Ralph Nader, a political activist and repeat third-party presidential candidate, called on Law School students to protest what he characterized as the school’s excessively “corporate” focus at a visit to the school Wednesday.
Nader, a Harvard Law graduate, drew a grim picture of the American legal system, saying that Harvard churns out “lucrative cogs in the corporate wheel.” He referenced student debt, hidden bank fees, and unintelligible contracts that consumers don’t read as examples of injustice in the legal system.
“The curriculum is built around corporate law, and corporate power, and corporate perpetration, and corporate defense,” Nader said.
In an interview last week—before Nader came to campus—Dean of the Law School John F. Manning ’82 discussed the Law School's efforts to promote public interest careers, saying that students in the class of 2017 spent an average of 586 hours working pro bono.
“Harvard Law School is very supportive of public interest,” Manning said. “From the very outset we have a very large, energetic office of public advising, we have a program on law and social change that really helps people identify and think about careers that try to affect social change.”
Pete D. Davis ’12, a third-year Law School student who authored a report also criticizing the Law School’s public interest resources, invited Nader to speak at the Law School. In the report, Davis wrote that ordinary Americans lack legal power and encouraged the Law School to “better live up to our mission”.
“I have a keystone reform that I want: the majority of law school grads to deploy their legal educations for the majority of their careers in service of the public,” Davis said in an interview.
The Langdell Hall lecture room was filled with Law School affiliates, and the audience gave Nader a standing ovation at the end of his address.
But Nader’s speech, delivered on the anniversary of the 2016 presidential election, struck a nerve with other attendees. Some audience members expressed skepticism about the effect of third-party presidential bids—both Nader’s in 2000 and those of Jill Stein and Gary Johnson in 2016.
Nader defended all three campaigns, saying that he believed “in an equal right to run, and equal right to get votes from all the people.”
“The two major parties often represent minority opinions,” Nader added.
Nader ended his speech by arguing that the Law School has a responsibility to cultivate justice-minded graduates, and current students ought to hold administrative feet to the fire until it does.
“You’re in the top one percent,” Nader said. “What are you going to do with it?”