After ten years spent riddling over the intricacies of church/state law from the ivory tower, law professor Jay Wexler decided it was high time to hit the road to learn what really happened in some of the most controversial Supreme Court cases involving this hot-button issue. In Holy Hullabaloos, he takes us along for the ride, crossing the country to meet the people and v
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Nearly five years after graduating from law school, I can say with a half-shamed confidence that I almost never read legally-related books off the clock. In fact, I had to create that very shelf on goodreads just to house my electronic musings about this book. What’s wrong with me, you might wonder? Do I not enjoy my chosen profession? Am I really so disinterested in one of the most culturally relevant, intellectually nuanced and vibrant areas of scholarly discourse in this country? Not so. I th
This last point deserves a moment of elaboration. I feel a bit badly about it now, but I didn’t end up retaining all that much from law school, besides a general framework for approaching social and systemic issues and some pretty good strategies for legal problem-solving (and avoiding a question). This isn’t to say that I got bad grades or disliked the material. Sure, I constantly wore a black hoodie in a failed attempt at invisibility, devised elaborate schemes to avoid being cold-called in property class, and smoked a whole lot of cigarettes behind the law tower death star with some other scowling miscreants before and after classes. But I was serious about school (at least, between practices for my black metal band), and generally found it to be a transformational intellectual experience. However, at this point I know for certain that almost all of the facts I learned in law school have atrophied down a rabbit-holed haze of what biopsychologists would term ‘trace decay.’ With a few exceptions, I would fail every single final exam in law school if I were to take them cold now (not to mention the bar exam). Can I currently explain the Supreme Court’s test for whether a search/seizure is constitutional? Unfortunately, no. Can I tell you absolutely anything of value about the circumstances under which evidence of prior bad acts can be admitted into court (any court)? Again, hell no I can’t. So, in short, five years later, reading intense legal scholarship outside of my specialized niche area can be something of a slog — and certainly doesn’t often qualify as recreation.
Which brings me to Holy Hullabaloos (this was supposed to be a book review, right?). No need to fret, non-lawyers and lawyers who might as well not be lawyers based on their level of current knowledge about most legal topics! Part travelogue, part constitutional law primer, this book manages to be a page-turner in a genre I thought categorically excluded that concept. Wexler writes about the development and current state of church/state jurisprudence in a style that manages to be charmingly humble and utterly without pedantry, yet easily conveys his principled viewpoints and depth of intellect and knowledge. In the end, the book isn’t “about” the law so much as it is “about” an issue (the separation of church and state) that has a grave, if often subterranean, effect on our public and private lives. And, with all of its anecdotes about traipsing around the country to visit obscure sites and campy/terrifying Americana while the rest of us sit in an office all day, it’s yet another book that makes a fine case for the academic life. Sigh.