before, and we were making up our procedures as we went along.
What I began to realize then, and came to realize much more fully later on, is that government decision-making routinely is undertaken, with the best of intentions, by people who have never been in this situation before and are making it up as they go along. I was working for the government again a few years later — this time for the Federal Communications Commission — and found myself part of an interagency group trying to figure out what to do about the domain name system. That was the process that brought you ICANN. And the most salient facts about it were that (1) we had the best of intentions; (2) we didn’t have a lot of humility; and (3) we didn’t know what we were doing. And it showed.
Don’t get me wrong. I like government. Some of my best friends have been in government. And these were the good guys — while I got a pretty good sense of the clueless and humility-free tendencies of government back then, nobody during the Clinton Administration was so hubristic and detached from reality as to pop off and invade another country at the cost of more than 1700 American lives, more than 20,000 Iraqi lives, and incalculable damage to U.S. foreign policy interests — so far, with only quagmire in our future. (That’s a matter for another post, I guess.) I did come away with the firm lesson, though, that one should never overestimate the extent to which government players (or anyone else) know what they’re doing, or have done it before.