The SJ Hotel Bar

It was Skink who came up with the notion that SJ was like hotel, and the comments were its bar. All were welcome until you annoyed the other patrons or the barkeeper, and then, well, you might be politely asked to leave. Okay, not always politely.

A few people have asked of late why it “seems” as if SJ has become a magnet for people with conservative views, together with the usual assortment of lefty libs one would expect of a criminal defense blog. And I’ve asked myself that question as well, many times, over the past few years. This started well before Trump, though he exacerbated the problem, as the criminal defense bar grew increasingly progressive and became increasingly dedicated to anger and outcomes with increasingly less concern for principle, honesty and balance.

I fought, for years, the use of language like SJW because I hoped not to inflame passions that would impair discussion. Eventually, it became impossible to ignore, or to write about, as the language lacked sufficient descriptive words. As passions burned hotter, people grew willfully dumber and the envelope got pushed over left edge after edge, I went from liberal lefty to somewhere near the middle in the minds of those who prayed at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Outrage.

Rather than hate who I was expected to hate, and use whatever rhetorical skills I could muster to put together some rationalization, no matter how logically fallacious or factually false, to demonize the bad tribe, I tried to adhere to my principles, respect facts and logic, apply them fairly to each fact pattern and go wherever it led. On the progressive left, this was not appreciated. I was a traitor to the cause. Aren’t all cops bastards? Isn’t everything racist? And don’t even talk about Darth Cheeto, who was certainly repugnant, but not always or entirely wrong.

Some of those principles involved free speech and tolerance for heresy. For those who weren’t around back then, I managed another criminal law website called Fault Lines, which offered the heterodox views of all players in the criminal law arena, from cops to defense lawyers to prosecutors to judges to immigration lawyers to homeless advocates to lawprofs. It was glorious in its recognition of smart, sound, reasoned arguments from all perspectives. It failed.

While there was a strong cohort of readers open to all views, it never gained sufficient traction to become financially self-sustaining. The reason was sadly clear: people didn’t want to read about criminal law. They wanted to read their tribe’s version of criminal law. They wanted posts that justified what they hated, who they adored, and why they were right no matter what. They wanted sweet lies and we gave them harsh reality. They weren’t always right. There were often strong reasons why they were wrong.

SJ, which continued throughout the Fault Lines experiment as I was just the managing editor and wanted the unpaid but brilliant, hard-working, dedicated and long-suffering writers to be the stars without having to suffer my shadow, remained my place to express the same lefty liberal thoughts as before, which were no longer particularly lefty. As the progressive left found new cliffs to leap off, my adherence to liberal principles became more reasonable, more rational.

In the old blog days, we used to link back and forth regularly, spreading each other’s words across a then-vibrant blawgosphere. That’s largely gone now. Blog posts took more words and effort to write and read than a twit, and required something that few really wanted to endure: thought. But I stuck it out, perhaps missing the memo that SJ should fade away.

It’s not entirely clear to me why a post will break out into the wild, but it happens. And people show up here in response to one post. Some show up to fight, what I call daytrippers who understand nothing about SJ, and after getting spanked, inform me that they’re leaving and never coming back. Others choose to stick around because they find the hotel bar, if not exactly decorated to their personal taste, not sufficiently tacky to drive them away.

Among the principles I try to live up to are free speech and tolerance*. Many of the more conservative or ideologically-inclined commenters here want to engage in reasoned disagreement, but aren’t tolerated. Many of you disagree with me. I disagree with you, too, at times, but that’s not a bad thing. Here, I try to give reasons, not just conclusions, although this blawg, to me, is an ongoing discussion, so posts are to be read in conjunction with those that came before them. Read just one post and you’re unlikely to “get” where I’m coming from.

The point is that I try to tolerate a broad array of views in the comments, with certain provisos. Don’t be violent. Don’t be overtly racist or sexist (you wouldn’t believe how many comments get trashed for this). Don’t mislead about law. Stay reasonably on topic. Don’t assume an ideological faith and work from there. This has caused more progressives than others to flee SJ, as their comments are predicated upon blind faith in ideology that fails to bear up to scrutiny.

The reason comments, as PseudonymousKid noted, “draw so many conservatives” is that they aren’t shunned here for disagreeing with me. And, indeed, they often have something valuable to offer to the conversation. Contrary to popular belief, not everybody wants to wallow in a cesspool of validation. Echo chambers get boring and many of us take no comfort in insipid agreement. And conservative voices aren’t necessarily wrong, just as liberal voices aren’t always right.

Some will read this and call bullshit on me, contending that I can’t handle disagreement because they disagree and I didn’t rub their tummy, admit my heresy and beg for their forgiveness. Others will see that I have no problem with disagreement, but either didn’t find them persuasive or found them to be blithering idiots or insufferable assholes. And since it’s my hotel bar, I get to throw out anybody I damn well please.

As I won’t throw you out for failing to adhere to any ideological orthodoxy, grab a seat and have a beverage of your choosing. If this is the last liberal bastion to welcome conservatives to the bar, so be it. And should it get out of hand, as it has from time to time, I ring last call and mop up the mess.

*My tolerance policy is that if you piss me off, you crossed the line. It is arbitrary and capricious.

55 thoughts on “The SJ Hotel Bar

  1. Scott Spencer

    Tummy rub:
    I certainly appreciate what you have done here.
    As a non-practicing attorney it’s great to come and read about things that I never get involved in. Also really enjoy the comments and back and forth in them more than the original posts at times.

    Makes me feel smarter

    Tummy rub over.

    Stay safe.


      1. Scott Spencer

        Yeah that didn’t come out right at all.

        How about I appreciate this hotel bar and am happy to be a peripheral regular?


  2. CLS

    If SJ is a hotel, and the comments section the bar, I am grateful for my in-house residency as the MC who drops in to lighten people’s days with dumb jokes.

    Try your waitress and tip the veal!

  3. Bear

    Hey, I just wandered in looking for scraps. Being made to think, while extremely difficult, has been a bonus.

  4. Chris Van Wagner

    I’ll have a beer with my beer, please. One tall and one short. Don’t tell my wife I was here.
    -CVW (over here in the Wisconsin section of the bar)
    Ps. Where’s the rest of the jukebox? One song??

    1. SHG Post author

      It would be helpful for those who may not be quite as liberal lefty as me to let me know if I’m right or wrong, and why they’re here? I’m interested in understanding.

      1. Skink

        I ain’t quite as liberal as you, but neither are you, any more. I think of myself as a free agent, going where the thinking leads. But I have far less tolerance than do you. I’m a work in progress.

        But I had an SJ moment this week. It’s actually been coming for a few months. I have a busy trial practice–mostly federal, but with just enough state to keep the large vehicle roaming around the Swamp. The burning issue was what to do with trials as the virus keeps festering. The push to get back to normal is a screeching thing: “we must get back.” But there are costs, fundamental costs, to the manner of jury trials as proposed. I don’t like the trade-off.

        So I set about my windmill with no law to guide the discussion. It’s still too early for the appellate courts to do their thing. In my mumbling manner, I kept telling the “something must be done” crowd that reaction isn’t thought and ideas born in reaction often make matters worse. I learned that, right here in this old, haunted Hotel.

        A remarkable thing happened this week: some got to thinking. As it turns out, they didn’t like the trade-off, neither.

        That’s how it is in the Hotel bar, which is sometimes a saloon: those willing to think can join the discussion. It matters not where that thinking originates; it can be left, right, Mars. Those not willing to think have the remainder of their drink dumped and are sent to the grease pond behind the kitchen. It’s the rarest of places.

          1. Skink

            The comma had intended meaning. It’s moving from all thinking folks. And you just reacted.

            I’m off to do chores, followed by garage drinkin’. January garage drinkin’ is exceptional in the Swamp.

          2. B. McLeod

            Well, as the baby lawyers in your bailiwick keep trying to tell you, if you’re not with them, you’re a “conservative.” Heretically refusing to accept redefinition of words, challenging aspects of the dogma. I’m afraid there is no real doubt. Like it or not, you are relegated to the “conservative” corner of the board by the now applicable tests. (Be mindful to avoid floating in water, or at least being seen in the act).

      2. Raccoon Strait

        I find it difficult, given both the meandering goalposts and the interchangeability of principles displayed by the various political parties, to discern where on the spectrum anyone exists. Then there is the aspect of perception as in where one is observing others from, such as their own indeterminate position on the scale. Then there is the whole labeling debacle where one ‘labels’ another, sometimes with all the accuracy exhibited by the children s game of ‘pin the tail on the donkey’, ranging from pure fabrication to intended insult to lucky guess to huge misses.

        Extended from the above, placing you, your blog, or any of your guests someplace on the spectrum is at best a shot in the dark, and may be subject to what the subject is. While you might see yourself as liberal with respect to something, others, say from the far left, will see you as far right conservative, while still others would call you a far left progressive. As to why it “seems” as if SJ has become a magnet for people with conservative views might be because those people are from the left, or are migrating left. Humans tend to be works in progress, at least until they die, then the biographers get to play with perceptions from their own perspectives, often with very wide ranges.

        That political spectrum is a slippery slope, and might be configured as a mobius strip (possibly with more than one twist). For example the people (from my perspective at least) who try and control the world from their minority position by invoking ‘cancel culture’ on others are not necessarily doing it out of heartfelt belief that they are right, but from the rush gained by the undeserved power they feel. At some point, they will be shown up for their shenanigans and as likely as not ‘canceled’ themselves. This said as an example of how mobile the whole concept of ‘political placement’ is. They change, we change, you change, times change, the subject changes and then the entirety needs to be remapped with each of those permutations, however inaccurately.

        Buying the bartender a drink has always been a bit of a false dichotomy, as they tend to have access to all the booze. Tipping them is the better way to go. See, perspective.

      3. Nigel Declan

        I am probably to the right of you, SJ. The reason I started coming here when I was practicing, and continued to do so even after I left the law, was because you always seemed like a straight shooter. You cared about the law and how it was practiced, and were critical of those who tried to make being a lawyer about themselves, or about causes, or about anything other than the best interest of the client. You seemed to have short shrift for ideological fluff masquerading as reason, for grifters in legal tech trying to get rich at clients’ expense, or for the nonsense coming out of many corners of academia because nobody was willing to call BS on bad ideas. You didn’t criticize people based on their identity or affiliation, only when they did something that warranted comment. Perhaps most of all, the thing that I took away from the SJ Hotel was the goal not to make people stupider, seemingly a lost art these days.

        I hope that SJ sticks around, as it is one of my favourite waterin’ holes.

      4. BlueThing

        I’m a long time reader and first time poster. I’m more libertarian than conservative politically.

        I keep reading because I’m not a lawyer and the perspective into the defense attorney world is interesting.

        I also regularly read things by reasonable people who I don’t always agree with because one of the most dangerous (and easy to fall into) cognitive biases in the modern world is trapping yourself in an echo chamber and hearing no dissenting points of view.

        1. norahc

          When I first started reading here, I was just to the left of QAnon. Something happened after reading a few posts…I was forced to think and re-examine some of the views I held. Most made the grade, but enough didn’t that I moved more to the center.

          I keep coming back because now that I’ve started to think, I don’t want to give it up.

          1. SHG Post author

            You ever get the sense that we’re all agree about more than we disagree about, and even then, it less about outcome than how we achieve it?

            1. norahc

              I do now but as you’ve oft pointed out…real solutions are hard. At least here we’re not allowed to get away with just wishing problems away.

      5. Bob S

        I find the left and right classifications more than a little frustrating. They don’t seem to provide much useful information for me, and generally muddy the waters when I do choose to engage. I espouse a view classically considered “right wing”, and am immediately burdened with the assumption of this package of beliefs, and it’s not at all accurate. My own positions are widely varied, this business of lumping humans into ideological groups may be a natural organizing behavior, but in my experience it hasn’t been helpful in understanding each other.

        Why I hang around SJ is a lot simpler question to answer. The nuts and bolts of the law are largely outside of my experience, getting detailed information on complex situations from someone who is not inclined to shade that information to favor a position is a hell of a valuable resource to me. This highlights the biggest reason I stay, which is that ideological consistency is a rare gem in a world where everyone is performing for the crowd. The ability to simply say “If this was objectively right or wrong yesterday, it remains so today, even if I don’t care for the outcome” is of great value, and sorely lacking in most of the discourse to be found on the internet.

        I like it here. I’ll be here until I fuck up enough to get thrown out.

        1. SHG Post author

          Stereotypes exist for a reason: people can’t get “up close and personal” with every individual they come across, so they make certain assumptions based on experience. The problem isn’t stereotypes, so much as the inability to realize that it’s short-hand convenience, just a stereotype, not an actual assessment of the person.

  5. Chris Van Wagner

    I am right of center and way left of Q-Anon. Here is my why. This blog – and the commentary – is a no BS, no tribal dance zone and, but for my own occasional blurtings, not a safe space but a challenging one requiring facts with one’s insults – and with the occasional dose of barbed wit. And even one day per week, Tuesday, of safe space. Sorta. Always, it seems, the topics require attention in law and in society. In other words, the menu is usually fresh and always spicy, the liquor flows from top and bottom shelf, and at any given moment one gets to watch the host incinerate an idiot. How could there be a better tavern (albeit there could be an accordion player one night per week in lieu of the piano man.)

    1. Skink

      An accordion in a bar is the equivalent of a tax lawyer trying a murder case. They’re both bad for business.

        1. Chris Van Wagner

          A little slice of Heaven! There really are polka playing accordionists here. I repped one when his Stoli outperformed his vehicle and we had to find away to keep him and his squeezebox on tour (Because, Skink, he had 355 engagements in taverns per year.) SJ would enjoy him, polka polka polka!

      1. Drew Conlin

        January 23, 2021 at 10:43 am
        An accordion in a bar is the equivalent of a tax lawyer trying a murder case. They’re both bad for business.

        Would you make an exception for Clifton Chenier?

  6. KeyserSoze

    The bar is well laid out, the bartender is well versed and knowledgeable, the drinks are wonderful, and the company is good.

    Watching the occasional incineration, even if it is myself, is always amusing.

    Thank you

    1. KeyserSoze


      “Epicurus says that you should rather have regard to the company with whom you eat and drink, than to what you eat and drink.” ~ Seneca the Younger

      My thanks to rest of you as well as our host.

      1. losingtrader

        Epicurus says that you should rather have regard to the company with whom you eat and drink, than to what you eat and drink.” ~ Seneca the Younger

        That hasn’t been very good advice for my waistline.

        I hang around the hotel for the biting insults. They’ve been more useful than the legal info.

  7. Sgt. Schultz

    As you know, most of my comments here are basically to try to lift a bit of the burden off your back of keeping the joint clean. I know the lifting you do, so I figure I can help a little.

    But to your question, I, too, am a liberal, as that word was understood way back when constitutional rights mattered for their own sake, not just to further a racial or gender agenda. It’s not a matter of agreeing with you or not, but that we’ve lost so many to the morass of social justice, and you try to remind people of why the ends do not justify the means.

    My problem is that I find moderately conservative views more rational these days than progressive views. Even worse, at least we can talk about it with conservatives. It’s impossible to talk to progressives, for whom this is just a mindless religion.

  8. John Barleycorn

    …and one of these days, our esteemed host, might even let his reasoned self assurances bloom with the inherent contradictions of any worthy journey.

    The soil is certainly loamy enough…but don’t hold your breath, seeing as how our esteemed host does not respond to the “grow dammit” plaques placed next the sporadically dispersed asparagus.

    The current working theory is that eventually our esteemed host will, from time to time, at long last, transform himself into a murmuration of garden gnomes, and create some sort of “Fantastical SJ Neighborhood of Make-Believe” and tell us what really pisses him off.

    But all things considered, that may be a bad idea? Especially if he has so much fun that he decides to stop running tabs?

  9. Richard Kopf


    Words like “conservative” and “liberal” are now unmoored from the classical understanding of them. At the SJ hotel bar, however, the fundamental characteristic of old style “conservatism” and “liberalism”–intellectual honesty and curiosity and open mindedness–live on. For that, I will forever be grateful for SJ.

    Skink is an exemplar, albeit a one-eyed, road-kill eating and shower cap wearing one. Your willingness to opening the SJ bar to the unwashed of every stripe is a pearl of great price.*

    All the best.


    * Not a tummy rub, but, rather, a statement of fact. And fuck you if you disagree!

  10. B. McLeod

    I suppose my view of SJ is simply that the acknowledgment of the subjective and arbitrary standards puts the site a cut above those that falsely claim to have various standards they do not follow.

  11. PseudonymousKid


    Thank you for this and thank you for the mention. It is truly an honor. Coming from the farthest reach of your left hand, the disagreement and openness for dialogue is much appreciated. I could not find an appropriate Lenin quote for the occasion, because he was a complete ideologue and more a man of action than of writing. I’d much rather instead rely upon an American which you and I know well, Mr. Eugene Debs.

    “I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition; as it is now the capitalists use your heads and your hands.”

    His goal might not be yours, but his message is the same. Wield the gun that will control one hundred judiciously as you do. Your message is important. I’ll be at the Hotel Bar’s billiards tables whenever anyone wants to throw down a wager, if even for a drink.



      1. PseudonymousKid

        I love my conservative brothers and sisters. If only they could gain class consciousness.

        Solidarity forever, for the Union makes us strong! Workers of the world unite! You have only your chains to lose. Fuck today’s rhetoric. Peace, land, and bread will always be better.

  12. Shannon

    Where I work, I am the moderate-conservative voice (there is one more but he recently started a new substack page) where most of the writers are liberal. Some of them make me shake my head and I sometimes click on their articles just to understand their thought process.

    But from the responses on Twitter and Facebook, it seems like most of their readers value opinions (particularly passionate one) more than analysis.

    Hopefully the discussions will be more civil in the coming months now that their mortal enemy is no longer relevant and people don’t want to see his name anymore.

    1. SHG Post author

      Perhaps they would be better described as extremely progressive, although I wonder whether they (or at least some of them) really are or it’s performative. Note, I didn’t say who we’re talking about, as it’s not my place.

  13. L. Phillips

    I’m one of those (retired) despicable cops and my general life outlook is, as I have mentioned before, slightly to the right of Attila the Hun. That said, I am here because all of the articles and the bulk of the comments make me think. Sometimes that thought is, “What a bunch of idiots.” But that is surprisingly rare.

    So, I’ll mostly lurk, keep hitting the tip jar, and enjoy the mental exercise while fully aware of and good with the fact that I am not the prime demographic.

    1. SHG Post author

      I am particularly appreciative of the cop contingent here, as you often bring insights from the job that I would never know or appreciate. Even if I disagree, I want to know it.

  14. Jill P McMahon

    Long-time law clerk for family firm. Scientist in a previous life. Classic Kennedy-type liberal who can muster admiration for Republicans like Weld and others. I come here regularly to mostly listen and learn and I usually do. Thanks, Scott.

  15. Jake

    Jesus, half-way through I was beginning to think this was some sort of swan song. Don’t scare me like that.

  16. Jason

    I am a conservative who was looking for a place where facts are presented and then discussed from a rational and intelligent perspective. A place that would make you think and challenge your ideas but not discourage discussion or disagreement. That is what I found, a place where I am presented with knowledge I did not have and that allows me to hear from different sides of an issue.

    I would suggest that we often agree on the issues that are being faced, but we differ in how to resolve them. I also believe that people are complex, making the issues we face as a country complex, and therefore there is no simple solution to “fix” the problem. A place like this allows discussion, dialogue, and disagreement that would hopefully provide a path forward that will give us the best opportunity to address the issue and resolve it.

    I look forward to many more though-provoking posts that are provided at this here bar.

  17. Lee Keller King

    I am certainly to the right of you on many issues, Scott. I come here because you call bullshit when you see bullshit. I may not always agree, but I can depend on you calling them like you see them.

  18. Tecla

    Boy do I wish Fault Lines was still around and, better yet, there existed an online criminal law community to sustain a project like it. I’ve only been a reader here for about 2 months, but scavenging the archives was my enjoyable business this winter break (law school student, hopeful soon-to-be baby prosecutor, Bernie-voting millennial, for what it’s worth). Your perspective and the comment discussions here are something of an antidote to law-school-rhetoric despair syndrome, and the lack of “tummy rubs” keeps me reading. I’m looking forward to lurking and learning more going forward.

  19. kemn

    As one of the great unwashed (non-lawyers) here, I’m honored to be told by the great Judge that I’m allowed to bask in his presence!

    (seriously, though, I love the posts, I love the viewpoints, I loved Fault Lines…I’ll stick around, even when someone says something I disagree with because it’s about the discussion, not the result)

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