Paul L. Caron

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chronicle: Kagan, Obama, and the Postradical Legal Generation in Elite Law Schools

Chronicle of Higher Education, The Postradical Legal Generation: Elite Law Schools, and the Court Nominees Who Come From Them, Have Changed, by David Fontana (George Washington):

When President Barack Obama nominated Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court last week, he described her appeal in much the same way he has described his own: as a postpartisan figure. Just as Obama and Kagan represent a generation of national political figures trying to be postideological, so too they represent a distinctive generation of figures in elite law schools—as does Obama's last Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.

All three graduated from their respective law schools (Obama and Kagan from Harvard Law School, Sotomayor from Yale Law School) at a time when most of the more-radical members of the faculty had either already disappeared or were losing their last battles. More than that generation, Sotomayor, Obama, and Kagan have avoided major ideological fights and the most polarizing legal issues. Indeed, in the cases of Obama and Kagan, they helped move their law schools beyond the more-polarizing ideological battles.

In that way, all three are part of the law-school "postradical generation." Just as that helps us better understand their careers, the dynamic also helps explain some of the difficulties Obama will have in appointing influential liberal judges.

The law and the law schools that teach it are temperamentally more conservative than the rest of the university. Anthropologists or sociologists do not teach their classes wearing suits, but law professors often do. While students in the humanities might be considered to have dressed up if they attend class in jeans, law students are often caught wearing nothing more casual than khaki pants. The professionalism of the American law school is evident. ...

Law schools have changed a lot since Sotomayor, Kagan, and Obama sat in their first classes decades ago. Understanding those changes can help us better understand today's courts—and the legal thinkers presidents may appoint to sit on them.

Legal Education | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Chronicle: Kagan, Obama, and the Postradical Legal Generation in Elite Law Schools:


Radical or postradical, it's still an extraordinarily elitist group. I keep thinking of the scene in Dr. Zhivago where the Cossacks run down the demonstrators outside the building where the nobels are banqueting. They look up briefly and keep eating.

Posted by: mike livingston | May 24, 2010 6:52:13 PM