Causes and Consequences of the Legal Academy’s Lack of Political Diversity

The Harvard Crimson reports that 98 percent of political donations made by the Harvard Law School faculty goes to Democrats. This disproportion suggests that the lack of political diversity at elite law schools is no better than when I reported on it in my own study ten years ago. As the Anglican church was said to be the Tory party at prayer in nineteenth century England, the legal academy today remains the Democratic party at play.

Already comments dismissing the import of the study are to be found on the internet, such as the observation that the donations at Koch Industries may be similarly one-sided. That misses the point. The concern is not about the political donations per se, but that their distribution suggests that intellectual atmosphere at schools like HLS is politically insular. Lawyers, as  Alexis De Tocqueville said, are the political aristocrats of American society, and our elite law schools importantly shape their education. Moreover, law school professors play a large role in the production of new legal ideas and reforms.

There are, no doubt, many reasons for such gross ideological imbalance.  One that is little discussed is network effects. It is quite rational to adopt the predominant views of one’s faculty and one’s academic profession for both professional and personal reasons. First, in much of academia, it is very hard to judge the absolute quality of the output. In the absence of a market test, as in business, academic scholarship may be judged more subjectively for the purposes of hiring, tenure, and promotion.  Why take a chance that one’s colleagues might discount work by someone not in line  with their views?  Second, in an increasingly partisan world, social relations are made smoother by falling in with the party line of colleagues. Academia has some aspects of an exclusive club, and it is most useful to be a clubbable man or woman.

The dramatic political imbalance creates two different sets of losers.  Left-liberal students are worse off, because their views are less likely to be challenged by an overwhelmingly left-liberal faculty. Being forced to defend one’s deepest convictions improves legal and intellectual skills. The second loss accrues to society because of weaker competition in the market for academic ideas.  A predominantly left-liberal academy is unlikely to develop ideas on the right side of the political spectrum.  At the same time, its professor are likely to be less inclined to push back on ideas with which they largely agree.  The result is a weaker, less diverse set of proposals on the intellectual shelf for policymakers to use.    To be sure, think tanks take up some of the slack, but academics do have an advantage in standing outside the immediate hurly-burly of politics. They can offer policies that may be currently impossible to enact, but nevertheless set an innovative agenda for the future.

Reader Discussion

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on May 04, 2015 at 20:56:15 pm

Over the past 125 plus years the Progressives (socialists) have gotten all their major ideas into law and,at the same time, placed those laws into the fabric of the American Republic. The Progressive Income Tax,Central Bank credit and fiat currency,state control of education from kindergarten to the university level,control of the main stream media,socialized medicine (medicare and medicaid),the numbering of the American citizens,control of industry and business through the tax,licensing and regulatory systems,the onus of "reporting" to your government etc.,etc. All the Libertarians and classic conservatives have been able to do is fight a losing rear guard action. To a large extent the American judicial system,at least since Wilson and to a larger extent since FDR have aided and abetted the process. The final result is that the American Republic,with its rule of law and Constitutional safeguards,has degenerated into a mobocracy democracy. The changing and or misinterpreting of laws,created laws and government functions that our founding fathers never dreamed of or allowed in the original Constitution has led to where the original Constitution is meaningless and has led,in the final result,to tyranny. Cultural Marxists and collectivists have won a Century long battle to change America. They practice and pontificate,to a large extent,in the Ivory Tower World of Academia. At the same time they,the collectivists,Leftists and socialists,will fight tooth and nail to keep the socialist status quo in place,with,of course them in charge. The Left's revolution has been a success beyond their wildest dreams. The only answer is to rout them out. No compromises. In the end what is needed is a counter revolution. 1776 if necessary. Either or.

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libertarian jerry
on May 06, 2015 at 06:23:41 am

I wasn't surprised to read of the near-total absence of political diversity at some of the nation's most "elite" law schools. When I attended Harvard Law School, lo these many years ago, there was almost no diversity of thought among the faculty, unless you count slight differences between left and far-left. Apparently, the situation today is no better, and may even be a bit worse, if that's even possible.

It's perhaps counterintuitive, but there's more actual diversity of thought at some of the more humble law schools (as well as more diversity of race, ethnicity, and other key measures). When I taught at Charlotte School of Law and Appalachian School of Law several years ago, I was very favorably impressed with the evident breadth of opinion among my colleagues. I never experienced this at HLS, and this impoverished every student's experience there. It does a student no favors to feed her a steady diet of politically and ideologically uniform thought. It fails to prepare her for the rough-and-tumble of real law practice.

Some smug observers like to scoff at the InfiLaw schools, Appalachian, and other legal institutions of supposedly non-elite quality. For my money, a person can get a more genuine, practical set of lawyerly skills at these schools than she can at HLS, Yale, or other identi-kit clone factories for ivory-tower elitists.

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John Charles Kunich
on May 11, 2015 at 14:41:33 pm

My brother and hos wife are both George Town law grads.
My brother, like me, is from humble but educated middle class roots.
He is currently a high level (not DC high level) Assistant director at an SEC regional office. It is his experience that lawyers who graduated from non-ivy, work harder and appreciate the value of what they do at the SEC, protecting the little guy from big frauds. Ivy tends to breed entitled fools who will get jobs based on their ivy paper rather than actual accomplishment.
My brother is one of those rare lawyers who knows he could double his salary in a second going to the private sector. But he prefers not to check his personal ethics a the door going oto work. And the irony, most of his adversaries voted for Obama.

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