When law schools go left

my Trade Tripper column in the 12-13 February 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

In the US, indubitably true. There, it is quite a given that whether the school be Yale or Harvard or Georgetown the chances that the faculty (and its students) will tilt to the left of the ideological spectrum is stratospheric. A well-known 2005 study by John O. McGinnis, Matthew Schwartz, and Benjamin Tisdell found that 94% of Stanford Law’s faculty contributed to Democratic candidates. This one-sidedness is hugely disconcerting.

At the “elite” level, the same could probably (arguably) be said of Philippine law schools. At least undeniable is that the portion of the Philippine legal community deeming themselves as secular “progressives” or “radical” activists is unabashedly noisier.

The problem with the unchecked dominance of leftist or progressive law schools (or even simply law faculties overrun by progressives) is profoundly significant:

“The best way to get to truth is through the clash of zealous advocates on both sides. All of these law professors have, in theory, dedicated their lives to the study of this axiomatically adversarial system. And yet, at most of these schools, on most of the important issues of the day, one side of the debate is dramatically underrepresented, or not represented at all. One result, unfortunately, is a certain lack of rigor. To be blunt, a kind of intellectual laziness can set in when everyone agrees.” (Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz, “Intellectual Diversity In The Legal Academy,” 2013).

This similarity of thought, the bland uniformity, veering towards the secular progressive mind-set does not bode well for the Philippine legal profession: an expression of a contrary opinion (like supporting traditional families, that gender differences are not social constructs, or that citizenship matters) would be met by apoplectic reactions resembling epileptic seizures. This is not legal education. It’s leftist indoctrination.

And this “indoctrination” permeates throughout society: to the clients advised, the politicians elected, judges deciding between parties, to the media that interview or seeks lawyer’s opinions on matters of national importance, and the people who listen or read them.

Unfortunately, as Rosenkranz (a Georgetown law professor, cheerfully identifying himself as only 1 out of 3 conservatives in a faculty of 120) observes: “this intellectual homogeneity impairs analysis of law in progress -- law as it unfolds out in the world.”

Or stated another way, as a Washington Times report (“The academy’s war on free thinking”; 2013) puts it “Unfortunately, a foundational tenet of legal education [understanding competing arguments and concepts] is not realized in the nation’s leading law schools, including Harvard, where students learn a narrowly progressive view of the law from a predominantly leftist faculty.”

One significant aspect of what is essentially “groupthink” among law faculties is that it encourages disrespect for the rule of law just to achieve a policy or ideological objective (oftentimes disguised under the “narrative” of “social justice”).

This unfortunately leads a society to chaos: an Executive branch that thinks nothing except to persecute its enemies, a Legislative branch that cowardly bows before the presidency, a Judicial branch that believes itself wiser than the other two branches (including the people themselves) and thinking itself entitled to legislate for everyone.

A bright spot: UA&P’s School of Law and Governance’s attempt to fuse liberal education with law, offering competing thoughts for the students to work out on their own: between positivism and natural law, the “originalist” thinking and the “living constitution” theory (which really needs further scrutiny), and so on.

But more needs to be done.

No law student anywhere should be marginalized for thinking differently. Or taught to resort to ad hominem arguments in discussions pertaining to law and morality, pluralism and religious rights. The important thing is that the students think rigorously and think on their own.

Finally, there is this: I participated last year in another university’s student job fair. Invited, aside from myself, were lawyers from various other law schools, there to discuss the merits of their own institutions.

The representative from a top (some would say the best) law school was a young, confident, well-dressed, female lawyer who talked in grim terms how difficultly Darwinian law school is. Classmates intensely competing against each other. Their teachers constantly (if contradictorily) telling them to have compassion for the weak but demanding they leave law school if they themselves are “weak.” All this told with F-bombs in every sentence. Perhaps to appear edgy. Also because, so she says, that’s how it was in her profanity-laden classes. I felt sad for her.

And I guess this is where the problem ultimately lies.

Law is about relationships: between individuals and between individuals and the State. Ultimately, law is about people.

If our law classrooms do not respect human dignity, from the womb and until death (or even beyond), in fact teaching there is no such thing as truth and that everything is relative, instructing students to label ideas they disagree with as medieval, then what kind of lawyers are we unleashing on society?

We all deserve better than that.