Law Schools vs. Dissenting Views

By Howd, Aimee | Insight on the News, December 20, 1999 | Go to article overview

Law Schools vs. Dissenting Views


Howd, Aimee, Insight on the News


More than 80 percent of professors are Democrats and ideological diversity is an endangered species on law-school campuses. Can honest debate make a comeback?

Just how balanced are America's law schools? Beyond occasional avant-garde courses with titles such as Harvard Law School's racy "Law, Sex and Identity," one might expect the nation's top law faculties to be training students to identify legal issues in dispute and to hold individual cases up to evaluation by objective criteria. This is, after all, the next generation of America's most important lawyers, judges and legislators.

But according to many students, professors and legal professionals the proud rhetoric of diversity trumpeted in the elite legal institutions doesn't go as far as it claims. "Law schools tend to define a range of permissible disagreements," says Steve Calabresi, a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University in Chicago. The beliefs held by many when they come to law school are not even dignified by debate; they simply are rejected and cast aside as if they were from a childish Etch-a-Sketch in an age of electronic word processors.

With few exceptions, only a narrow range of legal opinion has been tolerated at the most prestigious law schools in recent years. Left-liberals acknowledge that much, without apology, and some say they'd like to keep it this way.

As early as the 1960s the left-liberals almost completely dominated legal education. They held that the Constitution ought to be read as a flexible document, subject to changing interpretation by a judicial elite that could create new fundamental rights without regard for the intent of the Founding Fathers. And by the 1980s, their ranks filled with sixties-era radicals, law-school faculties and administrations had established a deeply entrenched orthodoxy of political correctness that lingers to this day, say conservative critics. But there are whispers of a revolution.

"The social injustices that drove liberalism are fading. The leftists wanted quick solutions, but any real change takes pain and time," says Calabresi over lunch at Washington's matronly Mayflower Hotel. He blends into the crowd of several hundred conservative and libertarian legal professionals gathered in their sincere blue suits for the national convention of the Federalist Society. "The public is seeing other injustices emerging from the left-liberal overreaction, and that reaction is now fueling a conservative movement," says Calabresi.

Even people who are anything but conservative ideologues are getting caught in the cross fire of the self-appointed thought police of the current orthodoxy. Take for just one example the case of five young men on the board of the Cornell Law Review during the 1996-97 school year. They had worked double-time in a successful effort to get the prestigious law journal caught up and current for the first time in years. But their occasional evenings spent smoking cigars together at events in which women chose not to participate, and a question raised in a meeting by one of them concerning whether a colleague's pregnancy would cause her to be absent at a key production time, raised accusations of misogyny a year later when a Gender Study Committee commissioned by the Cornell administration convened a board to ask why there weren't more female officers on the Review.

"Two-thirds of the staff earn their positions by merit -- top grades or blindly judged writing skills. Another third is chosen by a form of affirmative action based on a written statement of how they will bring diversity to the Review's staff. The total staff of 50 or so voted on us -- the officers -- through secret ballot," one of the men accused because of the coincidence of his gender and achievement tells Insight. "Apparently, Cornell's administration thought the democratic process needed a little help."

The Gender Study Committee sent an emissary to the full staff for the sole purpose of seeking out women who would complain about men in the Review's leadership and present the solicited grievances at administrative hearings.

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