Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Introducing Ahmadinejad: Bollinger and abusive advocacy

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Ali Khan [Washburn University School of Law]: Lee C. Bollinger is what you may call crème de la crème. His credentials as a law professor, a legal scholar of the First Amendment, the former dean of the University of Michigan Law School, and now the President of Columbia University have been incredible. With these many feathers in his cap, one would bet Bollinger has mastered the art of dignified advocacy. His indecorous manners in challenging the Iranian President at his Monday appearance at Columbia, however, caught many by surprise.

Ignoring the calls that Ahmadinejad, whose views on the holocaust are hurtful, should not be invited to a prestigious American university, Bollinger invoked the First Amendment to defend the invitation. But once the Iranian President was captive on campus at Columbia, Bollinger turned on the guest. With well-prepared ill-will and rehearsed abusive language, Bollinger squirted a barrage of curses, calling the Iranian President "a petty and cruel dictator… a dishonorable man...stunningly uneducated … fanatical…ridiculous, and more."

I wonder if Bollinger ever learned in the law school that curses do not make effective arguments. Imagine Bollinger with his abusive rhetoric in a court of law addressing a highly sophisticated jury. Imagine Bollinger with his abusive tongue combating with the opposing counsel in a hotly contested case. Imagine Bollinger with his abusive words unleashing the Socratic dialogue on a student whose views Bollinger considers are extreme.

Judges repeatedly complain that too many lawyers fall for bad manners in advocating cases. Most bad manners are bad speech manners, including inappropriate and insulting words. The New York Lawyer's Code of Professional Responsibility demands that a lawyer be temperate and dignified. Bollinger had the ability to be a much more effective advocate of the legitimate points he was making. Courteous language carries tremendous power to disarm a foe, including a professor from Tehran. The disagreeable language allowed under the First Amendment is not critical for effective advocacy or a meaningful dialogue. It now appears that the First Amendment Bollinger was invoking to defend the invitation was indeed for his own speech. See Advocacy under Islam and Common Law