Monday, December 03, 2007

A tale of two Carolinas

Tale of Two CitiesIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

— Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Courtesy once again of Not Very Bright, I've had the opportunity to encounter an extraordinary juxtaposition of letters to the editor in The Greenville (S.C.) News.

One of the letters exhorted other readers to "[h]onor accomplished South Carolinians":
For years South Carolina has had the unfortunate reputation of an inadequate school system. However, from this state came Charles Townes, Nobel Prize winner for the laser and one of America's greatest scientists, and Louis Wright, great scholar and historian, who headed the internationally famous Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. for more than 20 years.

Charles TownesI beseech the wealthy of South Carolina, bring honor upon yourselves, endow the Charles H. Townes Chair at Columbia University, New York City, where he created the laser, and the Louis B. Wright Chair at Wofford College, Spartanburg. Show the world our reverence for intellectual excellence.

Louis WrightCharles Townes is a young 92 years old. Louis Wright is deceased, but his spirit lingers. He coupled world-class scholarship with masterful writing. Wright's autobiography, Barefoot in Arcadia, is an American classic. To the ancient Greeks, Arcadia was paradise, and Wright's childhood paradise was lower Greenwood County 100 years ago.

Wright's classic and Charles Townes's autobiography, How the Laser Happened, should be required reading of every college freshman in this state.
Matthew HensonMoneyLaw heartily endorses the idea that financially fortunate people should honor heroes who are meaningful to them, by reason of geography and/or personal history. At The Cardinal Lawyer, my "institutional" blog, I've exhorted fans of Justice Louis D. Brandeis to honor him by supporting the law school named for him. For reasons I've explained in this forum, I am partial to Matthew Henson, a Maryland-born Arctic explorer who inspired my fourth-grade teacher and for that reason will always inspire me. I've made a pilgrimage to Annapolis to see Henson's statue in the Old State House and would contribute something toward an academic chair named in his memory.

And so we come to the Greenville News' other letter to the editor, which lamented how "[t]wo sets of rules govern our society":
It is comforting to see that the good old boys of South Carolina politics are still on their comfortable throne, dictating to the high and low, the policies of the land. It is comforting to know that their power and wisdom even extends to who should be admitted as lawyers. It is comforting to know that their communication system is honed with such fine precision that just a phone call or two from the right elected legislators or legislatively elected judges to the judicially appointed committeeman can correct test scores by other judicially appointed minions so that chosen legislators' and judges' children need not suffer the consequences of lesser mortals.

South Carolina Supreme CourtIt is indeed comforting to see that divine destiny in South Carolina politics, continues to thrive — albeit under the cover of darkness and struggling to avoid the flashlight of media inquiry. It is very discomforting to know that the law and those who "practice" it are still getting it wrong and that it really still depends on who you know and whose side you are on.

I thought a basic premise was that members of the legal profession and members-to-be are bound to avoid the "appearance of impropriety." But then, I forgot, that there are a totally difference set of rules for judges, legislators and political good old boys and their families and friends. How silly of me.
There really are two South Carolinas. In one, good people urge their children to follow the example set by Charles Townes and Louis Wright, and even better people work and give so that other people's children can in fact fulfill their ambitions. In the other, bad people make clandestine phone calls to cover their children's failure on the bar exam, and even worse people pervert the institutions of state government into instruments of corruption. I know which South Carolina is worth living in, worth fighting for, worth defending with our lives and sacred honor.

I know, I know. I've spent more time and energy than I ever imagined I would in covering South Carolina's bar exam scandal. But South Carolina as archetype symbolizes the American South as a whole, and as that state goes, so goes the rest of this region. Whether South Carolina offers hope and promise or corruption and cronyism to its youth can be gauged by the handling of its bar exam scandal. That state stands on the verge of a possible shift in historic paradigms. It indeed is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair, we have everything before us, we have nothing before us, we are all going direct to heaven, we are all going direct the other way.

And if I or any other skeptic of the South Carolina Supreme Court's decision should ever fall victim to the skeins and schemes of our adversaries, I do offer these words of comfort: It is a far, far better thing that we do, than we have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that we go to, than we have ever known.



Blogger The Blue South said...

Thanks for the insight on this tragedy of errors. As a future member of the SC Bar, I have become disillusioined with the legal system of my state over the past couple of years in law school. Although I continue to work hard and enjoy some success, I have found that my original thoughts that there was some room for a meritocracy in SC's bar have been bashed into the ground repeatedly. My only comfort in the system now is my ability to change it, to stay above the fray, to continue in my refusal to accept unearned favors, and to somehow, hopefully, set an example for my peers. I will say that there are several like me at my school, several who are smarter and more principled. I see the tide slowly turning in my state and I ask that people like you not give up, but continue to apply pressure from the outside. I only hope that the pressure from within can match it.

12/04/2007 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing something to expose this part of SC. This is indicative of how the state operates. USC law students learn early on that we can not practice in state unless we accept the business as usual culture that rewards the right kind of natives. If we don’t, we are encouraged to go elsewhere. However, there is hope that the state will be different for our children and grandchildren. Modern America is coming across SC’s borders from Georgia and NC. To the chagrin of many, the culture may slowly be changing.

12/04/2007 10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. My views are as follows:

1. I am not afraid of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

2. If I later realize I should have been afraid of the South Carolina Supreme Court, I can always get another teaching job somewhere else. (And I will mail Jim Chen the very first resume!)

--Ann Bartow

12/04/2007 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If it brings any comfort at all, consider the possibility that the problem in South Cacalacca has less to do with a well-placed phone call, and more to do with a finely honed media spotlight. Remember, telephones can call long distance just as easily as next door. Just because this surfaced in South Cacalacca doesn't make it a local problem.

12/05/2007 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How people with INTEGRITY treat a "scrivener's error":

12/11/2007 11:34 AM  

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