Boycott of AALS Meeting in San Diego:

[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?

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.

The AALS Boycott: I don't have much to add on the substance of the AALS boycott: I agree with Monroe Freedman that these things are a matter of taste, based, I think, on one's subjective sense of what ideas or causes are "beyond the pale" and the subjective value of declaring so in public. As a result, there isn't a whole lot to say on the merits. On the other hand, I can say one thing with certainty: Whoever thought up a boycott that requires you to be in San Diego in January but forbids you to attend the panels has a keen sense of how to appeal to the academic mind.
An Open Letter to Carl Monk:

Professor Bainbridge has written an open letter to AALS Executive Director Carl Monk on the proposed boycott of one of the hotels under contract for the AALS annual meeting in San Diego. It nicely summarizes why the AALS should not — indeed, cannot — acquiesce to the proposed boycott if it is to remain a principled academic association dedicated, among other things, to open academic inquiry, freedom of conscience, and freedom of expression. His letter concludes:

it is especially critical that the AALS acknowledge that there is no issue of discrimination here. There is no evidence that the hotel in question discriminates against gays. Instead, this is viewpoint discrimination on the part of a handful of activists who are seeking to hijack the AALS for purposes of holding a boycott intended to punish someone with whose views on a contested issue of public policy they differ. If the AALS caves to the critics, it will have allowed a vocal contingent to hijack a purportedly diverse organization for the ends of a particular point of view that may not be shared by all members of the organization.

Note that I endorse Prof. Bainbridge's sentiments even though I support gay marriage (largely due to the work of my co-blogger Dale Carpenter). I believe that the institution of marriage and its associated blessings should be shared with same-sex couples. But I also believe that it would be unconscionable for a purportedly academic association to endorse the view that opposition to the imposition of gay marriage by judicial fiat, in and of itself, constitutes "discrimination" against homosexuals and that such views are beyond the pale of acceptability within such an organization.

AALS Responds to Boycott:

In response to calls for a boycott of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego because its owner gave substantial contributions to California's anti-gay-marriage ballot initiative, the Executive Committee of the AALS has released the following statement.

The AALS 2009 Annual Meeting will take place January 6-10, 2009, in San Diego, California. Several years ago the Association booked rooms at the San Diego Marriott and the Manchester Grand Hyatt. In the last few weeks there have been suggestions that the Association should boycott the Hyatt because its owner has contributed money to a ballot initiative designed to overturn the California Supreme Court's May decision in favor of same-sex marriage. In addressing this issue, the Executive Committee has sought to ensure that the Annual Meeting serves the needs of all participants to the maximum extent possible given our contractual obligations to the hotels.

Our contracts with the hotels provide that each hotel reserve a block of guest rooms, and leave to the AALS the choice of where to locate the AALS Registration, Exhibit Hall, Section Programs, Presidential Programs, and House of Representatives meetings. We will honor our contracts with both hotels, and we have exercised our option to hold all AALS events at the Marriott to ensure the maximum participation by our members.

Law schools and other organizations hosting meetings and receptions will be contacted soon by an AALS meetings manager regarding the location of their events. Faculty and staff at law schools will soon receive housing information and you will be able to choose your individual hotel room on a first-come, first-served basis in accordance with the usual housing procedures.

Professor Bainbridge thinks the AALS "caved" to the boycott organizers, while others are not so sure. Dave Hoffman offers a translation: "we agree with you that merely contributing to the SSM amendment is beyond the pale, but we (sadly) can't breach our contracts." To which Nato Oman offers this amendment: "the cost of our moral turpitude in staying at a Hilton is less than the damages that we might be required to pay in the event of breach." Paul Caron rounds up more responses here.

Personally, I am a bit confused by the whole thing. The AALS statement seems to indicate that a boycott would be justified if it did not requiring breaching its contracts. This would explain the compromise position — keeping a contract with the offending hotel while attempting to accommodate boycott supporters by holding the primary events elsewhere. But here is where the confusion sets in. The purported reason for the boycott is Grand Hyatt owner Doug Manchester's support of the anti-gay-marriage campaign. And yet the other hotel the AALS will be using — the San Diego Marriott — appears to be owned by Doug Manchester as well.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: It seems that Manchester was the developer of the San Diego Marriott, but he sold his interest in 2008, so he is no longer the owner. Details here and here.