[UPDATE Tuesday evening: As I noted in the comments below, I agree with other commentators that the AALS, as a scholarly organization representing institutions and individuals with diverse viewpoints, should not participate in any boycott based on someone's political views. And, to the extent the boycotters are acting through purported scholarly organizations such as the Legal Writing Institute, those organizations should revisit the issue and recognize that they are not political bodies and have no business advocating politically motivated boycotts. The caveat is that if enough faculty will boycott the conference on their own initiative to ruin it, that would be an ideologically neutral reason for the AALS to change its plans--not because it institutionally cares about Manchester's political views, but because it cares about running a successful conference.]
Some law professor organizations have announced they will boycott the annual law professors conference to be held in San Diego in January because the owner of one of the hotels, Doug Manchester, donated $125,000 to to support an initiative banning same-sex marriage in California.
I have a few thoughts, avoiding the obvious issue as to whether an owner's donating money to a lawful cause with which one disagrees should be deemed a sufficient reason to boycott a business, and if so, under what circumstances. (Feel free to comment on that issue below, however.)
First, I wonder if the boycotters have investigated the AALS's contract with the hotel. I assume that when it comes to a huge event like this one, the AALS would have to pay a large penalty to the hotel if it were to move the conference at this date. Would the boycotters want the hotel owner to get a lot of the AALS's money without giving anything in return?
Second, boycotts like this always seem a little odd to me, because they seem to operate on the principle that commercial transactions only benefit the "seller." So, if I don't want Mr. Manchester benefiting from my money, I won't stay at his hotel. Yet, basic economics tells us that the buyer also receives a "surplus" from the transaction, often larger than what the seller gets. Put another way, shouldn't same-sex marriage advocates take satisfaction in the idea that Mr. Manchester will be providing services to his political opponents for significantly less than the value of those services to them (the actual price, plus the consumer surplus?). Given the ideological makeup and interests of law professors, this will be like a Pat Buchanan-owned hotel hosting the annual AIPAC conference!
A counter-argument, I suppose, is that AALS members could probably get almost as much consumer surplus at another hotel, while depriving Mr. Manchester of his profits [of course, with sufficient notice, the hotel could probably rent the rooms out for almost as much as its getting from the AALS]. But that where my first point comes in again; it will actually be costly to the AALS but not necessarily Mr. Manchester, to boycott the hotel at this point. That said, the AALS has put itself in an awkward position by moving a previous conference from San Francisco due to an ongoing union labor dispute. The organization will now have to explain why supporting labor unions is more important than supporting same-sex marriage.
The Legal Writing Institute, among others, appears to be taking the position that holding the conference at the planned hotel would violate their nondiscrimination policy. I don't quite get this; there does not appear to be any evidence that the hotel, as a business, discriminates in any way against gay clients.
Finally, as an interesting side note, there are a few jurisdictions in the United States that ban discrimination against people based on political affiliation, a category that is likely broad enough to encompass this boycott. Indeed, I know of organizations in DC that won't publicly advertise office space available in their buildings, because D.C.'s law could require them to rent to an organization whose view they found abhorrent. (The Heritage Foundation hardly wants NARAL ads going out with a "Heritage Foundation Building" return address.) Boycotters obviously should have the right to boycott, and laws banning discrimination based on politics should be deemed unconstitutional. Thanks to TaxProf for the pointer.
UPDATE: Apparently, a local labor union is co-organizing the boycott. While the union's leader claims that the union is very concerned about the gay marriage issue, I suspect that the fact that the hotel is not "organized," has more to do with the union's interest.
FURTHER UPDATE: Larry Ribstein has a few questions for the boycotters:
* What if Mr. Manchester didn’t contribute money to oppose same sex marriage cause, but supported it vocally? Of course contributions are a form of expression. Would or should these groups make a distinction between contributions and other expression of belief? * What if Mr. Manchester were only a majority shareholder? A minority shareholder? Vice president? CFO? Since the protest here isn’t over the hotel’s policies, control would seem to be irrelevant. What if he had only invested a lot of his money in the holding company of the hotel? The franchisor? * Why just the hotel? Why not the restaurant owner? The food supplier to the hotel? Or any of their shareholders? * Who exactly would the boycott be hurting? I assume that Mr. Manchester has some kind of contract with the AALS. But what about his workers, many of whom depend on tips? Come to think of it, what if hotel workers or one of its unions had expressed homophobic or anti-same-sex marriage views? * How would the boycotters feel about teaching students who opposed same sex marriage? (I note that the chair of one of the boycotting groups heads the legal writing program at a Catholic law school). * If you were a student, would you feel comfortable expressing an anti-same-sex marriage view if you knew that the teacher couldn't stand to stay at a hotel owned by somebody who opposed same sex marriage?