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Ironic: Judge Aileen Cannon’s Law School Has A Special Focus On “Law and Professional Ethics.”

Posted on | April 6, 2024 | 6 Comments

Special Council  Jack Smith, in laying down the gauntlet last week in Florida, was not engaging in metaphor. That word derives from the French word, gantelet, meaning “the heavy, armored gloves worn by medieval knights,” and by transference, a formal challenge to duel with mortal intent.

His human target was Judge Aileen Cannon. Smith claimed her handling of  Donald Trump’s White House files case was so  “fundamentally flawed”  that he was about to request from  the 11th US Circuit of Appeals a “rare pretrial review.” In short, he was impugning, not only the learning, but also the values and ethics of the University of Michigan Law School graduate.

Smith’s action understandably got the Judge’s attention. The 11th Circuit has already reversed her twice for legal cause, and a third rebuke could knock her off the case. It is pretty clear that the Justice Department believes Cannon is biased. But who knows. Maybe this is just a case of “Naive Realism.”  That’s a label popularized by Princeton psychologist Emily Pronin in 2002 that seemed to suggest that, in cases such as these, there may not be malignant intent.  In an article titled, You Don’t Know Me, But I Know You: The Illusion of Asymmetric Insight,  she explained, “We insist that our ‘outsider perspective’ affords us insights about our peers that they are denied by their defensiveness, egocentricity, or other sources of bias. By contrast, we rarely entertain the notion that others are seeing us more clearly and objectively than we see ourselves.”

Intent notwithstanding, the problem of our divisions is certainly worse now, two decades later, then when it was first labeled.  Today’s headlines  speak to “political polarization,” “division,” “factual inaccuracy,” and “loss of civility.”  And yet, we hold tight to the “rightness”of justice under the law, and set out to demonstrate, with extreme confidence ,that our democratic institutions, under assault, have mostly held thus far.

Madison was well aware of extreme labeling of opponents as “unreasonable, biased, or ill-motivated.” He warned on February 8, 1788 in Federalist 51 that “If men were angels, no government would be necessary… In forming a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” His solution? Our legal system, and checks and balances.

Hamilton, in the first paragraph of Federalist 1, teed up the same issue, in the form of an unsettling warning. He wrote, “It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

The “force” on January 6 was no accident. Hours before the armed insurrection of Congress that morning, USA Today published  “By the numbers: President Trump’s failed efforts to overturn the election.” The article led with, “Trump and allies filed scores of lawsuits, tried to convince state legislatures to take action, organized protests and held hearings. None of it worked…Out of the 62 lawsuits filed challenging the presidential election (in state and federal courts), 61 have failed.”

By all accounts, our nation and her citizens, owed our Judicial branch (its judges, lawyers, and legal guideposts) a debt of gratitude.  Our Judiciary saved our democracy – for the moment.

Much of the credit goes to attorney Marc Elias (Duke Law School/1993), a voting rights expert, who headed the team that resisted the “Elite Strike Force Legal Team” in the 62 cases above. The six Trump co-conspirators who led the Strike Force were long on credentials and short on ethics and values. They included Rudy Guiliani (NYU/1968), John Eastman (U. Chicago/1995), Sidney Powell (UNC/1978), Jeffrey Clark (Georgetown/1995), Kenneth Chesebro (Harvard/1986), and Boris Epshteyn, alleged #6 (Georgetown/2007.)

As Attorney Elias  reminds us, “In the intervening years since the 2020 election, many of these lawyers have become objects of ridicule, the punchline in jokes. But mocking the lawyers who facilitated Trump’s criminal conduct risks minimizing their culpability. More importantly, it obscures the deep and problematic culture that appears to pervade the ranks of the Republican legal establishment.” It does not appear, at least at present, to be an overstatement that Judge Aileen Cannon(University of Michigan/2007) is a trusted member of that “establishment.”

Each year, our Law Schools across the nation graduate around 40,000 new professionals. Many like the University of Michigan shine a special light on law and ethics.

The Law and Ethics Program at Justice Cannon’s alma mater is “a collaboration between the Law School and U-M’s Department of Philosophy. It aims to promote advanced research and teaching at the intersection of law and ethics.” Here are some of its’ regular offerings.


  • An annual Law and Ethics Lecture
  • A law and philosophy reading group, for faculty and students in both departments
  • Support for students seeking joint degrees in law and philosophy
  • Workshops and conferences with leading legal theorists from around the world


If “societies of men are really capable… of establishing good government from reflection and choice,” we need a Judiciary steeped in values and the law. Whether by faulty admission or failed training, the Law Schools above in these seven cases, appear, at least in some cases,  to have failed in their mission. As  Jack Smith realized last week, lawyers and judges who disgrace their alma maters and dishonor their profession need to be confronted and held accountable. The place for that is not the public square where “asymmetric insights” might be questioned or challenged as concocted or biased. Rather, it is in a court of law, with camera and lights aglow.

Judge Cannon, last week, felt the heat of those lights. The other six preceded her. Law, as with the profession of Medicine, in selection and training, can’t get it right 100% of the time. When we fall short, these human failures must be addressed. Otherwise, we run the risk of harming the body politic, and planting the seeds of our own destruction as a society.


6 Responses to “Ironic: Judge Aileen Cannon’s Law School Has A Special Focus On “Law and Professional Ethics.””

  1. Joshua Sands
    April 9th, 2024 @ 9:47 am

    Mike, thanks for reporting this. It is discouraging when Judge Cannon’s actions don’t pass the sniff test. It is encouraging to hear there are potential legal remedies available to Jack Smith. I hope this gets resolved quick enough to get a trial before the election (is that even possible?).

  2. Mike Magee
    April 9th, 2024 @ 1:18 pm

    Thanks, Josh. Like you, I’m feeling slightly encouraged. I hope it lasts. Best, Mike

  3. Bob Kamm
    April 10th, 2024 @ 10:28 am

    Thanks Mike for bringing this to light. My little comfort/confidence over the past several years regarding our democracy has been the courts and the integrity of the individuals who preside over them – the Judge Cannon case has shattered that confidence somewhat – so hoping for a better outcome.

  4. Mike Magee
    April 10th, 2024 @ 11:46 am

    Thanks, Bob. I share your feelings. I remain optimistic that, in the end, we’ll find the right way to care for each other. Best, Mike

  5. Michelle Gross
    April 12th, 2024 @ 10:04 pm

    Being a science-minded person, I’ve always been perplexed by how the law can start with two nearly identical situations and end with very different outcomes. Much of that is the result of manipulation of the law due to questionable ethics of those involved. We are surely seeing this manipulation in the cases surrounding Donald Trump. Thank you for pointing it out.

  6. Mike Magee
    April 13th, 2024 @ 10:03 am

    Thanks so much, Michelle. This is high praise indeed coming from someone with your long and distinguished advocacy for our most vulnerable citizens. Greatly appreciated! Best, Mike

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