So last week, I think we pretty clearly established that there is widespread disapproval of, even anger about, the outrageously high registration fee for the AALS Annual Meeting. But what about the substance of the meeting itself? What could be done to improve its quality?
As mentioned previously, I had not attended the AALS Annual Meeting in at least a decade prior to going to the New Orleans meeting earlier this month. I participated in one session ("Legal Positivism: For and Against"), and attended portions of three others: on cyber-harassment and the "character and fitnesss" component of bar admission (alas, I only made it towards the end of this session); on the European Court of Human Rights and its religious liberty jurisprudence; and on the "interpretation"/"construction" distinction in constitutional law. Overall, the quality of the sessions seemed to me higher than I recall being typical in the past.
With respect to the panel I was on (with Mark Greenberg [UCLA] and Jeremy Waldron [NYU/Oxford]--Les Green could not make it, though his paper was read by the organizer, Scott Shapiro [Yale]), which appears to have been well-received, the first thing to note is that all the speakers had prepared, written remarks. This contributed to a quite substantive discussion, though my main regret is that there was not more time to engage with Greenberg's remarks (and correct his mistakes about Hart!!!) and not more time for members of the audience to pose questions. This leads to a first thought: given that these sessions typically have only 1 hour and 45 minutes, it would be better to have fewer speakers--I'd say not more than two, though with the expectation that the two speakers have prepared remarks, and not 'shoot from the hip.'
The constitutional law panel was also quite substantive overall. Laura Cisneros (Texas Southern/Golden Gate), for example, had written remarks, a substantive and scholarly discussion of Keith Whittington's views (alas, Professor Whittington was unable to make it). Rick Hills (NYU) spoke from notes, but had several discreet and interesting argumentative points to make as well. Larry Solum (Illinois) engaged some of these points in reply, so there was an actual dialectical engagement here. (You can get a feel for some of the issues discussed here, and do see the further comments by me, Hills, and Larry Solum that follow.) Brett Scharffs (BYU), organizer of the panel on the European Court of Human Rights, gave an excellent set of introductory remarks that were extremely informative about the Court, its history and docket, and the central issues, interpretive and substantive, in its religious liberty jurisprudence. This was a good example of another useful service that a session can perform, namely, educating those outside a field or specialty about the basics.
OK, enough by way of my own observations. Herewith the poll: readers may rank order changes that they think would improve the scholarly value of the AALS Annual Meeting. No doubt I've omitted some pertinent choices; I'll run an open thread on this after the results of this poll are in. And if you think the AALS Annual Meetings are already fine as they are, then there's a way to register that opinion too!