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Objection Sustained

The trouble with lawyers begins in the law schools.

Mar 28, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 27 • By GEORGE LEEF
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Schools for Misrule
Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America
by Walter Olson
Encounter, 296 pp., $25.95

Objection Sustained

Following Judge Roger Vinson’s decision that Obamacare exceeded the powers granted to Congress and was therefore void, the White House released a statement denouncing the ruling as “odd and unconventional.” But why should it be considered odd and unconventional for a federal judge to read the language of the Constitution, consider its history, and then rule that a law cannot be enforced because Congress had no authority to enact it? Isn’t that standard procedure?

After reading Schools for Misrule you will understand perfectly. At most law schools—and emphatically at elite ones such as Obama’s Harvard—students are immersed in a bath of statist theories that rationalize ever-expanding government control over nearly every aspect of life. They hear that social progress depends on politicians and judges dictating what people must do (such as purchasing federally approved health insurance) and must not do (such as using incandescent light bulbs). They learn that the concepts of limited government and federalism are outmoded antiques that merely defend unjust privilege. So to many law school graduates, Judge Vinson’s opinion is odd and unconventional: It runs contrary to everything they were taught about the Constitution and how judges should interpret it.

Walter Olson’s previous books show the malign effects of the legal profession on everyday Americans. Schools for Misrule explains how most of the damaging ideas that lawyers, politicians, and judges are eager to fasten upon society originate in our law schools. Decades ago, lawyers who went to law school (and many did not—more on that later) received a no-nonsense education in the bedrock knowledge for their careers: courses in property, contracts, torts, and civil procedure along with practice in legal research and writing. Now, the legal curriculum relegates some of that bedrock to optional status—Olson notes, for example, that Yale has proudly brushed property into the elective pile—and is loaded with ideologically slanted courses such as Climate Change Justice, Social Disparities in Health, and Social Justice Lawyering.

For students who majored in tendentious pseudo-disciplines in college, such courses are irresistible. Moreover, Olson shows, law schools go to considerable lengths to recruit students who are inclined toward careers in “public interest law.” Backed with funding from George Soros’s Open Society Institute, the American Association of Law Schools launched its Equal Justice Project in 2000. Its objective was to encourage activism among law students. Toward that end, many schools now have tuition-forgiveness programs that subsidize students who “follow their conscience” into public interest lawyering, or set aside seats in each class for students who pledge to go into such careers. Activist students can team up with activist professors to foment change by working in the numerous clinics and programs law schools have established. Name almost any leftist cause today—feminism, environmentalism, homelessness, poverty, and so forth—and law schools have centers where faculty and students are busy as bees concocting lawsuits.

Consider, for example, the prodigious costs that have been forced on New York City by law school-bred homeless activists. In the early 1980s the city embarked on an ill-conceived program of constructing public housing to eliminate homelessness. New York soon found its program spinning out of control as public interest lawyers prevailed upon a friendly judge to declare a “right to shelter” and rule that New York was not doing enough to give effect to that “right.” Even though state law required that the homeless be placed in dwellings within 48 hours, the judge declared that the city must pay a penalty unless it placed them within 24 hours. And although city regulations allowed officials to evict people for misconduct, the judge declared them void.

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