Mental Health and the California Bar

CORRECTION (1/5/16): I was wrong. California has stopped asking about mental health on the moral character application.

Last year I learned some astonishing statistics that roused me into action, courtesy of a brilliant and courageous series of posts by Brian Clarke (part one, two, and three).  When entering law school, students are no more depressed than the general population (about 8%), but by the end of their first year about one in three is depressed.  Around 40 percent get depressed by the end of law school.  Lawyers are almost 4 times more likely to get depressed and 6 times more likely to kill themselves than the average member of the adult population.  My action thusfar has been local (at Santa Clara).  This post, though, is about something bigger.

The California bar has a policy that, I think, impedes efforts to promote mental health, and it’s my New Year’s Resolution to fix it.  For the non-lawyers out there, passing the bar requires both a written examination and an evaluation of the candidate’s moral character (sometimes also called moral fitness).  Basically, you want smart people (the test) who also won’t lie or cheat (moral character).  I’m all in favor of assessing moral risks, insofar as it’s possible, but, unfortunately, California also asks prospective applicants a question that isn’t closely related to moral fitness.  Question 10.2 (pdf–go to page ten) reads, ”Have you been diagnosed or treated for a medically recognized mental illness, disease or disorder that would currently interfere with your ability to practice law?”  Although questions like this one aren’t unique to California, I’m focusing on it because I’m a member of the California bar and teach in California.

For the remainder of this post I’m going to point out what I think are some problems with this policy: it seems to require disclosure of mental illnesses that are being treated, it discourages law students from getting help, and it might even violate the ADA.  In a subsequent post I’ll lay out my strategy for changing the policy.  In both instances, though, I’d welcome suggestions from readers about where I’ve left things out, gotten things wrong, or missed making my points as forcefully as possible.

Continue reading “Mental Health and the California Bar”

Coarsening the culture: Republicans need to do some housecleaning

Last Friday, my brother-in-law woke up early despite having gorged on our Thanksgiving meal. He was determined to get out early, to imbibe the full Black Friday experience. So despite my better judgment, we found ourselves at a suburban Ohio Target, loading up. Vincent snared various trinkets and a fancy Nintendo pouch. When it was time to go, we held a frank conversation near the checkout about whether he could grab more items, whether he would buy another diet Pepsi before returning to the hotel, and similar weighty concerns.

It’s embarrassing to argue with an intellectually disabled man in public 9:30 in the morning. It’s wearing, too. I couldn’t help worrying that the next twelve hours would be spent arguing about such stuff.

An older couple sized up the situation, gave us a warm smile, and asked if we wanted to jump ahead of them in line. We declined their offer, but their much-appreciated gesture lightened my mood.

Everywhere we go, we are quietly helped by gentle strangers: TSA personnel who joke with Vincent as they help him through the line, the selectively deaf business people who pretend not to hear Vincent’s running commentary on their cellphone calls, macho truckers with American flag caps who chat with Vinnie at highway rest-stops, the restaurant and hotel staff who waive off Vincent’s accidental pay-per-view movie bill.

Judging by their small talk, the elderly couple at Target were socially conservative church folk, as are a conspicuous proportion of the kind and helpful people we meet along the way. For millions of people, compassionate conservatism is more than empty rhetoric. It’s a vibrant way of life. That was my in-laws’ way of life. I didn’t agree with any of their politics. I’m awed that they walked-the-walk caring for Vincent in their home for 38 years. One religious friend put things this way: God isn’t finished with you when you’re dealt your genetic hand.

What, then, should we make of the crudely malicious tenor of conservative politics, exemplified by Donald Trump’s trail of inflammatory remarks regarding President Obama’s birth certificate, Latino immigrants, Muslim Americans. FOX journalist Megyn Kelly, and Trump’s GOP rival Carly Fiorina. Trump has tweeted false statistics that dramatically overstate the role of African-Americans in murders involving white victims. When some of Trump’s followers pushed and kicked a Black Lives Matter protester, Trump’s reaction was to say: “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

Most recently, New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski critiqued Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that thousands of Muslims in Jersey City were seen celebrating the 9/11 attacks. Trump responded…. Well I’ll let John Kasich tell the story.

How could this bigot and bully become the leading Republican candidate for the presidency? And what can be done about it?

I can’t really answer these questions. These are for Republicans themselves to answer.

I do know one thing. This goes deeper than Trump himself. The problem is not that Trump is a lying buffoon, either. It’s that he attracts broad support for an open message of malicious intolerance. Expunging Trump from the primaries, if this is still possible, would address the symptoms but not the underlying causes.

Simply put, Trump prospers because Republicans’ rhetoric and political strategies have gradually coarsened their own party base, which looks less and less like the rest of a changing America. As of 2012, 89% of self-identified Republicans were non-Hispanic white. That may even understate the blinding whiteness of the Republican primary electorate. These demographics, combined with Republicans’ problematic track record on social inclusion, are fundamental.

For years, Republicans have pandered to their non-Hispanic white Christian core supporters by emphasizing the other-ness of various Democratic constituencies. When strategically advantageous, GOP politicians at the state level dishonorably sought (and seek) to hinder minorities’ voting efforts. Mr. Trump is hardly the first practitioner of white identity politics on issues ranging from urban crime to Latino or Muslim immigration.

There’s the coarseness of conservative talk radio, which is venomous to President Obama on everything from his birth certificate to his middle name. FOX News, today’s Pravda of conservative politics, every night promotes sneering bullies such as Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. FOX’s casual objectification of its female newscasters matches Trump’s appeal, too.

It’s ironic. Conservatives have argued forever that liberals have done this very thing. Here, for example, is Dennis Prager at the National Review:

The cultural Left has created and celebrated an unbelievable coarsening of the culture, especially injurious to the young. Examples of Hollywood’s degradation of culture in film and on television are too numerous to mention. It will suffice to mention only MTV, one of the most damaging cultural forces in the lives of American young people…

Cultural conservatives pushed these arguments to ridiculous extremes. And it was never obvious why liberals bear exclusive blame for the crude practices of Fortune 500 firms. Yet however exaggerated or misdirected, the critique was never entirely ridiculous, either. Tipper Gore wasn’t the only liberal to see the harm in misogynist song lyrics, or to believe that popular culture just contains too much dreck. As parents, we have a responsibility to maintain certain standards, to push our culture to do better. This matters in politics, too.

Conservative are better than this. They need to clean house.

One show-don’t-tell moment would be for leading GOP presidential contenders to tell GOP primary voters: If you’re still supporting Trump next week, I don’t want your vote.

Do Bush, Rubio, Cruz, and the other leading Republican contenders have it in them to do this? So far, the evidence is thin.

Joe Entwisle on policy and personal challenges of living with quadriplegia

I loved my Bloggingheads conversation with disability policy expert Joe Entwisle, AKA @wheelieboy.

We covered many personal and policy issues. Unfortunately the production values for the conversation are reminiscent of those old Star Trek episodes in which the Romulans were jamming the intra-galactic signal. That was a wifi issue, not Bloggingheads’ fault.