Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Is Law School Non Partisan?

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.


  1. Astute analysis. I supported Bush in 2004 and was at a top 5 school where everyone was rooting for Kerry. Sure enough, I was silenced.

  2. As a 1L, I was excited to become a new member of the Federalist Society at my school. However, contrary to what mainstream legal readings had made me believe before, this group was made up of a very small minority of students. I am a minority myself as well, being the only libertarian in a conservative group dominated by a liberal school.

    I don't know whose fault this is though, if anybodys. I had to go out of my way to join the group by practically pestering the President about coming to meetings, and I still don't know exactly when we have them, despite orchestrating and leading the last debate we had. Other 1Ls have expressed interest in joining, and had the same queries as myself: "Why have we not heard anything about meetings? Who is in the Federalist Society? How do I join if I want to?"

    Is the group afraid to overtly advertise because of the liberal environment the school creates? Personally, the more opposing my views are to the environment I am in, the more I try to speak out and make myself known. It appears others may not share this attitude.

    Or perhaps the group is trying to maintain a small "elite" within the school. This doesn't make much sense to me either, especially when, just through casual conversation, I have found numerous others who have expressed interest in joining.

    Does anybody have any incite into this topic? Why voluntarily remain so small when there seems to be plenty of opportunity for expansion?

  3. My school was for the most part the same way. The only exception seemed to be the Federalist kids, who proudly wore their ideologies on their sleeves. But they occupy a bit of an ideological fringe. I think the real loss is those voices that aren't heard that lean right but aren't hardcore conservative or libertarian. I feel like their views are driven more by rational thought than blind faith in ideology and everyone would be better off understanding the perspectives that inform these opinions. And I can understand their hesitancy in speaking out. I can remember a few times when some of my friends found out that someone was a republican and they would whisper this fact to each other as if the person had an infectious disease. Given the annoyingly partisan nature of politics, it would be nice to have a forum for having a rational discussion about opposing viewpoints. I totally agree with you that it's scary that law school - the one environment where this should be possible - fails at this. Though the faculty and administration may not be guilty of creating this environment, I think their failure to do something about it is nearly as bad. They know what the purpose of their institution is supposed to be and they need to make more of an effort to achieve that ideal. But since so many faculty lean to the left, I'm not entirely surprised that this isn't happening.

  4. Robin, i've loved your posts. But I have to disagree with you on this one. the reason you find more liberals in law school is not so much because of the "political" nature of law school. It has more to do with the fact that liberals are more concerned with constitutional rights (ie abortion, free speech and so on). In law school, you talk more about these issues.

    Further, I don't think law school is a place for politics in any case.

  5. not feeling it. I know tons of people in my class who were adamant bush supporters. But, I guess I did go to George mason.

  6. I am a 2L in a very liberal city at a largely liberal law school. However the Federalist society does maintain a strong pressence and often has the most interesting speakers and always the best lunches. I presume this is because they are part of a very well-organized national society.

    That being said commentary in class does tend to swing leftward but conservative voices are not always silenced. My Employment Law class has some people who always come out swinging for the Employers and wondering about how EE rights hurt and are unfair to the employer. Much to my chagrin.

  7. Do politics have any place in the law anyway? To the extent your observations reflect reality, I think this is a good thing.

  8. Really? I go to Penn Law, and one of the most telling experiences I had involved several people in my con law class explaining that it was okay that we tortured people in Gitmo because it was better than their living conditions in the country from whence they came. And while folks are generally respectful around LGBT issues, most of the time it's because the whole "collegiality" buzz word sorta undermines claiming that your classmates' identities are illegitimate.

    I'm not saying that the McCain boosters didn't have a lower profile than the Obama boosters, but it's certainly not the homogeneous body you seem to imply. Even the participation of Wolff and Burke-White in the Obama administration is balanced by Wax's participation in the Bush administration's homophobia. The absence of McCain players was thus likely more of an attempt to move away from Bush than any real reflection of a monolithic school identity.

  9. Student at tier 1 school... my experience is that the students AND faculty are extremely liberal. It's worrisome that these are the slighted minds of a class of future attorneys.

  10. Maybe I should have gone to Penn?

  11. This was an interesting article. I think that law school students as a whole are so liberal because liberal admissions officials pick candidates whose personal statements identify them as very liberal.

  12. "It has more to do with the fact that liberals are more concerned with constitutional rights (ie abortion, free speech and so on). In law school, you talk more about these issues."

    Yes, as opposed to the complete ambivalence about abortion among conservatives...and the left's ardent yearning to hear the free speech of those who oppose them on affirmative action, abortion, gun rights, the death penalty, etc.

    To give an example, during my first year of law school, the Federalist Society invited Richard Epstein to come on campus to engage in a debate on affirmative action. Out of ~200 members of our faculty not a single person was willing to put their beliefs into the line of fire and debate the man. Not one. These same people will spend decades advocating that position, but when it comes to proving they have the right position, not a single one was willing to put it up to the test.

    A couple years later, when the same topic came up again in my constitutional law class, I challenged the professor, within a couple minutes of him actually being challenged on his views on this subject, he was literally starting to stutter and getting visibly shaken. He changed the subject. The next class he proceeded to try for some payback. He spent ten minutes--I am not exaggerating this--solely asking me to raise my voice. Not debate a position, not argue a point, but just engage in the most juvenile and childish actions. Again, this wasn't at some fly-by-night place, but at a top 5 law school.

    That's one of many experiences of a Republican in a liberal law school.

    Sorry, but when it comes to actually debating the more sacred, core beliefs with someone who does not hold those views (and not the minutiae of case law), the average law professor couldn't debate his way out of a paper bag.

  13. This is true both in undergraduate institutions and graduate institutions across the country. Most law professors are by default liberal, and those that aren't are widely known as the "evil conservative professors"--you know, the same ones that might still use the socratic method. Most law students are liberal because they went to law school to "make the world a better place" to "help people" achieve "social justice" or some other nonsense.

    Expressing conservative viewpoints (politically or judicially) is a surefire way to alienate fellow students and incur the wrath of law professors. Thus, most conservative students, except the firebrands, keep their mouths shut.

  14. Conservatives have appealed to working class white folks by lambasting academics, it should be no suprise that these academics do not support them. If you want more academics to support Republican candidates, tell those cadidates to stop making intellectuals the boogeyman.

  15. The first big example I can think of re: a Republican politician attacking academics was Reagan in California (he mentioned when he campaigned for Governor, he would constantly get asked "what the hell is going on in Berkeley"). That was over a decade after Buckley had published "God and Man at Yale." Academia had turned into a liberal bastion well before conservative politicians had started to make a big deal about it.

    However, if academics are really going to focus that much on self-interest--supporting the side that is nicest to them--I don't see why they should expect conservatives to treat them as non-partisans, much less as people who are intellectually honest.

  16. As the President of a student Federalist Society chapter at a top tier school, this posting really resonated with me. I am not what one would call a conservative firebrand, but I joined the Federalist Society simply because I was so tired of getting ranty, one-sided emails from the dean and generally only hearing one side of an argument.

    At the same time, I do tend to agree that "Republicans" have tried to make intellectuals the boogeyman. And, I've encountered a general failure to distinguish between intellectually vigorous groups such as the Federalist Society--who will pay just about anyone conservative or libertarian with good ideas to speak--from the Republican party. In fact, the Federalist Society is a heterogenous group of conservatives, libertarians, and even some liberals.

    To the person rightfully chagrined at the inability to get involved in the Federalist Society, I would urge you to do a few things. First, you could see what their constitution on file with the school says about involvement and elections. It's possible they are required by the constitution to have meetings and they aren't. Or, it's possible that you could run for office next year and do something positive with the group! Even better, you might even offer your services to the President or some other board member--they might then be more willing to be in touch. I know from personal experience that it's all too easy to get overwhelmed with school and neglect extracurriculars--this is why as much help from as many people as possible is vital. Maybe you could volunteer to set up the next meeting--logistics take time: room reservations, advertising, emailing students--usually with a lot of red tape along the way from the school.

  17. This is such an outstanding analysis. It is really hard to contribute much of value, other than what has been said. I'm still left is this solved? I don't think it is possible. The reputations are set, the admissions board is seeking a certain student and there you go, this is why I can't ever find a law student who can make a good argument out of anything. They only argue well when they believe in something, that is now lawyering. That is activism.

  18. I am a student at a law school in Southern California. I have found a fairly even mix of students from both political bents, and agree that the Federalist Society is a very well funded and run conservative group. The liberals on this campus are not supported by a national group and as a result are at a bit of a disadvantage. I would say its about 60/40 in favor of liberals - a big difference from my undergrad school in Massachusetts.

  19. I don't know if it's the law school itself or the fact that most law students are fresh off of four years as undergraduate students. Since most undergraduate professors and students are liberal, kids that don't have a strong pre-existing conservative or libertarian preference tend to become liberals by social inertia. They arrive that way at law school.

  20. To the post at 8:23pm

    If you think that serves as, or should serve as, an explanation, you obviously haven't attended law school or are an equally close-minded bigot.

  21. The problem is larger than law schools. It is the result of a general distain for honest and open debate by liberal ideologues. The viscious assaults on anyone who expresses conservative opinions is enough to silence any intelligent conservative. As a formally outspoken conservative, I have intentionally avoided speaking out in law school in order to preserve as many career opportunities as possible in the future. The terrible fact is that conservatives legitimately need to worry about being ostracized and blacklisted as a result of our beliefs, and liberals do not. Because conservatives value open debate, we do not punish those with opposing views. However, as Governor Palin, John Yoo, Carrie Prejean, Professor Scott Fitzgibbon, Dr. Li-Ann Theo, and countless others will attest- liberals will go beyond just demonizing those who they disagree with, they will try to destroy them. Why would any conservative faculty member want to disclose their views and face that wrath, let alone any student?

    And to the above commenter who said that more liberals are in law school because liberals care more about Constituional rights, that is absolutely ridiculous. If you have ever attended law school and taken a constitutional law class of any kind, and have any sense of intellectual honesty, you will have to admit that liberals could care less about the constitution. Modern liberal constitutional theory is about how to circumvent the constitution. Take your pick of top liberal "constituional" scholars, there writing is invariably about why we should ignore the constituion and "supplement" it with their enlightened liberal philosophies. Even liberals are embarrased by the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on the "right" to abortion. As my liberal T-14 Con-law Professor said, you know when someone talks about penumbras emanating from the Bill of Rights they are making things up. The fact is that the "rights" that liberals care about are not constituional rights but ideological values. On the flip side, Conservatives explicitely care about actual Constitutional rights like the 1st, 2nd, 9th and 10th Amendments that liberals pretend don't exist. (Don't tell me liberals respect the right to free speech, they are the fist ones to try to silence their critics, or create obstacles to free speech like the "Fairness Doctrine."

    Let me finish by saying that as far as the student bodies go, I think admissions officers do often try to select liberal students. Luckily, many of us conservatives are smart enough to realize it and thwart them. However, once school starts and our careers are on the line we are often silent. Trust me, when military recruiters are openly maligned by the administration every time they come to campus the message is clear that dissenting opinionswill not be tolerated, even those as moderate and popular as supporting the military.

  22. Section 1 of the Penn 1L class has some very vocal conservatives... just pointing that out. In Professor Johnston's contracts lecture, it's practically a conservative wankfest.

  23. I'm just afraid of being called a racist, bigot, etc. in front of 80 classmates.

  24. Republicans shouldnt be allowed in law school. They don't understand the Constitution and the textualism and original intent are inherently flawed judicial philosophies.

    In fact, republicans should just be disbarred. Like Monica Goodling, Alberto Gonzalez, Harriet Miers, Paul McNulty, Scalia, Thomas, Alito...

    see what I mean? They don't understand law. They are partisan hacks and threats to the rule of law.

  25. It is a function of the kind of people who go to law school.

    I'm guessing most people in law school come from some kind of humanities undergrad background. People with B.A.'s tend to be liberal.

    You step foot into an MBA program and my guess is that you won't exactly find too many favorable views on a progressive tax system, restrictions on trade, etc...

    My buddy in Medical school tells me that while not overt, it trends conservative.

    No big deal really, although I suppose the OP does have a point that law school is the one place where there should be spirited debate.

  26. I attended WCL (American University.)

    All I can say is that it was the most closed-mined group of individuals I have ever met. The school's overarching focus is not the teaching of law - it is "Immigrant Rights." Interpretation of the Rule of Law was very subjective - the fact that an individual was in this country illegally was immaterial because IMMIGRANTS HAVE RIGHTS.

  27. I was a top 10 school on the eve of the election in 2004. A faculty debate was announced on foreign policy aspects of the election. I wondered who they could possibly get to speak for Bush.

    The mystery was solved as the debate unfolded. Two of the law professors argued Kerry would be better than Bush. The other two (one from Europe) argued the American electorate was so far to the right that Bush and Kerry would be equally bad.

    I was too timid to raise my hand and point out they were essentially having a debate between Kerry and Chomsky.

    In my three years at the school, I knew of only one openly Republican member on the faculty. There was one other ostensible Republican, but I only ever heard him criticize Bush. The other faculty seemed to consider him "thoughtful."

  28. I attended a top 20 law school. The faculty was almost uniformly Leftist. I say "almost" because there may have been a few conservative professors there who simply kept quiet. There were no vocal conservative professors. The Leftists were loud, assertive, and all-pervasive.

    I was known to be a conservative, but I generally found it best to keep quiet and I did.

  29. "I think students feel that if they do make such a comment, the rest of the class will be ready to pounce"

    I suspect they're a lot more fearful their grade will suffer. They're afraid of you, not other students.

    The left's fondness for punishing thought crime any way they can hasn't been lost on law students, and there's no reason to believe professors are going to pass up that opportunity. I suspect there are a lot more conservatives (and even more future conservatives) sitting out there than you think.

    "The problem is, in a fairly liberal institution..."

    The problem is our universities aren't "fairly liberal" - with few exceptions, they're left wing echo chambers.

    "I was too timid to raise my hand and point out they were essentially having a debate between Kerry and Chomsky"

    One of the byproducts of the intellectual inbreeding in our universities is that many people there have no idea where the political center is (this seems to be a big problem for journalists as well).

  30. Though not in law school, while in graduate school I made an idle "conservative" comment in a class where the teacher wasn't openly liberal, expressing skepticism of some the AGW agenda while still agreeing CO2 was a greenhouse gas.

    Prior to that, I had the highest grade in the class, 95%. My next assignment came back below 45% though my effort on that assignment was superior to the previous.

    I salvaged my grade by doing a project on local global warming conditions.

    On the other hand, I took one law class, from an openly liberal professor. She constantly complained of Bush, but in her class I was encouraged to be as conservative as I pleased.

  31. Advice from our Fed Soc faculty advisor: be as interested INTELLECTUALLY as you are POLITICALLY.

    I think that's good advice for all students and faculty.

    We had one Con Law prof who discussed the difference between liberal/conservative politics and liberal/conservative jurisprudence. Of course, he was a rarity in that he not only openly declared his beliefs, but was scrupulous in framing the disagreements. He didn't deal in cheap shots.

    I'm torn about Fed Soc: I'm a huge fan, but it's a damn shame that they are even needed on our law school campuses. Fed Soc donors spend millions to create chapters on every campus so conservative/libertarian views even have a voice. Meanwhile, tax dollars are spent to invite the liberal speakers, as if the law school faculties couldn't already provide that.

    Recently got a flier from my law school regarding upcoming invited speakers. All liberals, as expected.

    To the 1L interested in Fed Soc -- could be a variety of things. Some chapter officers are scared of the faculty, or only took the position to put it on their resume. Some had grand plans, then got slammed with the realities of law school life. Some chapters are taken over by conservative or libertarian views, and they only want to hold events that match their worldview. But don't get discouraged. See the comment at 843pm. Get involved, take a leadership position, bug the officers to hold events, etc. It's worth it.

    In closing, I should note that I didn't want a "political" law school experience. But after being outnumbered in every class, seeing professors deny there were rational competing arguments, watching the administration fawn over every race-based or liberal speaker...well, let's just say it's a real motivator to knuckle down and know the law when you are outnumbered and outgunned.

  32. I am a fairly recent (2006) graduate of a top-30 law school. One point that I haven't seen addressed in the comments:

    Spirited debate in class is one thing. But so many of these issues are so very personal, especially abortion and homosexual issues. Law school is a LOT more than just class - you are submerged in a community for three years. On so many of these issues, there is always the fear, justifiable or not, that disagreement will lead to insult which will lead to social rejection for the rest of one's time in school - and then hurt inter-class networking throughout one's career. Once a student is tarred as racist, "religious right homophobe" or some such, it's very hard to overcome such a label. As such, it's SO much easier to just keep one's head down for three years, get the degree, and move on.

  33. I am a "liberal" law student at BYU Law, perhaps the most conservative law school in the country. For example, I'd be willing to bet that my law school has the largest Federalist Society (percentange-wise) of all United States law schools. Just about everyone I know at BYU Law is a Republican, as is nearly every member of the faculty and the administration. It is essentially the exact opposite of nearly every other law school in the US, politically speaking.

    It really is interesting to read the comments in this thread since my experience has been exactly the same once you replace liberal with conservative and vice versa. Liberal viewpoints are derided constantly here, conservative students look down on liberals, and nearly all speakers invited to the law school are champions of conservative ideals. And while I can't know for sure, I strongly suspect that I received a poor grade on a paper for espousing liberal viewpoints.

    These comments just show me that there are likely very few law schools where there is a good mix of liberals and conservatives (student-wise AND faculty-wise). Just seems like things go from one extreme to the other without much in between.

    When liberals are running the show, conservatives complain of being silenced and marginalized, but I can assure that the same thing happens when conservatives are running the show. Anyways, just a randon comment from a liberal in the heart of the most conservative area in the country.

  34. Well, when I was at Georgetown Law (1957-1060 JD) I didn't sense any particular efforts to shut up the conservatives. Mostly we debated the text of the Constitution, opinions of the SCOTUS, and occasionally a bit of history. Still, there was no visible conservative leaning politically.

    I guess things have changed. Apparently the text of the Constitution and historic quotes from the drafters (eg T Jefferson's comment that
    a reference to the general welfare was not meant to expand the specified powers of the central government..which I doubt has even been seen by current law students. And maybe even by the ConLaw profs) no longer have a place in ConLaw. Thanks a lot, SCOTUS!

  35. Umm...that should be JD in 1960, not 1060. Jim B

  36. What I find interesting is that in a post about whether or not conservative students are afraid to voice opposing views, there is one anonymous comment after another.

  37. I was a 1L student last year at a DC law school and had the audacity to wear a "McCain 2008" shirt to class two weeks into the school year. When I entered torts class that morning, the entire class bursted into laughter. After that, I became known, pejoratively, as "the McCain kid" for the first couple months and had very few friends at the law school except for the closeted conservatives and liberatarians. Students were visibly nervous associating with me after that. Months later, one student confirmed that my sensed isolation was not a contrivance of my mind, confessing that she and her friends "weren't sure about [me]" after I wore the McCain shirt to school. One professor told me that my views would be more highly regarded at George Mason and that I ought to consider transferring there. I transferred elsewhere.

    I think my experience was different than that of most of the commenters here. I can't say that I was apprehensive to speak out in class. Probably because I was identified early on as the ideological contrarian, I think that broke much of the reticence I would have otherwise had to participating.

    The commenter above me may be correct that this likely isn't a phenomenon particular to liberal institutions. Nevertheless, it is a shame that political affiliation is ever a prerequisite to social acceptance. And it strikes me as particularly hypocritical when it comes from institutions and individuals who purport to be the most enlightened and accepting.

  38. "How do you solve it?"

    Any professor worthy of his / her degree either already knows or can quickly identify the dominant political/legal ideology of a particular school/group of students and knows how to argue either side of an issue.

    If there's a commitment to ideological "diversity", the professor will make sure the minority opinion is aired, fairly represented and defended, regardless of his/her opinion.

    If, that is, law school is supposed to teach students "how" to think, not "what" to think.

  39. How can gay marriage be against the constitution, when the constitution doesn't mention marriage at all?

  40. I'd like to offer a little bit of a different experience. I just graduated from the University of Tennessee. It's a pretty conservative area, and I would guess that if you had polled the law school in Fall 2008, we would have come out pretty close to even, perhaps even with an edge to McCain. However, there were certainly a lot of students in Obama "gear," while I don't think that I ever saw a McCain shirt or sticker; it just wasn't the culture- we were more apt to make fun of the Obama-worshipers.

    One thing that I did note is that the libs were really derisive, particularly toward Palin, while the conservatives were usually a lot more measured; I would assume that a lot of that was an urge to avoid any possibility of attracting the "R" word, as well as the culture itself was less emotional.

    As for overall issues, I think that being a more moderate environment was really helpful to debate. Very few of the professors wore their views on their sleeves; most preferred to play devil's advocate, which is what law professors are really there for- to make you test the strength of your argument; they'd much rather see you argue your point well than change it. Again, I think for cultural reasons, the libs were more outspoken in a lot of situations, but, with the professor playing devil's advocate against them, it was never hard for a more conservative voice to jump in. As a conservative liberatarian, I really enjoyed it.

  41. I am at U. Chicago, and it's so rigorous here no one has time for politics.

  42. I went to the U of WA in Seattle, and it was about as lefty as it gets. (The Communist-sympathetic Critical Legal Studies folks still get taken seriously, and the legal writing program had devolved into nothing more than Jonathan Livingston Seagull-esque new age preening, to the point that judges throught the region were complaining to the Dean about the atrophied writing skills our alum were going to court with.) But I have to say that as a conservative, I got a far, far better education on account of it than did my liberal classmates.

    I decided early on that I wanted to be outspoken and fearless, but also a good ambassador of Conservatism. That forced me to know my stuff before I got into it with professors. It might have been even better, but some of them were so un-used to having an actual debate that it wasn't as hard as I would have expected to keep things on somewhat equal footing... I was often approached after classes with people telling me they were glad that someone was taking an opposing viewpoint, and I was nearly just as often surprised (and angered) by how many people felt they couldn't speak their minds for fear of retaliation socially or academically.

    But having said that, I can't say that I suffered retaliation for my views (except in the afore mentioned "legal writing" program). I tried to be gracious and keep things non-personal, and generally my classmates and professors responded in kind. My FedSoc chapter started a blog, which I think was well received (and even got a shout out in our student graduation speech).

    I believe strongly in the Socratic method, Devil's advocacy, and other hard hitting ways to force people of any ideological bent or assumption to question their core beliefs. It is a forge - good ideas are made stronger, flawed ideas fall apart. I know the classes where I engaged with profs who disagreed with me had the effect of adjusting my thought processes and even ideas about a lot of things, and it's a shame that liberal law students miss out on a good part of that mental workout.

    Fellow Conservatives, I emplore you to have no fear, to carry your banner proudly but always thoughtfully, and always walk into an academic fight well armed. Both you and your classmates (and I daresay, your professors) will have a better academic experience for it.

  43. I can't imagine why you feel a sense of loss after the left has worked so hard to expunge of traces of non-leftest thought from academia. Is there a nagging feeling that your victory has come at a price that you can't quite identify? Could it be that by separating yourself so completely from the rest of the country that you've also insulated them from you? Keep thinking about it. I believe eventually that it may dawn on you that such a win has only guaranteed a loss for everyone.

  44. Orrin - Amen Brother! (or sister, whichever)...
    I graduated from Boston Univ Law in 1982. I was, and remain, Catholic, conservative and pro-military (went through undergrad on ROTC). Was BU far left? Not far enough for the Spartacus Youth League, but otherwise I'd say so: e.g. the law school turned out en masse to swoon over presidential candidate Jerry Brown and was (liberated by profound ignorance) united behind the Salvadoran "rebels" and the Sandinistas. Ronald Reagan was their worst nightmare. Abortion on demand was as fundamental as the free press (just don't call it contraception).
    I never gave in, never gave up and never let the opportunity to engage in religious or political discussions pass me by. A friend once observed that I was always outnumbered but never outgunned. And you don't have to give up having a good time - I ran the Happy Hour, was active in the student bar association, had many friends and a wonderful time through it all...
    Maybe things are different now, but I don't think so... the reflexive, infantile socialism conventionally exhibited by law students (and now, alas, our president and his coterie) is nothing new, but it must and should be vigorously, rigorously challenged by all who see things differently. As was stated in Boondock Saints (and probably somewhere else, too), the worst evil is when good men allow evil men to have their way without opposition.
    So, to echo Orrin's more eloquent admonition: be polite, be rigorous, be logical, but don't shut up and don't sit down.

  45. I just have to say that this blog is truly one of the best legal blogs on the internet-hands down, bar none, etc. I know you guys are just students, but you do such a great job.

  46. Well, certainly part of the problem is the left's immediate labeling of those they disagree with. If you don't believe we should have open borders you are racist. If you don't agree with abortion on demand you hate women. If you don't think the government is the best provider of health care for the country you hate poor people. If you'd like to see discussion, understand that some of us believe affirmative action is wrong not because we hate black people but because we think all people are able to play on the playing field together, and would fight discrimation based on race as well as preference based on race. The left endeavors to shut down disagreement, not foster it.

    In the media certainly Limabugh is not more extreme than Olberman yet Limabugh is characterized as a big fat idiot, not someone with whom some disagree.

  47. Wouldn't lawyers be better educated if they were randomly assigned viewpoints in any debate? Right side of the class will argue pro-abortion, left side anti-abortion, or vice versa. Don't lawyers have to anticipate the positions of the opposition and sometimes advocate for positions they don't hold, if they are legally viable? Isn't this the best practice to ensure future lawyers take a dispassioned view of cases, and not an emotional viewpoint? This would make all sorts of ideas fly around the room and make everyone think instead of regurgitation of liberal (or in the case of BYU) conservative views. Perhaps this is something you could suggest to your professors to see if it would encourage more simulative debate.

    However, it isn't about education is it?

  48. While I think a majority of law students are socially liberal, and voted for Obama because he was smart and charismatic and presented a warmer and more just picture of American then the McCains, Palins, Giuliani, Cheneys of the world -- (I think most of us said 'I don't want to live in that America, no matter how low the taxes are') -- a majority of law students are or will soon find themselves getting tempted by that conservative idealogy that says "I deserve everything I'm accumulated, and I am not obligated to help those poor, lazy slobs over there" OR "I gave at the office."

    Most of us -- except for the public defenders and ambulance-chasers among us -- will soon be entering the extremely conservative field of protecting rich people's money. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing -- but it's definitely a very conservative thing.

  49. Excellent post, Robin. I think law schools will always skew liberal, but it shouldn't be case that conservative voices feel dismissed. That said, I think the federalist society at Penn does a pretty good job of promoting them and bringing speakers on campus -- something I give them a lot of credit for.

  50. What's difficult to understand? The Democratic Party and parties to the left of them stand for bigger and more intrusive government, and for more laws controlling our speech and activities. And members of which particular profession, pray tell, make their living by manipulating, interpreting, and in many cases writing our laws?

    You won't find a lot of anorexics in cooking school, you won't find a lot of acrophobes in flight school, you won't find a lot of African-Americans joining the Klan, and you won't find a lot of people in law school who believe that the government that governs best governs least.

  51. As a 3L at a mid-tier NYC law school, I signed up for a small seminar class entitled "Law and Literature". On the first day, the Professor chucked the proposed syllabus and told the students they would re-write the class to their own liking. And thus "Literature" went out the proverbial window and in came political writings for every Leftist cause de jour.

    Part of the class was to write and submit a critique of the prior reading assignment and then present it to the class. As a right-leaning libertarian, I found a particular "feminist" writing (if you could call it that - it was really nothing more than lesbian bondage pornography, which I'm sure is great and has its place somehwere, but probably not in a law school literature class) to be rather insulting, if not odious. In my critique, I took the tale apart, line by line.

    Prior to the next class, on the day we were to present our critiques, the Professor pulled me aside and told me that I was to refrain from speaking. Apparently, my particular worldview was atypical from the rest of the class (only in the Ivory Tower) and, lest I become a pariah, I should just keep quiet. Fearing for my GPA, I did just that.

    This was 15 years ago. I can only imagine how worse it is for any student not wearing a Che T-shirt or carrying a DU card.

  52. I’m a conservative 2L at UVA. I don’t want to sound ostentatious, but I haven’t felt the strong partisan imbalance this post refers to. Class discussions frequently bounce back and forth between Scalia supporters and Scalia haters. Professors seem to generally dislike conservative positions, but they understand that a large minority of the student population is right of center and so they respect those views in class discussions.

    I chose UVA because I perceived this balance (or at least not outlandish imbalance) when I visited the school and talked to the students. On my visit there was a debate sponsored jointly by the Federalist Society and American Constitutional Society. Both sides were equally represented in number of students and fairly represented by the debaters.

    Of course, it is a self-selection process. I know a number of students, like me, who turned down higher ranked schools in part because of this environment, which unfortunately only exacerbates the problem at those schools. Sorry.

  53. For the commenter at 1:54 who described conservatives as believing in not being "obligated to help poor, lazy slobs" and "protecting rich people's money":

    You realize you just gave a description of conservatism that nobody on this thread, much less Republicans in general, actually believes in right?

    You realize if I described all liberals as being covert communists it would be only slightly less cartoonish a view of the political spectrum than your understanding of the ideology you oppose?

    (Sorry, I would assume this is merely trolling, but I generally get the impression that this is what some of our brethren in school beleived.)

    To help you out on at least having an idea what it is you're opposing:

    The general conservative view is that the increased taxes (across the board, not just on the rich) and welfare that the government requires to help the poor hurts everbody. It brings down the efficiency of the economy, causes companies to move their production overseas, and (with respect to government aid) makes the poorer strands of society dependent upon government handouts as well as on habits that hurt their own welfare to a far greater extent over time (for instance through the destruction of the family over the last few decades since single mothers get more benefits from the government).

    All of these factors the United States has had a much more productive economy over the last few decades than Europe (which has a much greater welfare state) and why we have a greater standard of living across the board (not just among rich people). Just because any one of us should help the poor doesn't mean the government should force us to help the poor and direct how we do so--whether you agree with it our not, our belief is that having the government do that is counterproductive for everybody.

  54. Or how about Evangelicals rejecting Mitt Romney because he was Mormon?

    My point is that maybe the burden of proof should be on conservatives to defend their idealogy when you allow mouthpieces like Michelle Malkin, Hannity, and even Michael ("don't the Mormons believe Jesus and Satan are brothers?") Huckabee to be your thought leaders.

    Or Sarah Palin writing in her book that she just doesn't believe that humans -- thoughtful, thinking humans -- could have evolved from fish.

  55. "Or how about Evangelicals rejecting Mitt Romoney because he was a Mormon"

    You do realize in the early polling, far more Democrats said they'd have a problem with voting for a Mormon for President than Republicans?

    In any case, those are neither the tenets of conservative nor liberal ideology and, sorry, anybody who tosses them out as such needs to learn much more about politics in general before they opine on it or criticize others for their beliefs.

  56. I just graduated from a Top 20 school, and I never noticed a disparity in the way liberals & conservatives were treated.

    I'm a self-described flaming liberal, and many of my friends were card-toting members of the Federalist Society. My law school BFF is a libertarian. Generally, my experience with law school politics has been similar to my experience with politics in everyday life—people who act like assholes get treated like assholes. People who are intelligent, thoughtful, genuinely interested in having a well-reasoned debate or discussion get exactly that.

    The "problems" people experience in law school academia usually have nothing to do with their politics and everything to do with their attitude.

  57. Apparently, asking Scalia if he sodomizes his wife during a question & answer session, airing bullhorns during speeches, and generally assuming people who disagree with you are racists who hate poor people count as civil debate by liberals.

    What counts as "asshole" behavior I'm not entirely sure.

  58. Got here via Instapundit...

    I expected a lot more "intellect" in the comments!

    For a start, how about looking at this in more than a bi-polar view of "conservatives" vs. "liberals"?! The (David) Nolan view is useful -- or better yet, the (Jerry) Pournelle! A bi-polar view of "individualists" vs. "statists" would be both more accurate and more interesting.

    Second, going to a "good" school is clearly not a signifier of an intellectual or open mind:

    Anon @2:41 seems not to have read the Bill O'Rights

    Anon @6:34 is a real bright bulb at Penn, slurring with "homophobe"...but his real glow is pretension, incorrectly using "whence" (It means "from where" you boob, so "from whence" is just stupid!) Of course, he's probably a hoplophobe like @2:41...

    and on and on...

    But, the winner is Anon @1:54 "voted for Obama because he was smart and charismatic and presented a warmer and more just picture of American"
    You, Sir, are an idiot! One of the following is true: 1) You did not go to any "elite" learning institution AND accept at face value the pedestrian assertion, "BHO went to two Ivy League schools and is, therefore, smart."; or 2) You did(!) AND somehow still believe that BHO is smart -- this being preposterous, as an elite school attendee (should) emerge from the process stunned at how utterly stupid some of the graduates are! Sorry, there was no saccharin strong enough to coat this. How many galaxy-sized bungles does BHO have to make before you question your worldview!? {Mumbling on live TV for three minutes in the face of the Ft.Hood tragedy; then confusing the MOH with the Presidential Medal of Freedom ...which he presented! ...I'll bet BHO has never EVEN read an MOH citation! Real sharp!}

  59. I run a T-20 Federalist Society. In my 1L Con Law class, I was the only one willing to speak up consistently on anything right of center. However, I don't have strong feelings on abortion and so I didn't want to speak about that. Because I developed a good relationship with the professor - a very liberal guy, but who appreciated someone presenting the opposite side - I let him know that I did not want to speak on that issue.

    I was pleasantly surprised when he took the conservative POV while discussing abortion. One of my friends bet me that he was actually pro-life, but otherwise liberal. That was a bet I was happy to take, because I was sure he was just trying to stimulate thought and discussion.

    There's a really important point here. If you're a conservative or libertarian, and you don't go to GMU or BYU, you will have your ideas challenged repeatedly through law school. You'll learn the weaknesses of your arguments and how to adapt the arguments to better them. This won't happen if you're a liberal - most of the professors will just agree with you and won't act as devil's advocate. Instead of having your ideas challenged, you'll feel good about yourself. Now, ask yourself, who ends up with more education? Who ends up with a better understanding of his or her arguments? Because of this, I would encourage you to try on the other side's positions, even if you don't agree.

    To the 1L commenter who discussed Penn Law's chapter - if it's anything like ours, we mostly just have events but don't bother having weekly or monthly meetings, unlike undergrad. I also invite everyone to join, whether they fit our ideological profile or not. All that happens if they join is that they get an occasional e-mail from me about our events. I don't try to keep it "elite" nor do I think we should. As with any other group, some of us are elite, others less so. That's ok. The main objective of our group is to try to present another perspective, one that is less common in law school. Not to ensure that only the smartest folks in each school who are not liberal can hang out together, in my view.

  60. I wonder, in the typical liberal law school, how extremist-left a student has to be to elicit the kind of ostracism, ridicule and retaliation that some right-of-center commenters have described here.

  61. I had no idea that conservative "thinkers" at law school were so terrified of disapproval.

    There is at least a little irony that the espousers of the ideology centered around strong individuals unfettered by the goverenemt is too scared to speak up in a BLIND GRADED class.

  62. I'm a right-of-center guy in a law school that I'd say is predominently liberal (but b/c it's a Catholic University there is a strong, though minority, group of conservatives as well).

    I'm not ashamed of leaning to the right. I just feel no need to argue that POV in class. I simply find most of the political dialogue that happens in class - even at law school - too inane to be worth the distraction it creates from learning the law. Now - discussion with a smaller group over drinks or during study group is a completely different story.

    I recognize how incredily douchey that sounds. Sorry about that. But you are right in an important sense... To say that you agree or don't agree with gay marriage (or torture or abortion, etc) is a completely different animal from being able to say that you can craft a compelling legal case for either side. It's just that too often, the latter is subsumed by the former and it is a completely useless exercise.

    (DISCLAIMER: I'm an evening student and so my thinking is likely tainted by a feeling that political debates in class just waste time and energy and most evening students aren't willing to part with.)

  63. The only time during my law school career where it was acceptable to say something that wasnt PC or liberal groupthink was the days after 9-11. As soon as America started getting back to partisan bickering, it was time to shut up about strict constructionism and let the orthodoxy prevail. If I were to go back to law school now, I'd just shut the hell up, focus on studying for the exam, and leave politics at home.

  64. I attended Harvard Law School (1997-2000) and was an outspoken libertarian the entire time I was there. The only time I neutered my opinion was in answering test questions, which were blindly graded (with one exception, see below).

    The result:
    1) I was repeatedly hissed at in class when I spoke by left students. This was unpunished by the professor.
    2) The civil procedure professor called me "bloodsucking" to my face before the entire class.
    3) When I tried to speak in con law, my con law professor would frequently just provide a "libertarian executive summary" of what he thought I would say, and then not call me, preventing an actual libertarian from speaking.
    4) I had multiple students tell me they would no longer associate with me due to my views on affirmative action and discrimination law.
    5) The only class I ever provided a test answer that was libertarian (a class on campaign finance), I got a grade two ranks lower than any other grade I got while there.

    In short, my experience was that both the students and professors were close-minded liberals who did not want to hear an alternative viewpoint, and that sharing a right wing or libertarian viewpoint on a test was a recipe for poor grades.

    So I "talked right" "tested left", graduated magna cum laude, and got out of law as fast as humanly possible.

  65. Oh the tragic tales of conservatives being victimized. I have never heard of that before. Yawn.

  66. I'd like to hold an "open mic" law school debate on this topic, tape it, and send an edited version containing only the liberal comments to some unbiased observers.

    The observers wouldn't even have to hear the conservative side of the debate: the liberal side alone would show there's a problem.

    A sizable minority of the liberal comments would simply be expressions of contempt and scorn for conservatives, delivered with a lack of civility that would be shocking if applied to any other group in the law school.

    Most of the more substantive liberal comments would begin by freely admitting an imbalance exists--especially on the faculty and somewhat among the students. That in itself is a striking admission.

    These commenters would go on to give their own theories on why the imbalance exists. And these theories would generally be so condescending, vengeful, or clueless as to again make the existence of a problem obvious. You can look through the comments above for sample theories.

    For example, someone said law is an inherently liberal enterprise because it's all about civil rights. What's striking about that is the lack of empathy for the other side's position: property rights, freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear arms, the rights of the unborn, etc.

    That's what happens when you live in a monoculture of ideas, and an echo chamber of agreement: you see only your own side's spin on the issue.

    Another commenter said of course academics (in general) are hostile to conservatives, because conservatives demonize intellectuals to appeal to poor white voters. OK...

    If you played the liberal side of the debate to an outside observer, I think they'd clearly see the problem. What I don't know is whether the typical liberal student, watching the tape, would be able to see it.

    The original poster saw it, and I thank her very much for her empathy and insight.

  67. When a student advocates a poorly reasoned position in law school that nevertheless supports the outcome desired of the majority, his thoughts will most often either be ignored by the class or be met with modest approval. But if one offers a poorly reasoned position with which the majority disagrees, particularly on matters where advocacy tends to divide along lines of political ideology, he can expect to be embarassed intellectually by his classmates, and he risks being met with derision by his peers. As a result, I think conservative and libertarian students are much more apprehensive about "thinking aloud" in class. There's a tendency for only the most cogent ideas of the dissenters to receive much airtime.


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