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Monday, January 29, 2007

A Modesty Proposal

Could there be a moratorium on Harvard Law grads publishing books and articles about being at Harvard Law? I realize that "write what you know" is a maxim of good writing, and I can tolerate admittedly autobiographical work like One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School and the lesser-known Broken Contract: A Memoir of Harvard Law School. But autobiography disguised as analysis is nearly as bad as opinion distinguished as statistics (with all due respect to Ann Bartow, a survey of 366 students at a single elite law school does not suffice to say What Women Want). Somehow I missed George W. Hicks Jr.'s The Conservative Influence of the Federalist Society on the Harvard Law School Student Body, unsurprisingly published in a Fed Soc sister organization, the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

Prof. Kerr, as ever both more generous and more intelligent than I (my first thought on seeing the title was What a wankfest), called the article "interesting," but critiques the part of it that generated my unkind reaction -- the influence of the Harvard chapter of the Federalist Society -- as "mere speculation. And it seems like pretty unpersuasive speculation."

Also, frankly, who cares? Columbia has had a fairly active Fed Soc during my time here, mostly thanks to Blaine Evanson '06, but I've witnessed conservatives and libertarians voicing their diverse viewpoints so seldom during class that I've been driven to bringing up arguments with which I don't agree just to get the prof's take. And as the author of Broken Contract sorrowfully describes, most self-identified liberals at elite law schools will be working for large law firms, on behalf of massive corporations, not for the ACLU. Indeed, the liberal-friendly pro bono work taken by most firms is partly an attempt to make these students feel better about selling out -- Sure, my firm defends polluters, but we also are trying to get habeas for an alleged terrorist! Hicks (also probably more intelligent than I) is almost wholly focused on social political preferences and ignores the difference between liberalism and leftism, using the terms interchangeably even when the source of a quote, such as The Economist, probably does distinguish between the two. Same-sex marriage is a winner, but you might not get a majority of Ivy League students to agree even to such a basic "leftist" idea as that government should be in charge of providing health care. And Jonah Goldberg's signed on to that one as preferable to the current schizophrenic system.

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