Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy

By Ginsburg, Douglas H. | Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Reflections on the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy


Ginsburg, Douglas H., Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy


Twenty-five years ago, when I was an enthusiastic assistant professor of law only recently arrived at Harvard, Steven Eberhard and Spencer Abraham were enterprising law students in search of a faculty member to provide cover for their idea of founding a new journal at the Harvard Law School. The creation of a new law journal was an almost commonplace event at Harvard in those days. The ranks of specialized publications produced by students under the auspices of the Law School had swelled during the 1970s, as various interest groups comprised of a few students, with the support of sympathetic members of the faculty, started one such journal after another. To establish yet another journal might have seemed like carrying coals to Newcastle, but Eberhard and Abraham had no commonplace journal in mind.

Indeed, the new journal they proposed was to be unlike any publication at any law school: they conceived of a journal devoted to the study of law from a conservative perspective. At the time, the idea appeared as odd as it was novel. After all, conservatives were not riding high in the saddle just then; it was only two years since the resignation of President Richard Nixon, a one-time conservative who had gone to China and at home had imposed Keynesian wage and price controls. If the timing seemed improbable, however, the institutional affiliation of the planned journal was more curious still. The faculty of the Harvard Law School was overwhelmingly hostile to conservative ideas and the student body appeared to be only a little more diverse. Indeed, the closest the school came to ideological pluralism during those years was reflected in the continuing debate between the Great Society social democrats and the adherents of the Critical Legal Studies movement about whether there really was any difference between law and politics, while one tenured and two un-tenured conservatives looked on with dismay. That the campus could sustain a forum for conservative thought was far from clear; in fact, it was near to risible.

Nonetheless, in a mischievous moment--which is all it took--I agreed to serve as the faculty advisor for the nascent Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. As it turned out, however, the effort required of me in that capacity was close to nil, owing to the diligence of the students on the Journal's staff. Despite having been denied funding from the Law School, and notwithstanding the difficulties that affect any start-up organization staffed by overworked volunteers, the Journal soon published its first issue. It has grown stronger in circulation and in influence with each passing year. I have derived great personal satisfaction in watching the Journal's success, and the Journal's readership indicates that I am not alone.

The Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy is now the preeminent forum in the country for conservative legal commentary. No other law review has as great a reach; more than 8,000 readers receive each issue of the Journal. This is to say nothing of the influence that articles appearing in the Journal have had upon the development of the law. Indeed, the Journal has helped to generate the impetus for a new, innovative wave of legal research and scholarship, a wave that correlates closely with a return by the courts to their historic obligations of self-restraint and fidelity to texts. All who believe, as did Hamilton, that "it is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of laws" (1) should applaud the Journal for its contribution to this beneficial reform.

Of course, conservative members of the legal community have long recognized the Journal's place in the struggle for reform. From the moment the Journal stated its intention to provide an outlet for heterodox legal thought, students with ideas that challenged the orthodoxies of the legal academy came forward, and law professors seized upon the opportunity to publish legal theories that earlier might not have found an outlet. …

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