Law Group Seeks To Resist Conservatism

Famed liberal judge and former Congress member Abner Mikva urged an audience of about 175 people to “bring justice back to law” by vigorously resisting the prevailing conservative influence at law schools across the country.

Mikva’s speech, in Austin Hall at Harvard Law School (HLS), marked the first major event sponsored by the HLS chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS), a student group organized to further liberal causes at law school campuses throughout the nation and combat the formindable influence of the conservative Federalist Society.

“What’s missing is a counter force to make our democracy run like it should,” Mikva said.

The debate surrounding issues like privacy, free speech, racial and religious profiling, and abortion are too often shaped by conservatives, Mikva said. “The dominant forum for discussing these issues at law school campuses is now run by a group with a staunch conservative agenda.”

The ACS, Mikva said, will prove “that rigorous legal thinking is consistent with liberal values.”

Established earlier this year, the ACS has already recruited legal and political heavyweights to its board, including former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, fomer U.S. Solicitor General Drew Days, and Laurence H. Tribe, Tyler professor of constitutional law at HLS.

Mikva, a former White House counsel under President Bill Clinton, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and five-term member of Congress from Illinois, was a the ideal speaker to christen the new liberal organization, many audience members said.

“He’s a person who’s dedicated his entire life to the values on which the ACS is founded,” said Heather K. Gerken, an assistant professor at the law school and the ACS faculty advisor.

In his speech, Mikva warned of the conservative tint to case studies used in law schools and said the ACS can be a “force for change.”

It will be no easy task, said many at HLS, to compete with the Federalist Society, which has become a major source for judicial appointments, clerkships and policy-making positions in the Bush administration.

“I think we’re very envious of the Federalists. They’re very organized,” said ACS member Bruce L. Gottlieb ’97, who is also a Crimson editor.

One of the first challenges for the group, said ACS member and third-year law school student Daniel Bahar, will be to determine where on the spectrum of liberal thought ACS will stand.

Bahar said the ACS will have to steer a course between “a well-defined progressive left agenda and the centrism that’s shown by the new left.”

Gottlieb said it will also have to overcome any internal differences of opinion.

“When conservatives circle the wagons, they point the guns out; when the liberals circle the wagons, they point the guns in,” he said.

—Staff writer William M. Rasmussen can be reached at wrasmuss@fas.harvard.edu.