04 Dec 2005

Orthodoxy at Yale Law

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The third-year students at Yale Law find the dominium of orthodoxy at their elite school troubling.

Yale Law School’s almost universal disapproval of the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear, yet again, the stark lack of ideological diversity here in New Haven… Notably lacking among Yale’s professors has been any vigorous defense of Judge Alito or of the conservative judicial philosophy he’s believed to hold. No one has stepped forward to defend or even suggest that the country would be better off with another Roe vs. Wade skeptic on the court who is also an “originalist” (believes the Constitution should be interpreted as it was originally written) and a federalist (believing in strict separation of federal and state powers). Such ideas supposedly belong to conservative extremists, who are considered beyond the pale at Yale Law School… We don’t say this to whine about being underrepresented as conservatives at Yale Law School. But the school’s lack of diversity increasingly represents a scholarly and pedagogical problem for Yale. For example, the Rehnquist court was a revolution in the country’s jurisprudence. Except as fuel for denunciations of the court’s conservative majority, these developments have gone largely unnoticed in the scholarship of Yale Law’s professors…. There is something odd when a major strain of American jurisprudence can’t find a single defender at the country’s top law school.

The Yale branch of the Federalist Society constitutes the solitary voice of heresy able to be heard within the Gothic corridors of the nation’s highest rated institution of legal education.


Juan Non-Volokh links an article by Yale Law Professor Peter Schuck in the American Lawyer on the lack of viewpoint diversity at elite law schools. Professor Schuck observes:

… a teaching institution that constructs an ideologically one-sided faculty, whether liberal or conservative, seriously abdicates its pedagogical responsibilities. Professors have a sacred duty to their students and to each other to affirm-and also to exemplify-core academic and intellectual values. We should convey to our students an abiding respect, even awe, for the complexity of law in society, and we should exhibit the ideological humility that this complexity implies. Any professors worthy of the title have strong views, of course, but they should also have a keen sense that those views may be wrong, or based on incomplete evidence, or highly reductive. Even if we are utterly convinced of the correctness of our positions, we should teach as if we aren’t-as if there are serious counterpositions to be entertained and explored, as if even the truth cannot be fully apprehended until it is challenged by the best arguments that can be marshaled against it. And although scrupulous teachers can sometimes challenge their own deepest convictions in class, most of us need competing points of view-on our own faculties, debated before our own students-to keep us intellectually honest and to enrich learning.


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