Law students are often inherently interested in controversial political issues, upcoming legislation, and elections. So how do those interests manifest themselves in a school setting? Well, the presidential election of 2008 is considered by many to be one of the most exciting and inspiring elections in our nation’s history, and I agree that it was. However, the most enlightening part for me was watching the swarms of Obama posters, buttons, cookies, and t-shirts floating around Penn Law school without a McCain supporter in sight. Did we really not have any, or were they just hiding out of fear? I sadly think it may be the latter.
Although I don’t know about the political stances of other law schools, I wonder if most schools’ students fall predominantly on the right or left without being able to strike a balance. So much of law school is about being able to engage in healthy debate, which encompasses the ability to respect the insight of your opponents. Practically speaking, lawyers, politicians, and more generally the leaders of this country are rarely ever surrounded only by those who agree with them. Even when one party has a majority in Congress, it is rarely so powerful as to completely silence the minority. Then again, law school doesn’t quite represent the real world, does it?
As a fairly liberal minority woman, I sometimes have the urge to raise my hand in certain classes and say that I am opposed to abortion, or that we should close our borders, or that gay marriage is against the constitution or that I agree with Justice Scalia, even if I don't. Regardless of the topic or the case, I want someone to agree with Justice Scalia for once. I disagree with most of what he opines, but the man is undoubtedly brilliant, so in a class of about 270, he must have at least one supporter.
The problem is, in a fairly liberal institution, I think students feel that if they do make such a comment, the rest of the class will be ready to pounce. As a result, what could be politically charged seminars or even constitutional law classes end up being a roomful of students echoing each others thoughts and patting themselves on the back for it. I say this with the caveat that maybe “liberal” and “conservative” aren’t the most useful terms here, but in contributing to their wide usage, to my understanding, most of the “top tier” law schools are primarily liberal, whether that encompasses faculty, students, or both. I wonder if students who consider themselves to be liberal feel alienated in primarily conservative schools.
While I don’t accuse the actual institutions for silencing a political minority, it is a little scary to imagine that, in an environment founded on the power of debate, discussion, and dialogue, people are afraid to say what they think.