Scholars Write an Unscholarly Letter Opposing Senator Sessions

A group of law professors, now more than a thousand in number, has written a collective letter opposing Jeff Sessions’ nomination as Attorney General. The  letter’s list of particulars against him is long—from his position on environmental laws to civil rights laws—as well as allegations of racial insensitivity that figured in his failed nomination to be a federal district court judge thirty years ago.

Of course, these law professors have every right to oppose Jeff Sessions as citizens, but they are clearly here writing as legal scholars, noting their position as law professors at the start of the letter and signing with their institutional affiliations.

What is notable, however, is the lack of any scholarly argument in the letter.  There is no analysis of why Sessions’ positions are wrong as matter of law or policy.  I doubt many of the signers have examined the hearings for his district court nomination to come to independent judgment on his fitness for that office or any other.

Law professors have been writing such letters of mass advice to Congress for some time. They are almost always letters supporting the left-liberal positions, because law professors are overwhelmingly left liberal. Neal Devins of William and Mary has made a powerful case that these letters are a serious mistake, because they attempt to trade on law professors’ status as scholars to give credibility to unscholarly and sometimes partisan advice.  Professor Devins has noted that many law professors who sign these letters lack scholarly expertise in the subject matter, and this letter is no different in that respect.  But even the letters he critiqued, like that contending that President Clinton’s impeachment was unconstitutional, had at least the patina of an argument. But this letter just takes positions without serious reasoning of the kind scholars provide.

As such, this letter debases the enterprise of scholarship. What we as scholars can provide to politicians is more articulate reasons for political action.  That deepening of deliberation does a service to democratic debate, which at its best is about reason, not raw preferences. Particularly in these days where politics is less and less about policy and more about loyalties to one’s tribe, scholars have a particular obligation to raise politics toward the ideal of reason rather than to lower scholarly discourse toward that of coarse politics.

John O. McGinnis

John O. McGinnis is the George C. Dix Professor in Constitutional Law at Northwestern University. His book Accelerating Democracy was published by Princeton University Press in 2012. McGinnis is also the coauthor with Mike Rappaport of Originalism and the Good Constitution published by Harvard University Press in 2013 . He is a graduate of Harvard College, Balliol College, Oxford, and Harvard Law School. He has published in leading law reviews, including the Harvard, Chicago, and Stanford Law Reviews and the Yale Law Journal, and in journals of opinion, including National Affairs and National Review.

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  1. Mark Pulliam says

    Legal academia has degenerated into a caldron of leftist politics. At least the Progressives and Legal Realists–and even the proponents of Critical Legal Studies–offered a fig leaf of theoretical justification: a rationale. As John courageously notes, his left-wing colleagues now use their roost in academia as a weapon based on ideology alone. They think their numbers give their views–not shared by an electoral majority–moral weight. They are wrong. Legal academia is in crisis, producing too many lawyers, with too little useful skills, at too great a cost. Without tenure–required by the ABA and AALS (both cartels)–most of these “professors” would be unemployable as lawyers. What client would hire Ivory Tower scribblers with no actual legal experience?

    • gabe says

      Nope!

      They could be document researchers as this is a skill they appear to have in some measure. After all, find out what someone else has said, presumably some leftist, and then repeat or present it.

      Now that is a skill that makes the “clerks” of the world truly valuable.

    • aez says

      I wonder whom they believe they’re writing for? Perhaps their experience with rigor is limited…or perhaps they are writing not to persuade other scholars or jurists, but rather journalists.

  2. MICHAEL TORST says

    Critical Assessment skills are non-existent in at least 1,200 Marxist Law Degree bequeathers. I expect a greater number will sign shortly as the fish do school together..

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