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The AALS and Political Boycotts:

David notes efforts to organize an American Association of Law Schools boycott of a hotel whose owner, Doug Manchester, has contributed money to an anti-gay marriage referendum campaign. This raises the interesting question of whether the AALS should be engaging in political boycotts at all. My view is that it shouldn't.

The AALS is an organization that is supposed to promote legal education and academic research in a politically neutral way. Taking stands on controversial political issues such as gay marriage is inconsistent with the organization's mission of promoting a free exchange of ideas and education that includes a wide range of viewpoints. If the AALS has an official position in favor of gay marriage (which is what a boycott would amount to), it cannot be a credible neutral organizer of panels, conferences, and academic research on gay marriage-related questions. The same goes for taking positions on other political issues.

Moreover, if political opposition to gay marriage is so wrong that the AALS should forego any economic relationship with those who engage in it, how can it continue to have Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and Mormon schools as members? When it comes to promoting opposition to gay marriage, the Catholic Church and other religious organizations are much bigger players than Doug Manchester. I don't see how the AALS can shun Manchester as beyond the pale while keeping Notre Dame and Brigham Young as members in good standing.

For what it's worth, I sympathize with the boycotters' objective here. If the state is going to be involved in defining and regulating marriage at all, I believe that it should recognize gay marriage on par with heterosexual marriage. But the AALS is not the right organization to pursue that objective.

Mike& (mail):
Well said.
8.5.2008 9:09pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Spending money with Manchester is as political a decision as not spending money with him. You are only looking at half the picture. Now it may be that there are logistical or contractual reasons a boycott wouldn't work, and gay marriage isn't a hot button issue with me, but I think either decision has political aspects, and that consumers should be conscious of the votes they make with their dollars, when practical.
8.5.2008 9:16pm
Lior:
Sadly, most people's sentiment on such issues is "the ends justify the means". If a cause is good then anything which furthers the cause is automatically the correct, appropriate thing to do. Discrimination against gays is wrong. Therefore it is the function of every organization to actively combat it at all times.

I have been present at a discussion where a series of politically motivated lectures about environmental issues was declared a "social event" so that it could be funded from money intended for social events. This feels no different.
8.5.2008 9:18pm
Ilya Somin:
Spending money with Manchester is as political a decision as not spending money with him.

I don't see why. If you're spending money at his hotel in order to support his political agenda, yes. But if that's not your motive, I don't see why engaging in a business transaction with him is necessarily "political."
8.5.2008 9:18pm
torrentprime (mail):
I wouldn't disagree with the overall idea that professional organizations aren't the place for this kind of advocacy, and the point about whether or not an org that does so can still be a "neutral" organizer is a powerful one.
I think the reason that so many people and parties are speaking out this time around is, frankly, due to both a) the importance of this vote as a bellweather for this issue across the country and b) the apocalyptic nature of the dialogue coming out of some(!) churches and right-wing advocacy groups about Prop 8.
Before you social cons explode, wait a minute and read:
Over the last few weeks, pastors and "pro-family" orgs have issued emails and press releases, web site stories, etc. claiming that "if Prop 8 is defeated, Christians will have lost in this country, and the gays will have won." Another claimed that if Prop 8 passes, pastors who refuse to perform gay marriages will be thrown in jail, and so on. This kind of fear-mongering, besides being outright lies, falsely portrays Prop 8 as a "Christians vs. gays" thing, with the millions of persecuted Christians somehow being defeated by a handful of evil gays (come on, a little snark is allowed).
More and more groups are popping up to oppose Prop 8 to show the "us vs them" thing for the lie that it is, and to show that plenty of non-gays (and even Christians) support both gay rights and marriage equality. The more (and the more random) the groups that do this, the better and wider the sense of "so it's not just teh gays that oppose Prop 8" will be.
That's simply my sense of the matter, but I never would have expected PG&E to not only dump a quarter of a million dollars into opposing 8, but to become a founding member of a board expressly designed to get other businesses to oppose Prop 8. This just isn't a Christian/gay thing anymore, and every random professional org (and massive public utility!) that jumps into the fray helps underscore that point.
8.5.2008 9:29pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
I expressed sentiments similar to Ilya in the comments to my post. Note, however, that at this point the AALS hasn't boycotted anything, just various groups of law professors are threatening a boycott if the AALS doesn't move the conference.
8.5.2008 10:15pm
Perseus (mail):
The way that the APSA appears to justify its stance is that it regards legal bans on SSM as discriminatory and unwelcoming to its members, whose (at least partially personal) interests the association is designed to serve. Religiously-affiliated colleges and universities presumably get a pass on religious freedom grounds, and the association does not provide major direct financial support to such institutions (it merely allows individuals from such institutions to be members, who will eventually recognize the error of their ways as the result of constructive engagement with more enlightened members).
8.5.2008 10:19pm
Ilya Somin:
Religiously-affiliated colleges and universities presumably get a pass on religious freedom grounds, and the association does not provide major direct financial support to such institutions (it merely allows individuals from such institutions to be members, who will eventually recognize the error of their ways as the result of constructive engagement with more enlightened members).

Member schools derive all sorts of material benefits from being affiliated with the AALS. So this distinction doesn't cut it.
8.5.2008 10:22pm
wm13:
The norms advocated by Prof. Somin are interesting, but surely they represent law in the sky, as opposed to actual reality. I don't know of any actually existing organizations of university professors that promote "education and academic research in a politically neutral way." Are there any?
8.5.2008 10:32pm
Ilya Somin:
The norms advocated by Prof. Somin are interesting, but surely they represent law in the sky, as opposed to actual reality. I don't know of any actually existing organizations of university professors that promote "education and academic research in a politically neutral way." Are there any?

Even if there aren't, that doesn't mean the ideal of neutrality isn't one that we should strive for.
8.5.2008 10:46pm
Perseus (mail):
Member schools derive all sorts of material benefits from being affiliated with the AALS. So this distinction doesn't cut it.

Law professors have more material benefits to bestow than political scientists.
8.5.2008 11:16pm
rustonite:
imagine that a hotel existed whose owner was a known member of a white supremacist group. would they need to be 'neutral' towards that? or if the owner were an anti-Semite? I imagine Ilya would see neutrality in those cases as enabling injustice. In this case, he's OK with the particular kind of injustice being enabled, so he think the organization should be more 'neutral'.
8.5.2008 11:21pm
David Walser:
imagine that a hotel existed whose owner was a known member of a white supremacist group. would they need to be 'neutral' towards that?


Two responses: First, this equates opposition to same sex marriage with the true evil of white supremacy. Is that really where you want to take this discussion? That position doesn't even admit that one might oppose SSM without being opposed to homosexuality. Instead, it assumes such opposition can only be the result of bigotry. While such reasoning might suffice for some state supreme courts, I thought this forum had higher standards. Besides, I can understand the thought that opposition to SSM is "backwards" or "unenlightened", but evil? So evil that we are required to boycott someone who holds that view? If that's your position, the definition of the term has been stretched to the point it no longer has any meaning other than its something you don't like.

Second, Manchester's views were unknown when the AALS signed a contract to hold its conference at the hotel. Is it the position of an organization of legal scholars that such a contract should be non-binding merely because the hotel's owner later took a position that is unpopular with some of the organization's members? That's simply stunning. Most would say, "A deal's a deal. Had we known this, we might have chosen another location." Or some such. Legal scholars seem to feel no obligation to honor their commitments (or to require their organization to honor its commitments). Goes a long way to explaining the high regard the public has for the legal profession.
8.6.2008 1:25am
DavidBernstein (mail):
"imagine that a hotel existed whose owner was a known member of a white supremacist group. would they need to be 'neutral' towards that? or if the owner were an anti-Semite?"

I can't speak for Ilya, but unless the owner's views led to actual discrimination in running the hotel, I think it wouldn't make any difference.
8.6.2008 6:38am
DavidBernstein (mail):
(That doesn't mean an individual professor deciding whether he's willing to stay in that hotel, or participate in a conference in that hotel, couldn't make a distinction. And as I mentioned in previous thread, if enough professors decided to boycott a conference, the organizers then have a sound reason to change the locale--their goal is to run a successful conference.)
8.6.2008 6:44am
DavidBernstein (mail):
(OTOH, I think some people think that boycotting a hotel because the owner opposes same-sex marriage is so repugnant that the AALS should stand on "principle" and refuse to move the conference, even if a widespread boycott would make the conference a flop. I understand the point, but would disagree--except perhaps on the utilitarian grounds that the AALS wouldn't want this to be an annual circus where pressure groups find some reason or other to use the locale of the conference to promote their cause.)
8.6.2008 6:48am
CJColucci:
The AALS is an organization. It has rules. It has people who, under the rules, decide things. It has members who can, presumably, change either the rules or the people who decide things. I can't imagine that there is anything the AALS might do about anything that would not result in some members disagreeing, so whoever gets to decide under the current rules decides. If the AALS has previously adopted the Bernstein/Somin Rule, it can be called to account by members for violating it. If it has not, the members who would like to see it adopt the Bernstein/Somin Rule can agitate for change. Is anyone suggesting that the AALS is violating some currently-applicable rule?
8.6.2008 12:15pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):

I sympathize with the boycotters' objective here. If the state is going to be involved in defining and regulating marriage at all, I believe that it should recognize gay marriage on par with heterosexual marriage. But the AALS is not the right organization to pursue that objective.


One of the defining characteristics of a fanatic is that they have little ability to discern what an appropriate forum or time is: Every time is the right time to ride their hobby horse, and every place is the right place.
8.6.2008 12:46pm
vivictius (mail):
Sounds like the same sort of people who dont eat Dominos because the primary shareholder supports various anti-abortion groups.
8.6.2008 1:11pm
Don the Z (mail):
Josh Xiong has some very interesting discussion here

Of Guns and Gays
8.6.2008 1:18pm
Yankev (mail):

If the AALS has an official position in favor of gay marriage (which is what a boycott would amount to), it cannot be a credible neutral organizer of panels, conferences, and academic research on gay marriage-related questions. The same goes for taking positions on other political issues.

Would someone please explain this to the ABA? This concept seems to have escaped the ABA's notice -- not specifically concerning same sex unions, but on any number of other topics.
8.6.2008 2:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
You assume that because an organization has a policy on some subject that no panel discussion can be neutral? You mean that if they have a panel discussion on, say, gay marriage, and they invite someone from the HRC, and someone from The Christian Coalition, that isn't neutral?

That's just silly. Often, the best panel discussions on any hot topic are sponsored by organizations that have a policy one way or another. If it's concern to them, they make sure the best people are there.
8.6.2008 10:48pm
nyt-reader (mail):
Why does Ilya Somin strenuously object to boycotts of rich activists that have little effect on their wealth, while failing to object to other boycotts and US sanctions regimes that lead to the death of many people? Could it be he fails to sympathize with Asian civilians victimized by boycotts and sanctions, as opposed to American activists? If he does not object to these boycotts, why should anyone care about US activists being selectively boycotted?
8.10.2008 1:27am