August 28, 2005
Left Leaning Bias on Law School Faculties
Scholars are now gathering data on what all law professors know, law faculties learn heavily to the left in their politics. A new study by John O. McGinnis (with Schwartz and Tisdell), a Northwestern Law Professor, gathered data on law faculty political contributions. At Standford 94% of those who donate gave to the Democrats, at Yale it was 92%, at Georgetown 92%, at Harvard 91%, at Columbia 90% at Duke 88% and so on. Apologists will worry about the data (only those who contribute are included) but the data confirms the results of other studies. The apologists' best argument in on magnnitude (it is not that bad) not on the conclusion (there is a bias). James Lundgren, also at Northwestern, uses surveys to make the same point. He has studied law faculties based on race, religion, ethnicity, and political affiliation. He found, among other things, that most Christian denominations are significantly underrepresented on law faculties, particularly evangelical Christians.
Law professors are not surprised by the data, we know. We are surprised that the public is interested in the information and that empiricists are now gathering it for them in a form that is hard to contest. The question is whether the political bias on law faculties matters.
Many law professors say "No": "Law students come with their politics and are not moved much by faculty with different politics" or "Law students, if influenced by faculty politics, move back to the center once they leave school" or "My personal bias does not affect how I teach the material" are common arguments. Why worry then? Two reasons: First, for some reason, the bias does seem to have an impact on judges (either through clerks or through legal scholarship or through academic peer pressure) and here it matters. [Why, for example, is there a left drift with appointees to the federal bench?? Any views?] Second, legal argument in law schools is not tested by opposition; it negatively affects law student learning and the quality of legal scholarship.
A few other law professors, more candid perhaps, say "We hope so" (that the political bias on law faculties does matter). They view law schools as a necessary counterpoint for the influence of traditional forms of social power (fueled by money). "Conservative think tanks, well funded, provide more than adequate opposition to law faculty scholarship." and so on. These faculty members explain diversity disparaties on law faculties by past and present political powerlessness (a social group that has not suffered discrimination does not deserve or need "adequate representation" on any faculty; a social group that has suffered past discrimination does need and deserve such represenatation). My favorite response came from a senior colleague when I was new to teaching in 1981 or so. He was an active political advocate and reformer, very left: "We (professors) are too smart to have the wool pulled over our eyes."
The hidden controversy, much more volitale that the technical details of the studies, is that law professors with conservative or even moderate views are cabined in selected areas -- taxation, business law, commercial law and contracts. Try to find a conservative teaching civil rights or constitutional law or even election law or labor law. To the apologists who say it is "not that bad" or "does not matter" --- their arguments are blown up by an area by area analysis of the bias. In the classic social engineering, cultural studies legal fields, the bias is overwhelming.
August 28, 2005 | Permalink
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