Want To Know Why Conservatives Don’t Like Lawyers? Look No Further Than Law School

The Georgetown Law Journal recently published an interesting law review article by Northwestern Law School professor John McGinnis. In the article, McGinnis tracks federal political contributions by law school faculty at the nation’s top 21 law schools, from Yale to Stanford, Vanderbilt to Berkeley. Not surprisingly, the results are exactly what most conservatives have long believed — law school professors do not constitute the base of the grassroots Republican movement.

The study demonstrates that nearly 30% of law professors at the elite law schools donate to federal candidate campaigns, and that of those contributors, 81% donated to Democratic candidates, with 15% contributing to Republican candidates. At the most liberal institutions, like Yale, the ratio of Democrat to Republican contributors was twenty to one.

Compare this contribution patterns with the contributions by the overall population of Americans with similar levels of education and income, it is clear that law professors are overwhelmingly Democrat, and are much more likely than the average citizen (regardless of income or education) to support a Democrat than a Republican.

And the study is not limited to contributions to Democrats or Republicans. As McGinnis notes, the Democrat legislators receiving the top contributions are liberal stalwarts like Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Teddy Kennedy. Hardly the mainstream of American thought.

McGinnis’ findings track closely to earlier surveys tracking the political affiliations of law school faculty. In 1993, Professor James Lindgren conducted an unpublished survey of law school faculty, finding that 80% of those surveyed identified themselves as Democrats, while only 13% identified themselves as Republicans.

Why should the Republicans care? Because lawyers, like it or not, have a profound effect on politics, from the legislature to the executive, and of course the judiciary, which is the exclusive province of lawyers. Face it, we lawyers are everywhere.

When law students receive training from professors whose political beliefs are far left of the norm, will the professor be able to separate the ideology from the law, and if not, will the student be able to maintain the separation?

As McGinnis notes, the lack of ideological diversity in law school faculties is reflected in the amicus briefs filed by law professors in important cases of constitutional law, which almost always advocate for what is perceived to be the “liberal” side of the case (the defendant in a criminal case, the government in an environmental case etc.), and in the ratings given by law professors to judges, which tend to favor liberal judges.

Do you think a judge doesn’t care about his/her reputation in the legal community, or care about a new theory of constitutional law raised in an amicus brief by a law school professor? Do you think a law student doesn’t care about giving the answer he/she thinks the professor wants to hear? If so, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

So why the need for ideological diversity? McGinnis cites to a Columbia Law Review article from Professors Cross and Tiller, in which they demonstrate that federal judges sitting on panels composed of all Democrats or all Republicans are far less likely to properly apply legal doctrines than when there is a mix on the panel. You want the law applied properly? Better get a mix of ideologies.

McGinnis’ study points out the need for Republicans to get more active in the recruitment and placement of faculty in law schools. Otherwise, don’t expect to have too many friends on law school campuses or in academia anytime soon.

– Dave Hunnicutt