Politics & Policy

A Law School With a Twist.

At George Mason University, the Left doesn't reign, believe it or not.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the March 13, 2006, issue of National Review.

This is a nerve-wracking time of year for law-school deans, as they await the results of what amounts to the Bowl Championship Series for their profession: On March 31, U.S. News & World Report will release its rankings of the top 100 law schools in the country. Most of the deans insist that these assessments are “inherently flawed” and “unreliable”–and virtually all of them will sign an open letter to law-school applicants that says so.

But Daniel Polsby, the dean of the George Mason University School of Law, is different. His name will not appear on the forthcoming annual missive, and he’s actually looking forward to the U.S. News survey. “We hope to move up a few places this year,” he says. That would certainly be in keeping with a decade-long trend: Mason vaulted from 71st place in 1995 to 41st in 2005–an impressive achievement given that these rankings tend to remain static from year to year. Even more remarkable is that this fast-rising star in the law-school firmament possesses a faculty of professors who lean decidedly to the right.

This fact alone makes the GMU law school unique. As with just about every other precinct of higher education, liberals dominate law schools. A study in The Georgetown Law Journal last fall found that among professors at leading law schools who made political campaign contributions of at least $200, 81 percent of them gave almost exclusively to Democrats. Only 15 percent preferred Republicans. This preference was especially lopsided at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford–the top three law schools in the most recent U.S. News survey–where donations to Democrats topped 90 percent.

GMU wasn’t included in the survey, but its figures wouldn’t have looked the same. For one thing, the faculty includes an unusually high number of Republicans. Several professors have moved in and out of the Bush administration, such as Timothy J. Muris, who was chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, and William H. Lash III, who was an assistant secretary at the Commerce Department. Those who aren’t Republicans are often Libertarians. “I knew things were different here when I saw a particular bumper sticker in the parking lot,” says Ronald Rotunda, a professor who arrived from the University of Illinois in 2002. “It said: ‘There’s no government like no government.’” To be sure, there are Democrats on the faculty, including the guy who runs the school’s legal-aid clinic. But rather than sue police departments and defend death-row inmates–the all-too-typical activities of groups like this–Joseph Zengerle’s students provide help to members of the military and their families. And if that weren’t enough, Mason is the only law school in America that has a chair endowed by the National Rifle Association (or, to be specific, an NRA foundation); Nelson Lund is the Patrick Henry Professor of Constitutional Law and the Second Amendment. It is perhaps not too farfetched to think that GMU’s law school will become to the early 21st century what the University of Chicago Law School was to the latter half of the 20th–a high-caliber bastion of conservative (or at least classic-liberal) legal thinking…

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John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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