Education

Elite Law Schools Shortchange Students by Veering Left

Graduating Law School students cheer at commencement exercises at Harvard University in 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Tomorrow’s top litigators and legal thinkers need more than ideologically uniform echo chambers.

The conservative legal movement is in its golden age, but you wouldn’t know it from visiting America’s top law schools. At Harvard Law School, for example, which we both currently attend, originalist faculty and right-of-center educational opportunities are conspicuously lacking despite a tremendous amount of student interest.

In recent decades, originalism has grown from a niche academic perspective to a widespread interpretive philosophy in the judiciary. Especially given the wave of new federal judges appointed by the current administration, legal practitioners are sure to find themselves arguing in front of judges amenable to originalist reasoning at all levels of the court system. And the success of organizations such as the Pacific Legal Foundation, the Institute for Justice, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (more commonly known as FIRE) demonstrates that there is a need for right-of-center advocacy in various underserved communities that the Left regularly ignores.

The law schools educating tomorrow’s top litigators and legal thinkers have to do better.

Faculty
At Harvard Law, despite a faculty of more than 100 tenured professors and dozens more assistant professors, clinical professors, and lecturers, there are fewer openly right-of-center professors than we can count on one hand. What’s worse, none of them focus their scholarship on originalism. Fortunately, Harvard has room to remedy this. Two years ago, the school established a professorship named after the late Justice Antonin Scalia, which remains empty. It would be fitting to honor his legacy by filling the slot with a professor dedicated to advancing the jurisprudential approach he popularized.

All students would benefit from having a more ideologically diverse faculty. Conservative students need opportunities to cultivate relationships with potential mentors. But progressive students would benefit, too. Interacting with conservative faculty on a more regular basis would round out their legal education and better position them to articulate the arguments necessary to succeed as advocates in today’s more conservative federal courts. Put simply, the dearth of conservatives and originalists on the faculties at America’s elite law schools does a tremendous disservice to the student population.

Clinics
At law schools across America, “law clinics” are a way for students to gain hands-on experience lawyering in exchange for academic credit. While these clinics were once a vehicle for providing free representation to indigent clients who faced asymmetries in access to justice, many clinical programs have morphed into cause lawyering and issue advocacy, shaped by priorities that reflect legal academia’s progressive consensus.

At Harvard Law, progressive students have plenty of opportunities to live their values through the clinical program — one semester, in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, you can “challenge presidential and agency actions that will open public lands and waters to development,” and you can spend the next semester in the Health Law and Policy Clinic working alongside “coalitions advocating to protect Medicaid [and] Medicare.”

Conservative students do not share this luxury — if we want to live our values through our legal work, we can either participate in facially neutral clinics (often led by openly progressive faculty members, which necessarily affects the cases that the clinics actually take on) or simply take a pass on clinical legal education altogether. Further, the aversion to advancing right-of-center priorities in the clinical program leaves a host of underserved communities without the pro bono legal support that they need and that we desperately want to provide.

We take no issue with the existence of left-leaning clinics on our campus. Harvard Law is a big school, with more than enough resources to accommodate clinical opportunities for both the Left and the Right. But that’s not what we have. Recently we put together a petition calling for Harvard Law to expand its clinical offerings to better represent the full spectrum of student interests. With an opportunity to finally say yes to something, the petition caught like wildfire on campus, picking up over 80 signatures in just four days, with the plurality of the signatures coming from first-year law students.

While we are encouraged that Harvard Law is considering starting a religious-liberty clinic, in an effort to keep up with Stanford and Yale, such an offering on its own would not come close to balancing the ideological scales on the campus.

***

Law schools are less effective at training tomorrow’s leaders when they allow themselves to become ideologically uniform echo chambers. To remedy that failure, schools need to make conscious decisions in faculty hiring to bring in conservative viewpoints and expand their clinical legal-education programs to invest in the futures of right-of-center law students just as they do for progressives. In an era when originalists fill the ranks of the federal bench and right-of-center legal-advocacy opportunities abound, law schools shortchange their students by veering left.

Eli Nachmany is a student at Harvard Law School and former White House staffer under President Donald J. Trump. Jacob Richards is a student at Harvard Law School and a 2017 graduate of Arizona Christian University.

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