Plenty of people on the center-right, including me, mocked Donald Trump when in a recent presidential debate Mr. Trump cited the liberal Harvard law professor (no, that isn't redundant) Laurence Tribe as his legal authority for the idea that Senator Cruz, born in Canada, may have trouble fulfilling the Constitution's requirement that a president be a natural born citizen of the United States.
My thought was that the reference to Mr. Tribe wouldn't exactly help Mr. Trump with his audience of Republican primary voters. But I may have spoken too soon, for, after this week's order from the Supreme Court blocking the Obama administration's unconstitutional crackdown on coal, Mr. Tribe may wind up as a hero in the conservative legal pantheon right up there with TGS (the editor of the New York Sun's term for "The Great Scalia"), Kenneth Starr, or Theodore Olson.
What is astounding, at least in retrospect, is the attacks with which Professor Tribe was met from from the left, including from his Harvard Law colleagues, for his decision to represent coal interests — Peabody Energy, precisely — in the case.
Richard Revesz, dean emeritus and a professor at NYU law school and a fine fellow, went so far as to write an entire New York Times op-ed attacking Professor Tribe for his decision to take on the client. In the op-ed, Professor Revesz described Professor Tribe's arguments as "weak," and "far-fetched," characterizing them as "unlikely to persuade a court." After this week's 5 to 4 order from the Supremes, Professor Revesz may want to go back and reassess his views of the strength of those arguments.
Quoted in a Times news article about the case last year, Professor Revesz went so far as to imply that Mr. Tribe had altered his constitutional views to fit those of his paying client. From the Times news article:
"That a leading scholar of constitutional matters has identical views as officials of a coal company — that his constitutional views are the same as the views that best promote his client — there's something odd there," said Richard L. Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law.
What's really odd is that Professer Revesz would make the error of crossing the line from differing with Professor Tribe on the substance of an issue and stray beyond that into casting doubt on his motives.
I don't hold any brief for the coal industry, other than it provides decent-paying union jobs for coal miners in places where such jobs are scarce. But if President Obama wants to outlaw it, it's not unreasonable to suggest, as Professor Tribe does, that he needs to do it by getting Congress to agree with him rather than by executive fiat. Of all the twists and turns of this political year, seeing Laurence Tribe turn up as a hero of the fight for property rights and limited government may be both one of the most surprising and the most welcome.