Law Professors and AALS Duke It Out Over Annual Meeting

Photo by H. Michael Karshis (Flickr/Creative Commons)

As the Association of American Law Schools develops the speaker lineup for its 2016 annual conference, some conservative law professors are crying “bias.”

Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown, complained on Saturday in a blog post on The Volokh Conspiracy that 11 of the conference’s 13 “speakers of note” are associated with the Democratic Party, and not a single one is a conservative or a libertarian.

The numbers highlight the AALS’s “rigid liberal orthodoxy,” according to Rosenkranz, who wrote a law review article in 2014 that criticized the legal academy for a lack of intellectual diversity.

In response to his complaint, the AALS updated its list of “speakers of note” — presenters staff felt were noteworthy — to include several conservatives, including 7th Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook, Harvard Professor John Manning, and Columbia professor Henry Monaghan, all of whom were already scheduled to present at the conference, which is not taking place until January 2016.

Judith Areen, the AALS’s executive director, disagreed with the wider complaint that the AALS and conference organizers are biased, but confirmed that the list was updated in response to Rosenkranz’s post.

“Ninety-seven per cent of the meeting’s speakers comes out of the grassroots sections of law professors,” she said. “They pick their speakers based on their areas of interest. This is a very democratic meeting. It isn’t some top-down process.”

The battle for air time at the AALS conference is high-stakes: According to the Association’s website, 180 law schools and “more than 9,000 law faculty” are affiliated with the AALS, and its annual meeting “draws thousands of professors, deans and administrators.”

Speakers at the 2016 meeting, to be held in Manhattan, include Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow, and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.

John McGinnis, a constitutional law professor at Northwestern who also has blogged about a lack of intellectual diversity, said that if law professors are picking liberal speakers, he believes it only highlights a larger problem: that the academy is politically myopic.

In addition to the speaker lineup for next year’s conference, McGinnis cited the number of honorary degrees given out by Ivy League law schools to liberal figures as evidence of bias.

Together with Rosenkranz, McGinnis regularly contributes to Heterodox Academy, a recently launched, professor-run blog aimed at highlighting bias in the academic community.

“We’re trying to document in a very simple way that the legal elite are quite to the left of the American people. They’re very unrepresentative of Americans’ political views,” McGinnis said.

If it comes as no surprise that law school professors lean left, Rosenkranz said the legal academy’s leanings are more leftward than most think.

“There are more than 120 people on Georgetown Law faculty, and only two of those are to the right of center,” Rosenkranz said. “My view is that’s not healthy. It’s bad for students, bad for liberal faculty members, bad for conservative faculty members.”

Georgetown Law did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Areen, the conference’s speaker lineup has been developing since this summer, and will continue to expand.

McGinnis conceded that with more liberal professors to choose from, it wasn’t surprising if the AALS’s conference lineup skews left.

“I don’t want to attribute any malevolence [to the AALS],” he said. “It’s an ideological person’s network. People of the same views flock together. Our attempt is to get people to rethink that, to be more conscious of it.”

Areen says the AALS is already thinking about it: “We talk about diversity in our mission statement. We go out of our way to make sure there is a diversity of viewpoints,” she said.