Commentary Magazine


Topic: law schools

The Problem with Law Schools

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

Ed Whelan dismantles bit by bit the argument by former Harvard Law School dean Robert Clark in support of current Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan’s barring of military recruiters and signing on to an amicus brief contesting the Solomon Amendment. This raises a larger issue — yes, even larger than a single Supreme Court nomination — what’s the matter with law schools? After all, lots and lots of their deans and professors hadn’t a clue what the law was in the case challenging the Solomon Amendment. George Mason University Law School was the proud exception and at the time reminded us:

The amicus brief filed by the dean and two professors at George Mason’s law school was the only one submitted by a law school that took the side of the armed services. Many amicus briefs were filed on the losing side (including briefs in behalf of Yale University, Harvard University, Columbia University, New York University, the University of Chicago, Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania), arguing that the Solomon Amendment’s requirement of equal access for military recruiters was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In addition, professors at Columbia and Harvard law schools submitted briefs arguing that as a matter of statutory construction the law schools had in fact complied with the Solomon Amendment. The constitutional and statutory arguments were all rejected by the Court.

There is a reason why the Chief Justice, among other justices over the years, has said that he doesn’t pay too much attention to law-review articles. Why? Law professors don’t really have a great grasp of what the law is or a decent track record in predicting where it will evolve. They operate in a largely isolated academic setting in which, in their minds, there are nine Justice Stevenses on the bench. And in this case, they didn’t even get Stevens’s position right.

As Ronald Reagan said of liberals, it’s not that they are ignorant. It’s that they know so much that isn’t true. So I can see the argument for looking outside the appellate bench for justices. But I think law professors are the last place you’d want to look for unbiased, accomplished legal analysts. Let’s hope Kagan picked up some actual law, not law-school law, in her last year at the solicitor general’s office.

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RE: Kagan Nominated

Michael Gerson thinks Kagan’s harsh criticism of the military and decision to join the amicus brief seeking to allow law schools to ban recruiters will be a problem, positing that “many Americans will find her actions offensive — with far more intensity than the White House expects.” He explains:

Kagan not only took this controversial action, she publicly attacked the policy as “deeply wrong,” “unwise and unjust” and “a moral injustice of the first order.” It will be hard to downplay an issue that Kagan has a history of grandstanding. Standing in the way of military recruiters may seem normal in academic circles, but it will seem radical in much of the country — like banning the American flag from campus to protest some policy disagreement with the government. This controversy will add to a broader narrative that “Manhattan’s liberal, intellectual Upper West Side” is disconnected from the views and values of Middle America.

This may not be enough to derail the Kagan nomination, but it will complicate it.

It does work against the Obama team’s selling point that they went for someone with “real life” experience (for real life, don’t look in Ivy League law schools) who understands ordinary Americans. Hey, it’s not an argument I favor, because the law is the law, and one’s biography really shouldn’t factor in, but this is what the left keeps spinning. It is amusing, however, that the left considers “real life” what most Americans find radical. Was Sonia Sotomayor’s support of quotas and set-asides reflective of “real life,” or did it reflect a specific victimology that infects minority advocacy on the left? Was a pack of law school deans in touch with “real life” when they sought to defy a perfectly legitimate statute that required them to afford access to recruiters?

All this goes to a more fundamental concern about Kagan. Her entire career has been spent either as a law school administrator or as an advocate (e.g., in a political position in the Clinton administration or as solicitor general). The question she was used to asking herself was: what do I want the law to be? But the business of judging is determining what the law is. Liberals see no difference — the law is what five justices say it is. But most Americans and a majority of the Court think otherwise. So the questions for her now are: how does she decide what the law is, what method does she use for separating personal conviction and constitutional interpretation, and does she have a view of the Supreme Court that is something other than as an uber-legislature? We’ll find out this summer.

Michael Gerson thinks Kagan’s harsh criticism of the military and decision to join the amicus brief seeking to allow law schools to ban recruiters will be a problem, positing that “many Americans will find her actions offensive — with far more intensity than the White House expects.” He explains:

Kagan not only took this controversial action, she publicly attacked the policy as “deeply wrong,” “unwise and unjust” and “a moral injustice of the first order.” It will be hard to downplay an issue that Kagan has a history of grandstanding. Standing in the way of military recruiters may seem normal in academic circles, but it will seem radical in much of the country — like banning the American flag from campus to protest some policy disagreement with the government. This controversy will add to a broader narrative that “Manhattan’s liberal, intellectual Upper West Side” is disconnected from the views and values of Middle America.

This may not be enough to derail the Kagan nomination, but it will complicate it.

It does work against the Obama team’s selling point that they went for someone with “real life” experience (for real life, don’t look in Ivy League law schools) who understands ordinary Americans. Hey, it’s not an argument I favor, because the law is the law, and one’s biography really shouldn’t factor in, but this is what the left keeps spinning. It is amusing, however, that the left considers “real life” what most Americans find radical. Was Sonia Sotomayor’s support of quotas and set-asides reflective of “real life,” or did it reflect a specific victimology that infects minority advocacy on the left? Was a pack of law school deans in touch with “real life” when they sought to defy a perfectly legitimate statute that required them to afford access to recruiters?

All this goes to a more fundamental concern about Kagan. Her entire career has been spent either as a law school administrator or as an advocate (e.g., in a political position in the Clinton administration or as solicitor general). The question she was used to asking herself was: what do I want the law to be? But the business of judging is determining what the law is. Liberals see no difference — the law is what five justices say it is. But most Americans and a majority of the Court think otherwise. So the questions for her now are: how does she decide what the law is, what method does she use for separating personal conviction and constitutional interpretation, and does she have a view of the Supreme Court that is something other than as an uber-legislature? We’ll find out this summer.

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Should Conservatives Go to War over Kagan?

Tomorrow Obama is expected to nominate Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. The question for conservatives is whether they should oppose such a nomination, and, if so, how hard. Chris Good writes:

I asked Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network (a conservative group focused on judicial nominees) what conservatives are going to say about Kagan, and what Kagan’s “wise Latina” moment, if there is one, will prove to be.

“She has been much more careful than Justice Sotomayor. She never would have said something like that even if she thinks it. She’s been so careful for so long that no one seems to know exactly what she does think,” Severino said.

Severino attended Harvard Law School, where Kagan served as dean. She asked fellow Harvard people about Kagan’s tenure as dean. “Everyone came back with the same perspective, which was she was careful to never say anything on the record, or off the record, to anyone about her own opinions, so I think she’s been carefully shepherding her image for a long time, possibly ever since her DC circuit nomination by President Clinton, so that’s a long time to effectively live on the short list.”

This is not to say that Kagan would take an originalist view of the Constitution or that her support for law schools’ position on military recruiters doesn’t betray a willingness to conflate liberal policy goals with Constitutional interpretation. But is she as objectionable as a judge, for example, who went to great lengths to support racial quotas and delivered the “wise Latina” speech? Well, one can bemoan her lack of judicial experience and scant writing record but should her nomination be opposed with a full court press?

At this point — and more might be revealed in hearings and upon the examination of her written work — I would think not. She frankly has not proven herself to be as adept a legal scholar as someone like Diane Wood, who would wow and sway the other justices. (It is intellectual argumentation rather than social charm that makes the difference on the Court.) So there could be worse — that is, more “dangerous” picks from a conservative perspective. Kagan has not made her life’s work the promotion of minority victimology. She isn’t without academic qualifications. So, while she’s not a judge conservatives would nominate, it’s hard to conceive of a reason for rigorously blocking her nomination.

This is the price of losing elections: the other side gets to govern and thus help shape the direction of the courts. It’s a reminder to find adept presidential nominees who can win and who will nominate judges at all levels who appreciate the proper role of the courts in our democratic system.

Tomorrow Obama is expected to nominate Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. The question for conservatives is whether they should oppose such a nomination, and, if so, how hard. Chris Good writes:

I asked Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network (a conservative group focused on judicial nominees) what conservatives are going to say about Kagan, and what Kagan’s “wise Latina” moment, if there is one, will prove to be.

“She has been much more careful than Justice Sotomayor. She never would have said something like that even if she thinks it. She’s been so careful for so long that no one seems to know exactly what she does think,” Severino said.

Severino attended Harvard Law School, where Kagan served as dean. She asked fellow Harvard people about Kagan’s tenure as dean. “Everyone came back with the same perspective, which was she was careful to never say anything on the record, or off the record, to anyone about her own opinions, so I think she’s been carefully shepherding her image for a long time, possibly ever since her DC circuit nomination by President Clinton, so that’s a long time to effectively live on the short list.”

This is not to say that Kagan would take an originalist view of the Constitution or that her support for law schools’ position on military recruiters doesn’t betray a willingness to conflate liberal policy goals with Constitutional interpretation. But is she as objectionable as a judge, for example, who went to great lengths to support racial quotas and delivered the “wise Latina” speech? Well, one can bemoan her lack of judicial experience and scant writing record but should her nomination be opposed with a full court press?

At this point — and more might be revealed in hearings and upon the examination of her written work — I would think not. She frankly has not proven herself to be as adept a legal scholar as someone like Diane Wood, who would wow and sway the other justices. (It is intellectual argumentation rather than social charm that makes the difference on the Court.) So there could be worse — that is, more “dangerous” picks from a conservative perspective. Kagan has not made her life’s work the promotion of minority victimology. She isn’t without academic qualifications. So, while she’s not a judge conservatives would nominate, it’s hard to conceive of a reason for rigorously blocking her nomination.

This is the price of losing elections: the other side gets to govern and thus help shape the direction of the courts. It’s a reminder to find adept presidential nominees who can win and who will nominate judges at all levels who appreciate the proper role of the courts in our democratic system.

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Elena Kagan — Stealth Nominee?

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type — minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

Elena Kagan is the prohibitive favorite for the Supreme Court. She has made it through one confirmation hearing for her current post as solicitor general and possesses academic credentials, a reputation for collegiality with conservatives, and a limited paper trail. Moreover, she is the closest we have to a stealth candidate among the front-runners. As Tom Goldstein notes, “I don’t know anyone who has had a conversation with her in which she expressed a personal conviction on a question of constitutional law in the past decade.”

Casual observers assume that a dean of Harvard Law School and a domestic-policy aide in the Clinton administration must have a sizable body of work reflecting her legal views. But not so. Paul Campos has read all there is to read — and it’s not much:

Yesterday, I read everything Elena Kagan has ever published. It didn’t take long: in the nearly 20 years since Kagan became a law professor, she’s published very little academic scholarship—three law review articles, along with a couple of shorter essays and two brief book reviews. Somehow, Kagan got tenure at Chicago in 1995 on the basis of a single article in The Supreme Court Review—a scholarly journal edited by Chicago’s own faculty—and a short essay in the school’s law review. She then worked in the Clinton administration for several years before joining Harvard as a visiting professor of law in 1999. While there she published two articles, but since receiving tenure from Harvard in 2001 (and becoming dean of the law school in 2003) she has published nothing. (While it’s true law school deans often do little scholarly writing during their terms, Kagan is remarkable both for how little she did in the dozen years prior to becoming Harvard’s dean, and for never having written anything intended for a more general audience, either before or after taking that position.)

Campos goes so far as to suggest that Kagan is a Harriet Miers type — minus the cronyism. He concludes:

Indeed, the most impressive thing about Kagan is that she seems to have a remarkable ability to ingratiate herself with influential people across the ideological spectrum. … As a private lawyer, Miers, after all, had a fairly good excuse for having no public views on the great legal issues of our day. For most of the past 20 years, Kagan’s job has been to both develop and publicize such views. That she has nevertheless managed to almost completely avoid doing so is rather extraordinary.

What to make of this? Well, if a Republican president were to select a person with such a skimpy written record, conservatives would be (and were with the Miers nomination) rightfully worried. But do the same concerns — ideological infidelity, intellectual mediocrity — really apply to Kagan? Let’s be honest, it works differently for liberals. Very few are tempted to moderate their views and slide rightward, while Republican-nominated jurists (David Souter, John Paul Stevens) have a history of “disappointing” their side. And while no one has claimed that Kagan has achieved greatness in legal scholarship, the assumption — rightly or not — is that the dean of one of the top law schools in the country must have some intellectual wattage. Nevertheless, liberal legal activists might have reason to be a bit nervous — after all, would a justice who lacks judicial chops be the best choice to sway Justice Kennedy on those all-important 5-to-4 decisions? Is she really the one who is going to go toe-to-toe with Justice Scalia? There is some risk there if Obama were to choose a lesser known quantity than an appellate judge such as Diane Wood.

Nevertheless, there are clues as to Kagan’s legal mindset. Indeed, one such clue is also her primary shortcoming. Stuart Taylor explains:

The one issue that could slow down Kagan’s confirmation is her impassioned effort as dean to bar military recruiting on campus to protest the law banning openly gay people from serving in the military, which she called “a moral injustice of the first order.”

Kagan carried this opposition to the point of joining a 2005 amicus brief whose strained interpretation of a law denying federal funding to institutions that discriminate against military recruiters would — the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision — have rendered the statute “largely meaningless.” This helps to explain the 31 Republican votes against confirming her as solicitor general.

Well, that might be enough to lose her a batch of GOP Senate votes, but would it derail her nomination? Probably not. And it might just give enough comfort to the left that Kagan is a “safe” pick for them.

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