A bootlicker is an obsequious or servile person, so says the Oxford Living Dictionary. It is an “Americanism dating back to 1835-45” according to another dictionary. “Foot-licker” in the same sense dates back to around 1610. Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary (2017).
There are others words like “butt-kisser” that may be substituted if you lack my slavish devotion to taste and decorum. But you need to be careful about substituting “butt-kisser” for “bootlicker.” As I shall next show pictorially, there are subtle differences.
Thus, for this post, I will use the term “bootlicker” because it fits better for those who have studied law and are thus trained to understand nuance.[i] Having solved, I hope to your satisfaction, the definitional issue, I now turn to substance.
Lawyers who interact with judges on social media are often bootlickers and judges can be bootlickers on social media too. Both sides of that dynamic make me want to puke. (Is that plain enough?)
Let’s start with judges as bootlickers, or at least aiders and abettors of bootlickers. I start with judges because I think they are the root cause of bootlicking.
I did some research for this post. (Don’t laugh at me!) Judges have stopped blogging. There were never many judges who blogged anyway. Instead, if judges condescend to use social media, they use Twitter or Facebook, but they don’t really write anything of substance on social media. That is a pity, and I admit that I may have played a large (I flatter myself) role in frightening other judges away.
More than a few times, my old blog Hercules and the Umpire generated widespread criticisms. So, I share such blame as there may be for judges running to safe social media platforms where the opportunity for a real exchange of views between judges, lawyers and lay people does not exist.
Having made my mea culpa, let me now focus critically on a judge who I am guessing can take it. Judge (Justice) Willett is a celebrated devotee of Twitter.[ii] See here. But Willett’s Twitter stuff is thin gruel.[iii] I readily agree he is funny, that he paints an accessible face on the Texas Supreme Court, that he is sometimes heartwarming, and that he is always a loyal homer for his God and our America. But what does Willett contribute to a substantive dialogue between the bench, the bar, and the public when he tweets?
Not much, in my estimation. Even though Judge Willett is brilliant, I surmise that he doesn’t want to defend himself on social media from substantive yet penetrating criticism of his libertarian judicial views.[iv] Given his talents, that is a shame.
Even worse, and I don’t accuse Willett (necessarily) of this, lots of judges want to be loved. So when they resort to social media, they often do so in ways to curry favor. For judges who are elected, I am slightly sympathetic. Nevertheless, the vapid and transparently cloying use of social media by some judges would make a whore blush.
There is one judge, however, who does put himself out there slightly, although he does so in a regular column for a bar association that apparently, and very unfortunately, does not allow comments. That California judge, featured in Time Magazine,[v] is William W. Bedsworth. The judge is a master of writing about serious subjects in a humorous yet instructive manner.
In one recent example, the judge wrote about an Alaska statute that required judges to take into consideration the needs of a family pet in a divorce proceeding.[vi] The judge used that opportunity to speak about the complexity of law, the proliferation of laws and the fact that judges aren’t necessarily smarter than anyone else.
Here are bits and pieces:
Animals don’t talk, and vets aren’t used to testifying in court. Figuring out who should get Lassie or Garfield or Marmaduke may turn out to be even tougher than figuring out who should get LaDainian or Beyoncé or Plaxico. And that’s tough enough.
. . .
In short, this stuff is hard enough already.
They didn’t issue us a bucket of wisdom along with our robes. Heck, they didn’t even issue us robes; we had to buy them. We are ordinary people trying to solve extraordinary problems.
Next, I turn to lawyers as bootlickers.
Let’s face it, for most lawyers, social media is a marketing tool. There is even a blog from a marketing company specifically devoted to helping lawyers promote themselves using social media. It contains such content as:
Although there’s no guaranteed recipe for creating viral content, when a blog post, meme or hashtag captures a certain zeitgeist, there are proven ways for marketing professionals and business developers to capitalize on it.
How absolutely uplifting!
To my great dismay, the practice of law is no longer a profession. It has largely become a horde of bootlickers who see social media as the path to both fame and wealth without the necessity of writing anything worthwhile for other lawyers, judges or the public. A huge number of lawyers who interact on social media now wade into, and then further propagate, a “vast wasteland,” like the one that Newton Minnow once famously railed against so many years ago.[ix]
Since you can’t see or interact with them in person, how does a judge or anyone else tell a bootlicker on social media? While not universally true, these bootlickers tend to be younger, they seek reflected glory, and they frequently run in self-reinforcing herds sometimes aided by judges who want to be loved by throwing bouquets of meaningless drivel at their admirers. But, if one truly wants a surefire test for a lawyer-bootlicker on social media, one must seek the opposite behavior. That is, you look for a lawyer (not an academic) who has called “bullshit” on a judge.
Let me give three examples of criminal defense lawyers who have called “bullshit” on me:
Josh Kendrick—called bullshit, in a very convincing manner, when I suggested there was empirical evidence that the older a criminal defense lawyer got the worse he or she performed. See here.
Jeff Gamso—called bullshit, with a penetrating post, when I theorized that I might allow the imposition of the death penalty for the factually innocent. See here.
Matt Brown—called bullshit, in a persuasive way, when I wrote that drug crimes were not victimless and that there was no such thing as a non-violent drug crime. See here.
And, then of course, there is our mean-ass host. He has called “bullshit” on me and other judges more than a few times. But here is something I want to emphasize. There is no legal commentator on social media today that I respect more than our mean-ass host, precisely because he calls bullshit on judges. (Damn, I think I just became a bootlicker![x])
There is great potential for using social media to advance an understanding of the law, the legal profession and the judiciary. But that potential is presently being pissed away in a full but inane stream. Bootlicking judges and lawyers are to blame.
Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)
[i] “Sardonic” “apparently but not really proceeding from gaiety,” 1630s, from French sardonique (16c.), from Latin sardonius (but as if from Latin *sardonicus) in Sardonius risus, loan-translation of Greek sardonios (gelos) “of bitter or scornful (laughter),” altered from Homeric sardanios (of uncertain origin) by influence of Sardonios “Sardinian,” because the Greeks believed that eating a certain plant they called sardonion (literally “plant from Sardinia,” see Sardinia) caused facial convulsions resembling those of sardonic laughter, usually followed by death. For nuances of usage, see humor (n.). Earlier in same sense sardonian (1580s), from Latin sardonius.
[ii] Last time I checked, he had 96,488 followers.
[iii] Here is his Twitter profile: “Supreme Court Justice & Tweeter Laureate of Texas. Former rodeo bull rider. Fluent in legalese. Extravagantly blessed husband & cofounder of 3 wee Willetts.”
[iv] Willett is on President’s Trump short list for the Supreme Court. See here. This despite Senator Cruz’s support of Willett and this 2015 tweet: “Donald Trump haiku—Who would the Donald Name to #SCOTUS? The mind reels. weeps—can’t finish tweet.” See here for the tweet.
[vi] William W. Bedsworth, April 2017 – Fight On, Orange County Bar Association (September 24, 2017). I have omitted the footnotes, but you ought to read them because some of them are really funny. (See below.) This is only one offering from the judge’s continuing series entitled a “Criminal Waste of Space.”
[viii] The judge observes in a footnote: “Okay, you’re right. If we’re speaking at the Tilted Kilt, we’re probably substantially more fallible than usual.” For the unwoke, Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery is a Celtic-themed sports bar and franchise restaurant chain that employs scantily-clad female servers in short kilts. Notice the judge did not write about the dress of female lawyers. Unlike me, he is not a dummy.
[x] Nevertheless, just like Sally Fields, I know you like me.