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John Sexton

Education & Law

John Sexton: Well, I think -- look, I was captured for teaching by teachers. There's this one spectacular man in my life named Charlie who -- I was formed at this Jesuit high school that hasn't existed since 1972, but each year a group of us get together. Now, this school has not graduated anybody in 33 years, but we have 600, 700, 800 men at a reunion every year to keep its spirit alive. And, you know, one of them still makes sweatshirts for us, and varsity jackets so we can give them to our kids. And at that high school -- now, this was Brooklyn Catholicism in the '50s, so Joseph McCarthy was an icon. My mother thought Joseph McCarthy was the fourth member of the trinity. But one of our English teachers at this high school was Daniel Berrigan. And people like Berrigan said to us, "It's okay to disagree with McCarthy. And it's okay to disagree with us. But you have to have a reason for your view." And this was a very dramatic thing to be said to a pre-conciliar Irish Catholic in Brooklyn. And they gave us this man -- there were 12 of us that were in an honors class, and we had this man Charlie -- and, as I remember it -- we had him every day, five days a week for three years for a course that was really just called "Charlie." And he started with the cave paintings of Altimara, and percussion music, and he worked his way through the centuries, right up to the 1950s, teaching us simultaneously history, music, art and literature -- in this highly mystical way. This was before anybody thought of the word "interdisciplinary," or ethnocentrism.
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John Sexton

Education & Law

But, Warren Burger invited me to write bench memos that disagreed with him. I understand this is not the stereotype of Warren Burger. But he invited it, he welcomed discussion. There was this one great case -- and he authorized me to tell this story -- it was called Michael M. v. Superior Court, it came out of California, the Rose Bird Supreme Court. And the facts of the case were that a young man, 16 years old, and a young woman 17 years old, had had consensual intercourse. And under the California statute, he was prosecuted for statutory rape. She could not be -- even though he was younger, and she seemed, on the facts, to be the initiator of the intercourse. The Rose Bird California Court declared it unconstitutional. Now this was the same year that the all-male draft was being challenged by the National Organization of Women. And I had been trained, you know, at Harvard Law School by Larry Tribe, and I knew an Equal Protection violation -- you know, you stereotype women, even if it's to their advantage -- you know, I knew the whole argument. And so, I wrote my bench memo on Michael M. to affirm the Rose Bird decision. And then I said, "Let me see if there's any case out there that the briefs have missed." And I found a First Circuit Court of Appeals opinion by a very good judge -- Frank Coffin, a person we lionized at Harvard Law School. And, sure enough, his analysis was the same as mine. So, I said, "This is good. I get an A+ on this paper." It's the first bench memo ever I did for the Chief Justice. And I said, "Let me just check to see if they appealed to the Supreme Court." And lo and behold, they had. Coffin's decision had been appealed to the Supreme Court, and certiorari had been denied. But Burger and Rehnquist had dissented from the denial of certiorari -- and they had indicated that they would have granted certiorari to review it, and they would have summarily reversed it. They said that publicly. They didn't even have to hear the case. It was so wrong, in their view, they would have just reversed it without hearing arguments. So here he was, exactly 180 degrees from where I was, on the public record, about eight or nine years earlier. And I had this crisis of conscience: What do I do? And I ended up putting in the first paragraph, "Sir, you're on record on this -- " -- and so on. And I put my bench memo in unchanged. I said, "I hope, on reflection, you'll see this as the better analysis. This is what I would urge."
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John Sexton

Education & Law

And finally, I make the stereotype argument. And he pounds the desk, and he says, "I don't care if it is stereotype. The fact of the matter is that female virginity is different from male virginity. And someone's got to stand up for basic values. And I'm going to draw the line, and this is where I'm going to draw it." And he's beet red. And, I mean, his argument sounded to me preposterous. And I looked at him. And without realizing what I was saying, I said, "Sir, is that why you feel the way you do about this case? Or is it because guys like you wanted to marry virgins?" And I had no sooner said the words -- I said, "Oh, my God, if he fired me on the spot, he would" -- and I could see the white come down his face as the blood drained. And it seemed like an interminable length of time. And he looked at me and he said, "Didn't you want to marry a virgin?" And it just broke the tension. And he looked at me and he said, "Stereotype. Stereotype." He said, "Don't stereotype me." And he didn't change his vote on Michael M., but it changed our relationship. And I knew from that moment on that he welcomed disagreement. And a book like The Brethren overemphasizes the importance of law clerks, because law clerks were the source of the book that Woodward and Armstrong did. But I'll tell you, I know of cases where conversations he had with the clerks -- and, in one case, with me -- where he did vote differently, even after he had cast his vote in conference, and had assigned the opinion to himself. When he struggled with the opinion, the conversation continued. He switched from 5-4 in one direction, to 5-4 in the other direction, from the initial -- he said, "I'm going to keep the opinion," and it ended up being 7-2; in other words, two other Justices, also upon -- and that gave me great belief in the dialogic process of the Supreme Court at that time -- which has lived with me. You know, it's a genuine process. And it's not what happens in so much of our society, where people are just exchanging slogans, and voting conclusions, and then looking for the reasons and the answer to it.
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John Sexton

Education & Law

One of the problems with tenure is the fact that it protects those people who we ought to be shaming, even though we have tenure. We don't use honor and shame enough.
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Neil Sheehan

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

Neil Sheehan: Initially, we had this great conflict with the commanding general and the ambassador because we were losing the war, and they claimed we were winning the war. When we reporters went out into the field, we saw this army that wouldn't fight, that was led by incompetent officers, who were political appointees, and who were corrupt. Many of them were corrupt. The Viet Cong were getting stronger all the time. The military advisors in the field were telling us also -- confirming -- what we were seeing, that we were losing the war. There was one military advisor in particular, John Paul Vann, who became the main figure of the book I wrote, who was a brilliant soldier, and John was brilliant at analyzing what was going on, and we became their conduit. The commanding general wouldn't listen to the reports he was getting. So the reporters were the only ones who were reflecting what the advisors in the field believed. So we had this tremendous conflict. He claimed we were winning the war, and these young reporters were inexperienced and emotional and we were politically suspect and we ought to be fired.
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Neil Sheehan

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

The staff counsel, the lawyer for the paper hadn't heard anything about this, and he was brought into the room too, and kept saying to me, "Don't tell them this." He kept whispering in my ear, "We may have committed a felony here. Don't tell them this," and I said, "But I have to tell them. It's their responsibility. They're the editors." I held nothing back. I outlined what we had and how explosive it was going to be. We were not going to compromise the national security of the United States, but it was full of political and historical secrets which were going to cause an explosion, because that's what politicians care about. You could print a formula for a nuclear weapon, and that won't really excite them, but if you print something that reflects on their reputations and says they made a mistake, why that drives them right through the wall.
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Neil Sheehan

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

They didn't have a lawyer to even go to court when they got a telegram from Mitchell saying, "Stop publishing and hand over the documents or meet me in court in the morning." Fortunately, they pulled a very good judge who believed in the First Amendment, who was very conservative. He was a Nixon appointee, and it was his first week on the bench, and it was his first case. His name was [Murray L.] Gurfein. He was a Jewish Dewey Republican, which was a rare beast in New York. Most Jewish figures who were involved in politics were Democrats, but not Judge -- what became Judge -- Gurfein, and he had been a very conservative lawyer, but he believed in the First Amendment, and he was a good lawyer. And he said to the government, "Okay. Now show me what's 'Top Secret: Sensitive,' in this." "Well," they said, "It's all." "Wait a minute. You've got 7,000 pages and a million words. It can't all be 'Top Secret: Sensitive.' What is it that's going to compromise the national security?" Because the government came in with a restraining order, with a case that if we continued to publish, it would cause immediate and irreparable harm to the national security. He said, "Okay. Now show me what's going to cause harm," and they couldn't show him anything. This man had been in the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. He had been a colonel. So he wasn't an entire dummy.
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Neil Sheehan

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Journalist

My friend, as I said, Charles Mohr, who worked for the Times, he quit Time magazine for that reason. They asked him to write a story on whether the commanding general and the ambassador were right, or whether the reporters were right, and this is the early period in Vietnam, when we were in the clash of whether we were winning or losing the war. Charley wrote them a story -- he was their Southeast Asia bureau chief -- the first sentence in his report, because he showed it to me, was "The war in Vietnam is being lost." They tore it up and threw it in the wastebasket and concocted out a whole clause, a story in New York, saying that we were making up our stories in the Caravel Hotel bar in Saigon, and Charley resigned over it.
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Alan Shepard

First American in Space

Alan Shepard: I think first of all you have to be there for the right reason. You have to be there not for the fame and glory and recognition and being a page in a history book, but you have to be there because you believe your talent and ability can be applied effectively to operation of the spacecraft. Whether you are an astronomer or a life scientist, geophysicist, or a pilot, you've got to be there because you believe you are good in your field, and you can contribute, not because you are going to get a lot of fame or whatever when you get back. So that motive has to be there to start with.
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