Paul Horwitz (Alabama), 'Sponsored' Symposia: A Possible Trend — and Cause for Concern — in Elite Flagship Law Review Publishing:
A number of elite flagship law reviews have been giving over issues of their volume to symposia or special issues that are 1) sponsored by or with particular groups; 2) generally, the groups have particular positions, agendas, leanings, or however you want to describe them; 3) the topic or topics of the symposium reflect that position; and 4) it seems pretty clearly reflected too in the list of speakers. ...
[T]here seem to me to be lots of obvious reasons to be concerned about this.
Leaving aside their employment value for students, main elite law reviews exist to serve two primary missions: To confer status and prestige, and to advance wide-ranging scholarship on a wide range of topics and from a wide range of methods, approaches, and viewpoints, about the law. (Some would reverse the order of the missions in that sentence.) Accepting the sponsorship, and almost inevitably the influence, of a group that may well have a particular axe to grind or mission to advance, at least in a way that does not insist on the presence, participation, and publication of skeptical and outright opposing points of view, doesn't seem to me to advance the second mission, and does seem to me to undermine the scholarly and academic credibility of that journal.
As to the first mission, it is of course widely recognized that, for better or worse, publication in one of these few journals can have dramatic career-making or -advancing effects. Law professors know it (and sometimes lament it), and elite law review editors are not unaware of it either. There is no shortage of discussions out there about the ways in which elite journals in the past or present served to create and entrench certain hierarchies or subjects and confer status in some places, but not others. And that was in circumstances in which those editors rarely had some explicit mission of conferring status selectively and with deliberate partiality, and in theory were open to all subjects and viewpoints. An elite journal that gives over one sixth (or one eighth or whatever its issue-per-volume percentage works out to) of its annual space to a particular sponsoring group and, as part of that sponsored issue, gives space to one general point of view alone in selecting conference participants and authors, is quite clearly rigging its status-conferring machinery in one direction, at least for the space of that issue. If it is not deliberate on the part of the journal (although it seems pretty apparent and foreseeable to me), it certainly may be on the part of the sponsoring organization, which is another reason to avoid this kind of partnership. All of this is all the more true because if the desire is not to confer status and prestige, but to give a particular airing of a specific viewpoint on a particular issue, then, again, there are numerous secondary journals that can satisfy this purpose without departing from their proper mission and role. The only difference is that those journals are less prominent and confer less professional prestige, which ex hypothesi should be irrelevant.