Legal Lefties in the Ivory Tower

Point ofLaw.com has an interesting post about the overwhelming number of liberals on the faculty of the top law schools in the US. Quoting from a NYT article:

The study, to be published this fall in The Georgetown Law Journal, analyzes 11 years of records reflecting federal campaign contributions by professors at the top 21 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Almost a third of these law professors contribute to campaigns, but of them, the study finds, 81 percent who contributed $200 or more gave wholly or mostly to Democrats; 15 percent gave wholly or mostly to Republicans.

The percentages of professors contributing to Democrats were even more lopsided at some of the most prestigious schools: 91 percent at Harvard, 92 at Yale, 94 at Stanford. At the University of Virginia, on the other hand, contributions were about evenly divided between the parties.

I can’t say this surprises me. I suppose I’m a little impressed by the numbers though. I would have guessed the percentage of Democratic contributions would have been around 70-80%. The article points out, this favoritism towards Democrats is inbred into the institution of law school:

“Academics tend to be more to the left side of the continuum,” said David E. Van Zandt, dean of Northwestern’s law school, where the contribution rate to Democrats was 71 percent. “It’s a little worse in law school. In other disciplines, there are more objective standards for quality of work. Law schools are sort of organized in a club structure, where current members of the club pick future members of the club.”

It’s a shame the world of legal education runs this way. It’s also a shame when candidates for a law professorship or tenure have to hide their opinions or identities so as to not cut their own throats. One of the writers at The Volokh Conspiracy has adopted a nom de plume precisely for this reason. Jim Lindgren, who also writes for Volokh, weighs in on the study as well and offers an interesting thought experiment:

The Times article raises the question whether it matters if there is political diversity on law faculties.

I have two answers–one substantive, one speculative. First, in my studies with the General Social Survey, political ideology is the strongest predictor of views across a range of hundreds of issues that I’ve looked at–stronger than race, gender, education, class, occupation, age, region, marital status, etc. Those who say that labels such as “conservative” and “liberal” are meaningless today are frankly uninformed. Most survey researchers know that these labels are quite salient.

Second, a professor at the Harvard Law School told me that in 1988 he asked every member of the Harvard Law School faculty with even a hint of conservative or Republican leanings whether they favored or had voted for Bush in 1988. Only one had (1 out of 60-80 faculty); all others favored Dukakis. He also said that in about 2 or 3 dozen entry-level faculty hires from the mid-1970s through about 3 or 4 years ago (when they hired an entry-level conservative), the Harvard Law School had not hired a single Republican.

Now consider this thought experiment: [Imagine that in 1988 all but one of the Harvard Law faculty had favored Bush1 over Dukakis. And] Imagine that over the same period of a quarter century [mid 1970s through early 2000s], the Harvard Law School had hired at the entry-level only those who leaned Republican. Imagine how different the Harvard Law School would be, how different legal education would be, how different the government (and public policy) would be, populated with lawyers trained by an overwhelmingly Republican Harvard faculty. Somehow I think it would be a different world.

It’s not clear to me how much difference there would be. It seems there would be a vast difference in the American legal world just because those who train the next generation would have a different view of the law, which, persumably, would be passed down to their pupils. However, on the other hand I think there may not have been much. It seemed to me that most students who went to law school already had well-formed political beliefs and were commited to them. The chance of a law professor changing a student’s beliefs seems pretty slim to me. But maybe this is because I’m a right-winger. I think it’s safe to say that any right-of-center individual going into law school knows he or she is walking into a political lion’s den and is steeled against the opposition. Republicans are a rare breed there — though not so much at Willamette thanks to the large Mormon population! — and a breed not always welcomed. Personally, I kept my mouth shut about political issues, and never once revealed my political orientation, praying none of my classmates found my blog. I did this for a variety of reasons, one of which is I am a wuss.

One final thought brought out by the PointofLaw post is this: even if the liberalness of law professors doesn’t have that much influence on the students, they may have significant influence on the public’s perception of the law.

While law school is, for most, a rigorous but expensive trade school, law faculties form opinions in young lawyers and also hold claim to speak to the public on what the academy thinks.

A GC of a public company who criticizes the Ernst v. Merck verdict, for example, is presumed to represent the views of “big corporations” when a newspaper reporter calls, but a law professor who teaches torts is presumed to speak commonly-accepted truths that are free from personal bias.

The public’s inability to see the flaw in this thinking is, to an extent, a shortcoming in the public’s understanding of the law and legal education. I don’t know how many times non-lawyer friends and relatives have referred to a public case only to ask “can they really do that?”. They look amazed when I explain that “anybody can sue anyone else for anything — the only question is how much the parties are willing to pay in legal fees to see it through.”

Much of the public seems to think that the law is a static, well-defined set of rules to be navigatived by lawyers who know what those rules are. Most lawyers, however, know better that the law is fluid and dynamic, capable of suprising reversals, and more susceptible to guesswork than to definitive answers. Legal rules — some in harmony and some in conflict — represent potential points of leverage in disputes between parties, rather than fixed points of universal understanding.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the stupidest things about law school. A school that rolls its eyes in amusement at “Truth” and teaches its students how to bend rules into leveraging tools is a joke.

Willamette starts classes again this week. I won’t be there, and I’m damn glad.

6 thoughts on “Legal Lefties in the Ivory Tower”

  1. Since when can anyone sue anyone for anything?

    Rule 11

    (b) Representations to Court.

    By presenting to the court (whether by signing, filing, submitting, or later advocating) a pleading, written motion, or other paper, an attorney or unrepresented party is certifying that to the best of the person’s knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances,–

    (1) it is not being presented for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation;

    (2) the claims, defenses, and other legal contentions therein are warranted by existing law or by a nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law or the establishment of new law;

    (3) the allegations and other factual contentions have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified, are likely to have evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery; and

    (4) the denials of factual contentions are warranted on the evidence or, if specifically so identified, are reasonably based on a lack of information or belief.

    I think you’ve gotten really bitter and jaded about the law, Steve. What school “rolls its eyes” at the concept of truth? Willamette? We can only piece together what “the truth” is based on the available relevant evidence, and that is often chock full of accuracy problems and biases. Maybe it’s because I go to a Jesuit instituion, but I know no one who is rolling their eyes at the concept of the truth. The “truth” is pretty much impossible to ascertain with any degree of perfection. To pretend otherwise would be to create a fiction, and not a noble one at that.

  2. I read that line in the original article as somewhat of a hyperbole, obviously you can’t sue anybody for anything.

    “The “truth” is pretty much impossible to ascertain with any degree of perfection. To pretend otherwise would be to create a fiction, and not a noble one at that.”

    Which is why people were rolling their eyes, figuratively speaking, at the “Truth.” I think this is patently false and pessimistic, and it’s distressing to think that people who are supposed to be seeking justice believe this to be so. Please, at least, pretend you arrive at the Truth if you want Justice done. Don’t go around saying you got “Justice” done, but you don’t really know what the “Truth” is. That’s BS. That’s not getting justice, that’s just winning an argument.

  3. Steve, did you take Evidence? There’s just no WAY to get at the perfect truth. Everyone does the best they can with the evidence they have. Sometimes that’s not much, but if we gave up because we couldn’t make it perfect, NO ONE would be convicted of a crime. All you can do is get as close as you can. That’s why our standard of conviction is beyond a reasonable doubt, and our standard for civil claims is a presumption of the evidence – more likely than not – 51%. I’m not be pessimistic; I’m acknowledging reality. Acknowledging the difficulties of evidence isn’t bullshit. If you require 100% perfect truth to convict, pretty much everyone in jail will be released. How is THAT justice???

  4. To a large degree, we obviously can’t achieve Perfect Truth, but I’m not referring to Perfect Truth. I’m just referring to the general pursuit of Truth and acknowledging it is obtainable to a high degree of accuracy — a degree of perfection.

  5. Your law school experience must have been much much different than mine. I don’t know anyone who isn’t interesting in a general pursuit of truth. If anyone thinks otherwise, he’s kept his mouth shut during class at least…which is a possibility, of course.

  6. Perhaps. I just found both professors and students were remarkably flippant about something I consider to be highly important.

    I should also say that my tone in my original post came off a bit harsher than I should have allowed.

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