Our interviewer, Marianna Seiler is a third-year law student at Florida State University College of Law with interest in corporate law. Courtney Cahill is the Donald Hinkle Professor. Professor Cahill writes at the intersection of constitutional law and sexuality and the law. Her academic writings reflect an interdisciplinary approach that draws extensively from moral/cognitive psychology and literary theory. Her current work focuses on law and the emotions, and specifically on law and the emotion of disgust. She is particularly interested in bringing a new perspective to bear on the legal and social debates surrounding same-sex relationships and reproductive rights by combining the insights of constitutional theory and cognitive psychology.
Marianna Seiler: What made you decide to attend law school?
Professor Cahill: A good friend of mine who was getting his Ph.D. in English was exploring the teaching market. I asked him how the market was and how the interview process was going and he responded, “It is not going. I have applied to law school.” I said, “Are you kidding me? Why would you do that?” He thought that the humanities had gotten insular and if he became a law professor he would be able to teach a wider variety of things. So, I envisioned myself having to teach big survey courses on literature, specifically English literature, and with a degree in Italian literature it seemed that that would have been hard to do. Law professors have a luxury of being generalists, so I started looking into law schools and the rest is history.
Marianna Seiler: What is your favorite topic to write, research and theorize about and what work are you most proud of?
Professor Cahill: My favorite topic is right at the intersection where constitutional law meets family law. The research I like best tries to use other disciplines like literature, cognitive science and social psychology to illuminate issues that conventional legal analysis might miss. In that regard, I have done some work on some of the rhetoric that surfaced in the debate surrounding same-sex marriage. For example, the rhetoric of the slippery slope argument related to same-sex marriage leading to something very bad. I have done some literary examinations of that metaphor and that is the work I enjoy doing the most.
Marianna Seiler: What was your favorite subject in law school?
Professor Cahill: It may be surprising, but I loved evidence. It was mathematical in a way that appealed to me. Constitutional law and family law were not completely unlike literature. There was a lot of overlap in the way you think, like big picture ideas. But evidence was very elemental and that really appealed to me. The biggest regret I have in law school was never taking tax because I think that would have appealed to me as well.
Marianna Seiler: Why did you choose to move to Tallahassee?
Professor Cahill: I was fairly settled living in Rhode Island and teaching at Roger Williams University. My parents live in Rhode Island and it was nice to be near them. I had bought my dream house on a lake and had told myself that I was never going to leave that house. Then the Florida State University College of Law Appointments Committee called me in July one summer and asked if I was interested in a position. I was interested because I knew Professor Dan Markell, I knew that the faculty were seriously committed to scholarship and that Florida State was a solid law school. I thought this could be a great opportunity and I figured it would not hurt to interview. When I came I was so impressed by the students and the faculty, so now I am here.
Marianna Seiler: What do you like most about Florida State Law?
Professor Cahill: The students are great and the administration goes beyond the call of duty to satisfy every constituency – the students, the faculty and the alumni. The faculty is extraordinarily committed to the same ideal of teaching and scholarship.
Marianna Seiler: What do you do in your free time in Tallahassee?
Professor Cahill: I love doing yoga. I love reading. I have two young daughters and I spend as much time as I can with my kids. I always tell my students that from 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. weekdays I go dark and that is family time.
Marianna Seiler: Who is or was your favorite U.S. Supreme Court justice and why?
Professor Cahill: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. I met her once and was just blown away by her. She is so commanding, matter of fact, funny, charismatic and pragmatic. I met her at a law school event at the University of Toledo. We brought in a Supreme Court justice every year. One year we brought in Justice O’Connor and one year we brought in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is also amazing. I remember being drawn to Justice O’Connor. Her personality made a big impression on me.
Marianna Seiler: What is one thing people should know about you if they know nothing else?
Professor Cahill: I would say that my kids are my world.
Marianna Seiler: If you had to commit a crime what would it be?
Professor Cahill: Only because I teach this to my property students ad nauseam; I would trespass onto somebody else’s property to get something that was really valuable to me, like my Italian greyhounds. I actually have done this. In fact, I have trespassed onto Professor Shawn Bayern’s lawn to get one of my greyhounds.
Marianna Seiler: What is your best advice for a prospective or current law school student?
Professor Cahill: Be flexible and open-minded in terms of your job, where you see yourself and what your life could look like five, ten years down the road. I am saying this because I am not always very flexible, but many times things in life can change. There are so many contingencies that come along in life. Whether it is kids, a partner or a new job opportunity; things happen that you did not expect, so be open to the possibility of changing your plan.