Proposals for Improving Dialogue and Reducing Ideological Polarization in the Legal World
I rarely agree with prominent liberal legal scholar and blogger Eric Segall (see, e.g., our debate over originalism and my 2022 appearance on his podcast). But in a recent blog post, he makes some valuable suggestions on improving cross-ideological dialogue and reducing the harmful effects of polarization in the legal world:
[R]eflecting society-at-large, America’s law schools are becoming increasingly divided along political lines with both sides retreating to their respective corners. This development is troubling because echo chambers produce, well echoes, not meaningful attempts at compromises and solutions palatable to broad constituencies. But if there’s no one in the room arguing for different positions, compromise becomes much more difficult and stubbornness runs rampant.
Evidence of this polarization is all around us….
As to legal education specifically, there are a number of factors increasing polarization inside law schools making it more difficult to break through the echo chamber. One of the the largest causes of this problem is the binary choice offered by the Federalist Society and the American Constitution Society. These two organizations, one conservative/libertarian, the other liberal/progressive, reflect the divisions in our larger society as well as our two-party system of politics. Although at the student level, these two organizations often work together to put on panels and debates, at the national level where it counts the most, both organizations put on highly partisan programs that increase polarization where the two sides barely speak to each other….
Some will respond that both groups invite a few folks from the other side to their national conventions. For example, I was invited to Fed Soc this year for a panel on affirmative action. But these folks are usually a distinct minority and rarely make an appearance at the galas and other big celebrations. Moreover, my understanding is that both conventions are attended almost exclusively by folks whose values are consistent with the leadership of both organizations so that neither convention provides a good environment for across-the-aisle talk.
In addition to the polarization caused by Fed Soc and ACS students, professors, and judges generally staying in their own lanes, the unwillingness of law students (of all people) to hear from people with different views than their own is getting worse every year. At the University of California at Berkeley, nine student groups said they would not invite any speaker who supports Zionism (regardless of the topic of the event). At numerous law schools there have been controversies over who can speak, to whom, and under what conditions. Students retreating to their own corners is not good for legal education, the broader legal community, or society as a whole.
So, I have a few proposals. They are not likely to go very far but, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
1) Both Fed Soc and ACS should invite justices from the other side to speak at their national conventions, and those justices should show up. Symbolically, this intersection would be of great value and substantively it would be good for each group to pay close attention to how they are perceived by the other side and to hear arguments they do not normally hear. It would also be a positive development for the justices to be exposed to the different ideas and values held by folks who disagree with them.
2) The leadership at every school with Fed Soc and ACS chapters should strongly encourage and incentivize these groups to co-sponsor as many events as possible. We do this at Georgia State and the results are usually wonderful. Not only do students hear more varied arguments but they get to know and even like students in the
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