Paul L. Caron
Dean




Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Law School As A 'Panopticon'; Yale's Kate Stith: 'Law Schools Are In Crisis'

Update:

Common Sense with Bari Weiss

If you are a Common Sense reader, you are by now highly aware of the phenomenon of institutional capture. From the start, we have covered the ongoing saga of how America’s most important institutions have been transformed by an illiberal ideology—and have come to betray their own missions.

MedicineHollywoodEducation. The reason we exist is because of the takeover of newspapers like The New York Times.

Ok, so we’ve lost a lot. A whole lot. But at least we haven’t lost the law. That’s how we comforted ourselves. The law would be the bulwark against this nonsense. The rest we could work on building anew.

But what if the country’s legal system was changing just like everything else?

Today, Aaron Sibarium, a reporter who has consistently been ahead of the pack on this beat, offers a groundbreaking piece on how the legal system in America, as one prominent liberal scholar put it, is at risk of becoming “a totalitarian nightmare.”

Aaron Sibarium, The Takeover of America's Legal System:

In 2017, the super lawyer David Boies was at a corporate retreat at the Ritz-Carlton in Key Biscayne, Florida, hosted by his law firm, Boies, Schiller and Flexner. Boies was a liberal legend: He had represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, and, in 2013, successfully defended gay marriage in California, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, paving the way for the landmark Supreme Court ruling two years later.

On the last day of the retreat, Boies gave a talk in the hotel ballroom to 100 or so attorneys, according to a lawyer who was present at the event. Afterwards, Boies’s colleagues were invited to ask questions.

Most of the questions were yawners. Then, an associate in her late twenties stood up. She said there were lawyers at the firm who were “uncomfortable” with Boies representing disgraced movie maker Harvey Weinstein, and she wanted to know whether Boies would pay them severance so they could quit and focus on applying for jobs at other firms. Boies, who declined to comment for this article, said no.

That lawyers could be tainted by representing unpopular clients was hardly news. But in times past, lawyers worried about the public—not other lawyers. Defending communists, terrorists, and cop killers had never been a crowd pleaser, but that’s what lawyers had to do sometimes: Defend people who were hated.

When congressional Republicans attacked attorneys for representing Guantanamo detainees, for example, the entire profession rallied around them. The American Civil Liberties Union noted that John Adams took pride in representing British soldiers accused of taking part in the Boston Massacre, calling it “one of the best pieces of service I ever rendered to my country.”

But that’s not how the new associates saw Boies’s choice to represent Weinstein. They thought there were certain people you just did not represent—people so hateful and reprehensible that helping them made you complicit. The partners, the old-timers—pretty much everyone over 50—found this unbelievable. That wasn’t the law as they had known it. That wasn’t America.

“The idea that guilty people shouldn’t get lawyers attacks the legal system at its root,” Andrew Koppelman, a prominent liberal scholar of constitutional law at Northwestern University, said. “People will ask: ‘How can you represent someone who’s guilty?’ The answer is that a society where accused people don’t get a defense as a matter of course is a society you don’t want to live in. It’s a totalitarian nightmare.” 

‘Operating in a Panopticon
The adversarial legal system—in which both sides of a dispute are represented vigorously by attorneys with a vested interest in winning—is at the heart of the American constitutional order. Since time immemorial, law schools have tried to prepare their students to take part in that system.

Not so much anymore. Now, the politicization and tribalism of campus life have crowded out old-fashioned expectations about justice and neutrality. The imperatives of race, gender and identity are more important to more and more law students than due process, the presumption of innocence, and all the norms and values at the foundation of what we think of as the rule of law.

Critics of those values are nothing new, of course, and certainly they are not new at elite law schools. Critical race theory, as it came to be called in the 1980s, began as a critique of neutral principles of justice. The argument went like this: Since the United States was systemically racist—since racism was baked into the country’s political, legal, economic and cultural institutions—neutrality, the conviction that the system should not seek to benefit any one group, camouflaged and even compounded that racism. The only way to undo it was to abandon all pretense of neutrality and to be unneutral. It was to tip the scales in favor of those who never had a fair shake to start with.

But critical race theory, until quite recently, only had so much purchase in legal academia. The ideas of its founders—figures like Derrick Bell, Alan David Freeman, and Kimberlé Crenshaw—tended to have less influence on the law than on college students, who by 2015 seemed significantly less liberal (“small L”) than they used to be. There was the Yale Halloween costume kerfuffle. The University of Missouri president being forced out. Students at Evergreen State patrolling campus with baseball bats, eyes peeled for thought criminals.

At first, the conventional wisdom held that this was “just a few college kids”—a few spoiled snowflakes—who would “grow out of it” when they reached the real world and became serious people. That did not happen. Instead, the undergraduates clung to their ideas about justice and injustice. They became medical students and law students. Then 2020 happened.

All of sudden, critical race theory was more than mainstream in America’s law schools. It was mandatory.

Starting this Fall, Georgetown Law School will require all students to take a class “on the importance of questioning the law’s neutrality” and assessing its “differential effects on subordinated groups,” according to university documents obtained by Common SenseUC Irvine School of LawUniversity of Southern California Gould School of Law, Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, and Boston College Law School have implemented similar requirements. Other law schools are considering them.

As of last month, the American Bar Association is requiring all accredited law schools to “provide education to law students on bias, cross-cultural competency, and racism,” both at the start of law school and “at least once again before graduation.” That’s in addition to a mandatory legal ethics class, which must now instruct students that they have a duty as lawyers to “eliminate racism.” (The American Bar Association, which accredits almost every law school in the United States, voted 348 to 17 to adopt the new standard.)

Trial verdicts that do not jibe with the new politics are seen as signs of an inextricable hate—and an illegitimate legal order. At the Santa Clara University School of Law, administrators emailed students that the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse—the 17-year-old who killed two men and wounded another during a riot, in Kenosha, Wisconsin—was “further evidence of the persistent racial injustice and systemic racism within our criminal justice system.” At UC Irvine, the university’s chief diversity officer emailed students that the acquittal “conveys a chilling message: Neither Black lives nor those of their allies’ matter.” (He later apologized for having “appeared to call into question a lawful trial verdict.”)

Professors say it is harder to lecture about cases in which accused rapists are acquitted, or a police officer is found not guilty of abusing his authority. One criminal law professor at a top law school told me he’s even stopped teaching theories of punishment because of how negatively students react to retributivism—the view that punishment is justified because criminals deserve to suffer.

“I got into this job because I liked to play devil’s advocate,” said the tenured professor, who identifies as a liberal. “I can’t do that anymore. I have a family.”

Other law professors—several of whom asked me not to identify their institution, their area of expertise, or even their state of residence—were similarly terrified.

Nadine Strossen, the first woman to head the American Civil Liberties Union and a professor at New York Law School, told me: “I massively self-censor. I assume that every single thing that is said, every facial gesture, is going to be recorded and potentially disseminated to the entire world. I feel as if I am operating in a panopticon.”

This has all come as a shock to many law professors, who had long assumed that law schools wouldn’t cave to the new orthodoxy. ...

At Boston College Law School this semester, a constitutional law professor asked students: “Who does not think we should scrap the constitution?” According to a student in the class, not a single person raised their hand.

Those students and organizations who do dissent often encounter a tsunami of hate. When members of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law’s Federalist Society chapter invited the conservative writer Josh Hammer to campus in October 2021, the law school’s all-student listserv lit up with invective. ...

That was nothing compared to what happened at Yale Law School earlier this month, when the school’s chapter of the Federalist Society hosted a bipartisan panel on civil liberties. More than 100 law students disrupted the event, intimidating attendees and attempting to drown out the speakers. When the professor moderating the panel, Kate Stith, told the protesters to “grow up,” they hurled abuse at her and insisted their disturbance was “free speech.”

The fracas caused so much chaos that the police were called. After it ended, the protesters pressured their peers to sign an open letter endorsing their actions and condemning the Federalist Society, which they claimed had “​​profoundly undermined our community's values of equity and inclusivity.”

“I’m sure you realize that not signing the letter is not a neutral stance,” one student told her class group chat. She was upset that the panel had included Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal nonprofit that’s won a slew of religious liberty cases at the Supreme Court.

As similar messages clogged listservs and Discord forums, nearly two-thirds of Yale Law’s student body wound up signing the letter.

Stith, the professor who was lambasted for telling students to “grow up,” doesn’t see the pile-on as an isolated incident.

“Law schools are in crisis,” she told me. “The truth doesn’t matter much. The game is to signal one’s virtue.”

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2022/03/law-school-as-a-panopticon-yales-kate-stith-law-schools-are-in-crisis.html

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