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August 01, 2003

Lawyer Culture Inside Baseball

Warning: Lawyer Culture Inside Baseball to follow. If you think Scalia's opinons are brilliant and zingy, read on. If the small print under the numbers on your credit card bill knocks your ass out like the 11th shot of bourbon... well, skip this post.

Hillary Clinton, speaking at the American Constitution Society's inaugural get-together, slammed the Supreme Court as activist, radical, rotten, and mean to little kids and puppies. It's wayyyy to far to the right, and we shouldn't be fooled by the Court's decisions radically limiting the applicability of the death penalty, elevating sodomy to a constitutionally protected right, enshrining of racial preferences, upholding the Family Medical Leave Act or anything like that... nope, we got to swing it to the left.

The American Constitution Society, by the way, was recently founded to offset the effects of the nefarious Federalist Society, which is where Bilderbergers, Masons, Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Trilateralists, Humbugs, Stoats, Goats, and most of all Ducks, go when they graduate from law school. Or so People For the American Way would have us believe.

Actually, the Federalist Society was formed by a bunch of libertarian and conservative law students, as a sort of debating society to get an alternative viewpoint heard at law schools. It's not monolithically conservative, though its members are men and women of the right. It is an organization that likes to put up strong advocates for any reasonable legal or public policy position, and let them argue it out. It's what politics and law oughtta be. So by definition, it's alternative.

In the normal world, "alternative" means out of the mainstream. It usually refers to oddball rock bands, folks who think parotting Paul Krugman is "speaking truth to power", and people who stop bathing in order to wave anti-corporate placards and bust the windows out of Starbucks.

In the law school world, "alternative" means "goes to church occasionally, reads the Wall Street Journal, doesn't think pigs have the inalienable right to marry humans." Yep, to a law student, anybody to the right of Rosa Luxemburg and Peter Singer's love child is "alternative".

For example, the University of North Carolina School of Law only has one registered Republican on its legal instruction staff of 93. On the positive side, not all of the other 92 professors are democrats. On the negative side, the ones who aren't Dems, are Greens.

The Federalists formed up in the interest of actually getting a debate going - proving alternative voices with a libertarian or conservative bent. The Fed Soc student chapters now sponsor hundreds of public policy debates every year. The format is usual a two lawyer debate, or a multi-lawyer round table debate. Usually, the debate is thrown open at the end for public comments and questions.

The Fed Soc itself isn't a conservative organization per se, though it is well stocked up with conservative members, as well as many libertarians (of the right and left leaning variety). According to various bits on their website, the point isn't preaching, it's to get a marketplace of ideas going.

It's a good thing, too. At many law schools, students who go to Fed Soc events are surprised to find out that the law school isn't uniformly left wing. The National Lawyers Guild (the legal arm of the Communist Party, USA) at most schools has approximately twice as many members as the Federalist Society chapter. The liberal to left wing commentary at most law schools is pretty much constant in class, coming from professors and students.

What a revelation it must be, to find out that there is a whole other world of opinion just below the surface. Not just liberalt orthodoxy, or conservative dogma, but a wide range of intellectual foment, and truly alternative ways to look at public policy problems.

It's not surprising that so many conservative lawyers join the Federalists - until doing so, they wouldn't know that conservatism and libertarianism and free markets are such a staple of intellectual thought for so many attorneys. (Maybe 40% of the profession, in a recent ABA poll).

The only point the Federalist Society harps on, the only position it really advocates, is textualism, or judicial originalism. It's the idea that once the people have spoken in an election, and the elected representatives have spoken by setting down the law, judges should stick to the plain language of the text as much as possible. No trickery, no chicanery, no extended debates about the meaning of "is" to pound square laws into round pegs. There's nothing really radical about that, I don't think; it's respectful of the law, and solicitous of "small d" democracy.

The ACS, on the other hand, has been formed explicitly to counteract the nefarious work of the Federalist Society, to retake the lawschools from the radical right wingers who have taken over.

Something tells me that the ACS's focus, which is not on debate, but on winning a political battle, will doom it. After all, there are tons of political groups at law school. There are invariably only two right of center groups on any law school campus - the Fed Soc, which is only "non-denominational" conservative, and the Republican Lawyers group. There aren't a lot of places to go for anybody who isn't liberal. And the Federalists aren't really a political group, but more like a debate society.

On the left of the spectrum, there is invariably the National Lawyers Guild, a Dem Lawyer's Group, a couple rival environmental law groups, multiple groups on race and gender grievances... Well, take a look at the typical catalog of groups at just one law school. Sure, there are a good number of apolitical groups -- but it's pretty clear there is a profusion of bleeding heart groups up and down the list.

In other words, the ACS is going to be competing for the same group of left-centrist and hard left students that would have joined specific special interest lefty groups.

Sadly, the ACS isn't offering anything special, other than monolithic speaker events that "preach to the choir". They haven't caught on to the idea that the Federalists hold dear, which is the idea that ideas should duke it out, and the best way to do that is to debate.

What the ACS is offering, judging from the list of speakers at their national convention, it's just the same pack of liberal and lefty lawyers who dominate the law schools anyhow. You aren't going to hear anything new or anything that you as a liberal law student or lawyer might disagree with at an ACS event... whereas you probably will hear something new, and lots to disagree with as a conservative at a Federalist Society event.

I'd support the hell out of the ACS if I thought they were going to add something to the political debate. I don't think they will - I believe they are just going to keep doing what Hillary did today, pile on the rhetoric and the red meat for the Dem activists. And no offense to the junior senatoress from New York, but the bitter partisans are jackasses, and more often than not, pose a bigger obstacle to good governance than the problems themselves pose.

Posted by Blackavar at August 1, 2003 06:02 PM | TrackBack
Who is the Republican at the law school? I didn't think there were any. Posted by: John Branch at August 6, 2003 10:57 PM
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