Is Harvard Law Listing Right?

An interesting article in the New York Observer credits Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan with creating a more ideologically open intellectual atmosphere at the school. Harvard once had the reputation that it was a hostile place for conservatives and libertarians. No longer. Among other things, the student Federalist Society chapter has an estimated 350 members — arguably making it the largest student group on campus. The story also reports that Dean Kagan has placed quality over ideology in faculty appointments — a push that resulted in the hiring of prominent conservative scholars John Manning an Jack Goldsmith.

What might have once been seen as an assault on the school's values has been turned into a point of pride, according one Harvard Law School source, with professors heralding their willingness to make the recent hires—especially Messrs. Manning and Goldsmith—as proof of their liberal, tolerant mindset.

Which is precisely the point on which Ms. Kagan has successfully lobbied: It would be anti-intellectual to shut down the candidacy of a qualified conservative.

"We don't look at politics," Ms. Kagan insisted. "We figure that if we really go for the people who are doing the most interesting scholarship and who are the best teachers, we'll get a pretty wide political cross-section—and indeed we have. We're just looking for the best people, the best scholars, the best teachers."

The effort has not been without its small struggles. There was a political flare-up when Mr. Goldsmith joined the faculty last fall, with faculty members airing their concerns about his alleged involvement with the infamous "torture memos" in The Boston Globe.

And when it later emerged that Ms. Goldsmith had, in fact, resigned because he objected to the administration's permissive lines on torture, not all of his critics were placated. They saw echoes of the administration's position in his scholarship, which argues that that the United States isn't always bound by international law.

It was Ms. Kagan's public support of Mr. Goldsmith that effectively quelled the outcry.

In Mr. Manning's case, it emerged that the changes at Harvard Law are hardly happening fast enough for some students.

When Mr. Manning joined the campus, the student-run Harvard Law School Record ran an editorial in support of his hiring: "At HLS, you can count the number of actively, politically conservatives [sic] on one hand and still have enough fingers left to flash a peace sign. On a campus filled by hundreds of instructors, is this really sufficient diversity?"

Sufficient or no, Harvard Law has changed since the days when . . . "[Reagan Solicitor General] Charles Fried was the only game in town."

UPDATE: OOPS!!! I just saw that my co-blogger Orin beat me to the punch on the HLS story. It figures. After all, he actually went there.

William Baude (mail) (www):
Don't forget Adrian Vermeule.
11.30.2005 11:40am
Brooks Lyman (mail):
One might also mention the Harvard Law School Gun Club (I'm not sure that the name is correct, but...) - a recent innovation in the last several years, with a membership of (last I heard) about 125. This is a student/faculty club (I'm sure it's informal, as Harvard Univiersity closed down its shooting range and varsity rifle team many years ago and I'm sure the university as a whole is still officially against guns) that uses the facilities of a nearby suburban gun club for shooting.

On the other hand, MIT, just down the street, has active shooting sports programs, and their varsity pistol team was National Champion last season. I suspect that the MIT administration grits their teeth and endures over this, since MIT has been active in the shooting sports for over 60 years....

Brooks Lyman,
President, MIT Pistol &Rifle Club
11.30.2005 12:30pm
Anon Y. Mouse:
It should be noted that the HLS Gun Club was started by Volokh the Younger.
11.30.2005 1:04pm
Visitor Again:
When I started HLS in 1965, my first year contracts professor, Robert Braucher, later on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, told us in our first class that he was the only HLS faculty member to vote for Barry Goldwater over Lyndon Johnson in the 1964 presidential election. Braucher, who smoked like a chimney, was very popular with students, but not because of his politics. Some of his 1Ls hijacked a contracts class to throw him a 50th birthday party. He seemed very old to me then, but here I am 12 years past 50. Time flies.

Charles Fried, the only other conservative HLS factulty member for many years and later Reagan's Solicitor General and also on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for a few years, did not join the faculty until 1965. I had Fried for first year torts. The first guy he called on was a Mr. Brown, who struggled to give an answer; it was our second day of law school and few of us knew what we were doing. Fried said, "That was a singularly unhelpful answer, Mr. Brown." I won't tell you what I thought of him at that moment. First impressions count; sometimes they're remembered 40 years later. But Fried must have redeemed himself in my eyes because I took him for an elective, Philosophies of Justice, in the third year. Or maybe I just wanted a course I could skate through. Fried was very taken with John Rawls at the time, which struck me as strange later on.
11.30.2005 2:40pm
djw (mail):
Enough about how politically balanced the faculty at Harvard Law is! I don't see much interest here in the number of left-of-center faculty at USD or Pepperdine or Ave Maria... Oh wait! I get it: if you define your institution as conservative, you don't have to bother with being representative of a broad spectrum of viewpoints, but liberals have to, if simply as a function of being liberal.

Or, is it rather that, in the intense competition among schools for the best students and the best placements of those students, the -- to some -- unreasonable success of liberal schools with their over-representation of liberals in their faculties can only be explained by appealing to the rhetoric of victimhood?

Last I checked, there was a free market in Law School choices, and academic freedom was secure enough to insure that a faculty to enter that market with a profile, left, right, or center, of their own design, reflecting their own values and ideas about what is right or wrong. It seems that HLS has been remarkably successful in this market, and being liberal, has turned out a remarkable number of lawyers who would identify themselves as conservative. Can the opposite be said for any of the competing, conservative-identified schools?
11.30.2005 6:52pm