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Political disequilibrium on law school campuses

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Conservative Liberal

During winter break, many law students reflect on their decision to enroll in law school. Full cost may be as high as $85,000 annually for an experience they hoped would teach them new ideas and perspectives. While the legal curriculum exposes them to new concepts, the students will receive it almost exclusively from the liberal perspective. Therefore, only students who are right-of-center will hear political perspectives that challenge their own views.

Law schools vary in location, size, difficulty, prestige, etc. Aside from a few outliers, they share one unifying factor: professors are overwhelmingly liberal. A recent study in the Harvard Journal of Law and Policy observed law professors based on their political leanings – conservative/libertarian, liberal, and unknown – and found that Republican or Libertarian law professors comprise merely 13 percent of law professors nationwide.

How can this occur in a country politically split down the middle?

Possible explanations:

  1. Conservatives self-select out of legal academia;
  2. Conservatives are unqualified; or
  3. Conservatives are actively excluded.

Number one is extremely unlikely and number two is ridiculous, so that leaves number three as the likely reason for excluding conservatives from law schools that tout “diversity” as critical. Diversity, of course, was originally sold as providing all sorts of perspectives: race, gender, veteran, economic, religious, urban/rural, liberal/conservative. But as applied by academicians, it really only means race and gender.

As a conservative adjunct professor at Georgetown Law, I could never be hired there as a full-time professor. As a student, I want to hear those conservative views as an occasional counterpoint to the invariable liberal perspective.

The Harvard Journal study also revealed that conservative law professors are on average substantially more qualified than their liberal peers. They are 68.2 percent more likely to be former Supreme Court clerks and 24.1 percent more likely to have graduated from higher-ranked schools. Conservative law professors publish four to eight more scholarly articles than their liberal counterparts over a ten year period; experts cite to these articles an average of 13 to 37 more times a year than liberal professors’ articles. Yet conservatives are actively and implicitly discriminated against as, historically, racial and religious minorities were denied employment.

Why should we care? At Georgetown Law, where the authors are an adjunct law professor and a third-year law student, there are only two full-time professors out of 125 who openly identify as right-of-center. As a conservative adjunct professor at Georgetown Law, I could never be hired there as a full-time professor. As a student, I want to hear those conservative views as an occasional counterpoint to the invariable liberal perspective.

Law school should provide students with a barrage of conflicting viewpoints from all political perspectives. How can students be expected to develop skills necessary to become great lawyers if they never hear contrasting views from professors but find themselves in classes where such views are disregarded? In the real world, students will face the harsh realization that political views are not homogenous; the vast majority of their legal career will entail encounters with attorneys, clients, or policy makers who hold the very same views these new lawyers were previously led to believe were preposterous. Is a client negotiation really the first time we should expose those entering the legal field to a valid opposing perspective?

Recently, Georgetown Law’s “Scaliagate” demonstrated the shortcomings of teaching from a predominantly liberal perspective. The dean sent a condolence letter on behalf of the Georgetown community following the death of Justice Scalia causing many professors and students to express outrage at honoring the justice and condemning his conservative legal opinions. The incident highlighted the inability of Georgetown Law’s liberal community to respect one of Georgetown’s most accomplished alumni, who was such a prominent figure in jurisprudence and often spoke on campus. Some of the scathing emails went so far as to describe Justice Scalia as a racist and a bigot. What type of lawyers are we creating if they have been blinded to the recognition of legitimate accomplishment by their narrow political views that have been reinforced by the Georgetown Law professoriate?

This sad affair highlights the sorry state of legal academia. Not only is the exclusion of conservatives wrong and counterproductive, but it invites substantial legal liability if it is shown to be the result of hiring policies rather than the mere whims of fate. What is most unfortunate and counterintuitive is that the students, especially liberals, are the ultimate losers in this terribly unfair game as they are being robbed of the opportunity to be exposed to and debate alternative points of view.

Lisa Marie Passarella and David S. Jonas Lisa Marie Passarella is a third year law student in Georgetown University Law Center's joint JD/LLM in national security. After graduation she is looking forward to starting a career as a judge advocate general. David S. Jonas is a partner at the FHH law firm. He served as General Counsel of the National Nuclear Security Administration and Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board. Prior to his civilian service, he was a Marine Corps officer. He teaches at Georgetown University and George Washington University Law Schools. He holds a B.A. from Denison University, a J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law, an LL.M. from the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Generals School, an LL.M. from Georgetown University Law Center and an M.A. from the U.S. Naval War College.