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IANAL

Dr. Conspiracy

I am not a lawyer (not a doctor either), but folks who are not lawyers have opinions about the law, myself included.

My own legal education has come from a variety of sources, not the least of which is the Law and Order television show. I also learn from listening to what lawyers say here and elsewhere, reading cases, books and listening to Public Radio. All of that has led to the formulation of some strong heuristics (rules of thumb and general principles) that I use to form legal opinions about new situations that arise. Those rules of thumb are informed by my overall sense of morality and fair play–even my religion. My legal heuristics are honed by argument with any and all comers.

Many Obama citizenship denialists also seem to have their own heuristics, very different from mine, that inform them on a multitude of issues. I say that they are pretty much all wrong because they keep losing in court. We all suffer from a confirmation bias, but it is a disproportionate disadvantage for people who are cranks.  The legal concept of “standing” is a great example of a pitfall that has tripped up virtually all of the lawsuits against President Obama on eligibility issues. It’s complicated and not intuitive, at least not at first.

Having said all that, I remind myself that I am not a lawyer; I am an amateur, a hobbyist. When I apply my heuristics, I am often wrong. Critical thinking outside of historical context can only get one so far. Fortunately for me, I keep one heuristic at the forefront that keeps me out of trouble: “I am not a lawyer.”  I am also not too arrogant to ask for advice.

13 Responses to IANAL

  1. avatar
    Scientist September 17, 2010 at 6:48 pm #

    Unlike science, which attempts to discern the workings of nature, the law is a purely human construct, so the idea of how one distinguishes a correct from an incorrect idea is less obvious. In science, if you said, “Water consist of 2 nitrogen atoms and 1 molybdenum atom”, it would be rather simple to say unequivocally,”You are wrong”. However, in the law, if one says, ” Standing requires that you suffer a harm different from that of all other citizens”, the task of falsifying that statement is a bit more difficult. All one can do is submit the question to judges and let them decide. Is it possible judges can decide cases incorrectly? Absolutely. But let’s look at some elementary probability for a moment. Let’s pretend that when a judge throws out a birther case, there is a 50% chance he is wrong (p=0.5). Actually, the odds are more like p=0.000001, but I’l be generous here. Now what are the odds that all 70 judges are wrong? That would be 0.5 raised to the 70th power, or 8.5 x 10^-22 which is a very, very, very small number. So, after 70 cases, I feel quite confident in saying the birthers are very, very very likely to be wrong.

  2. avatar
    Slartibartfast September 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Scientist: Unlike science, which attempts to discern the workings of nature, the law is a purely human construct, so the idea of how one distinguishes a correct from an incorrect idea is less obvious.In science, if you said, “Water consist of 2 nitrogen atoms and 1 molybdenum atom”, it would be rather simple to say unequivocally,”You are wrong”.However, in the law, if one says, ” Standing requires that you suffer a harm different from that of all other citizens”, the task of falsifying that statement is a bit more difficult.All one can do is submit the question to judges and let them decide.Is it possible judges can decide cases incorrectly?Absolutely.But let’s look at some elementary probability for a moment.Let’s pretend that when a judge throws out a birther case, there is a 50% chance he is wrong (p=0.5).Actually, the odds are more like p=0.000001, but I’l be generous here.Now what are the odds that all 70 judges are wrong?That would be 0.5 raised to the 70th power, or 8.5 x 10^-22 which is a very, very, very small number.So, after 70 cases, I feel quite confident in saying the birthers are very, very very likely to be wrong.

    As another graduate of the ‘Law & Order school of law’ (I’m not a lawyer, but I watched one on TV ;-)) and a fellow scientist, I completely agree with your point – either all of those 70 judges were corrupt or the possibility that the birthers are correct is infinitesimal. That at least explains why the birthers rush to call any judge who rules against them treasonous…

  3. avatar
    Sean September 17, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    I once had a birther accuse me of practicing law without a license because I was commenting on what the law is and is not.

    He said he was a lawyer and said he was going to turn me in.

    He also said he was going to stalk and brutally beat me.

  4. avatar
    JoZeppy September 17, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    Being an actual graduate of a law school (and one of the better ones at that), and being an actual lawyer, I can say there are times where like science, you can look at something and say, “that’s wrong.” You usually don’t see them, because most of the time people have enough sense to go to a real lawyer who will tell you, “don’t waste your money on litigation, because you don’t have a case.” One of those instances is tax payer standing. It’s one of incredibly obvious cases that when you’re studying for the bar, they spend a whole minute on the subject. “If it mentions standing and tax payer in the same sentence, and there is no mention of religion, read no more.” This is one of those black letter law, no brainer things that are few and far between.

    Now the birther lawyers were asleep when this was discussed (and we’ve what we can expect from their paralegals). And since they have this horrible addiction to the phrase “we the people” (I sometimes wonder if it’s actually terrets), they pretty much put a giant spot light on the fact that what they’re arguing tax payer standing, and need to be dismissed as fast as the judge’s clerk can type an order dismissing the case for lack of standing.

  5. avatar
    Arthur September 17, 2010 at 10:31 pm #

    Dear Doc C.:

    Admittedly, I have a salacious turn of mind, but the title of your recent post “IANAL” reminded me of my other favorite vanity plate, “ASSMAN.”

  6. avatar
    Majority Will September 17, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    Arthur: Dear Doc C.:
    Admittedly, I have a salacious turn of mind, but the title of your recent post “IANAL” reminded me of my other favorite vanity plate, “ASSMAN.”

    I thought it was a weird, rectal MP3 player from Apple. A wholly moving experience.

  7. avatar
    DavidH September 17, 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    Neither am I a lawyer, but I think the cases can be explained without an understanding of standing. There is not a shred of credible evidence to support any of the theories. In order to get the attention of the court, you must have at least the appearance of probable cause.

  8. avatar
    Arthur September 17, 2010 at 11:24 pm #

    Majority Will:
    I thought it was a weird, rectal MP3 player from Apple. A wholly moving experience.

    Oh, you mean the I-PROD! Yes, I’ve heard of that too. Not my bag ‘a shells, but I guess I’m out of synch with these asinine times.

  9. avatar
    Majority Will September 17, 2010 at 11:38 pm #

    Arthur:
    Oh, you mean the I-PROD! Yes, I’ve heard of that too. Not my bag a shells, but I guess I’m out of synch with these asinine times.

    L M iA O

  10. avatar
    SluggoJD September 18, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    I am not ANAL!

    Dr. C, you’ve got guts!

  11. avatar
    Sef September 18, 2010 at 6:08 pm #

    Oh lovely! Now I won’t be able to think of Asimov’s famous S/F series in quite the same way as before.

  12. avatar
    Keith September 18, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    IANAL either. But I can read.

    Call me masochistic if you will, but I actually enjoy reading some of the late Victorian language in some of the SCOTUS rulings like Wong Kim Ark, but especially two of the tax fraudster’s favorite rulings to try to twist Pollack and Brushaber (Edwardian that one).

    I mean really! Subordinate clauses! Whoda’ thought it was possible?

    Its a real hoot when people cut and paste the rehearsal of the petitioners complaint in the ruling and try to claim that it is upholding the complaint and thousands of people have misread and misapplied the rulings for the last hundred years.

  13. avatar
    ellid September 18, 2010 at 10:48 pm #

    I’m not a lawyer, but I was a legal secretary for eight years, most of it in working for litigators. A “paralegal” like Leonard Daneman wouldn’t have gotten through the door, let alone been hired.