A Founder's Retrospective: The Journal at 30 Years
Abraham, Spencer, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy
As the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy celebrates its 30th anniversary, a brief reflection upon the Journal's history and achievements seems appropriate.
The environment at Harvard and most law schools in the mid-1970s was very different than it is today. Not surprisingly, liberal philosophical viewpoints dominated the HLS community at that time. Unlike today, however, there were virtually no sources of alternative argumentation. Few law professors or students were acknowledged moderates and even fewer would admit to conservative inclinations. Consequently, conservative legal thinkers had virtually no receptive legal periodicals in which to publish. At the time, Harvard offered its students the chance to work on a variety of law journals, each advancing one or another form of liberal legal analysis.
Against this backdrop, a small group of conservative Harvard students began meeting during the 1976-77 academic year to try to address the absence of diversity in the Law School's legal publications. The students were dismayed by the lack of balance in the general legal discussion on campus and frustrated that conservative students seeking to gain legal writing experience could only pursue their interests by helping to edit and publish liberal opinions.
Talk led to action and the group ultimately decided to seek Law School funds to launch a journal aimed at presenting conservative and libertarian views on legal and public policy matters. Predictably, others did not share the organizers' zeal. They were told by then-Dean Albert Sachs that Harvard funds would not be made available for the publication of a law journal that openly advocated a particular philosophical viewpoint.
Asked to explain Harvard's support for the Law School's liberal law reviews, the students were informed that those publications were facially neutral and distinguished by subject matter, not philosophy. The fact that very liberal senior editors--who had long dominated such journals--selected only likeminded younger staffers for leadership positions, and published only ideologically-acceptable articles, was treated as sufficient grounds to separate Harvard from responsibility for the unbroken liberal slant to those periodicals.
In response, a fellow student, Steven Eberhard, and I decided to move ahead without Harvard's financial support and establish an independent publication. By the following school year we had found a benefactor willing to help us publish an initial volume and our group--newly constituted and numbering about ten--met again with the Dean.
The reaction was chilly. We were told that, of course, we could publish our own journal, but that we would not be allowed to use the Harvard name in its title because our content might in some way embarrass the institution. In response, we made a compelling argument that Harvard's failure to challenge the use of its name in conjunction with numerous other independently-funded, quasi-scholarly efforts (as well as pizza parlors, liquor stores, and other such entities), largely undermined their current position. Ultimately, we carried the day.
In the spring of 1978 the first volume of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy was published. Our masthead consisted of a handful of HLS students and an advisor who had no connection to the University, because at the time we could not persuade any members of the faculty to openly associate their names with our venture. That first volume contained some 200 pages of mostly public policy content written by individuals largely more famous in political and policy circles than legal ones. Nonetheless, several hundred law libraries bought subscriptions and we were launched.
Financing our first few years' efforts was an ongoing challenge, so I remained in place as Publisher and chief fundraiser for the Journal after I graduated in 1979. All editorial decisions, though, remained in student hands and were executed effectively. …