Two Men in the News

TPM Reader XX (initials withheld because would be too easily identifiable) gives us some background on two men currently in the news …

I thought it might be worth pointing out that two folks in the political news over the past couple of weeks were in fact law school classmates in the University of Virginia School of Law Class of 1998: Bill Baroni (who resigned over the GWB traffic controversy) and Robert Shelby (the U.S. District Judge in Utah who struck down Utah’s gay marriage ban this week). I was also classmates with Bill and Bob in the class of 1998, and they could not have been more different.

Bill reminded people constantly of his New Jersey roots (including singing Born to Run during the law school’s skit show one year), and was unambiguous about his future political desires. His glad-handing reached such a level that he was referred to as the unofficial “Mayor” of the law school. Baroni did not run in the Law Review circles, but rather focused his energy on trying win the annual moot court contest his last year at UVA, (which Edward Kennedy had famously won during his time at UVA Law), hoping to be memorialized on the same plaque that bore Kennedy’s win from 1959. Baroni, however, fell short, losing in the finals, and then went back to New Jersey, got deeply involved in the Republican party, and was elected to the NJ General Assembly within five years of graduation, followed by the state senate.

Bob Shelby, however, could not have been more different than Bill. Shelby, who had served in Utah Army National Guard and had seen combat during Desert Storm, was more reserved and quiet, but was someone whose opinion was well-respected within the law school. Bob excelled academically, and always made insightful comments in class. If anyone from our class were to have been asked about Bob’s character, the response would have been unanimously positive. It was no surprise to any of us to learn that, when he was nominated by President Obama to the District Court, Senators Hatch and Lee both strongly supported his nomination.

Given these differences, it is striking that one of them was forced to resign after being accused of engaging in petty partisan political retribution and possibly lying under oath, while the other issued a bold decision supporting basic civil rights and human dignity.