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Scholars, Political Leaders Discuss ‘Corporate Capture’ of Law at HLS Event

MIT Emeritus Professor Noam Chomsky begins speaking as fellow panelist Professor Jon Hanson looks on. The two spoke at Harvard Law School's conference on corporate capture of the legal system in January 2023.
MIT Emeritus Professor Noam Chomsky begins speaking as fellow panelist Professor Jon Hanson looks on. The two spoke at Harvard Law School's conference on corporate capture of the legal system in January 2023. By Addison Y. Liu
By Jo B. Lemann and Neil H. Shah, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard Law School hosted a conference featuring legal scholars, lawyers, and legal journalists who discussed the impact that corporate interests have on legal education and the legal system on Friday and Saturday.

The Systemic Justice Project — an initiative led by HLS professor Jon D. Hanson to educate law students about issues of justice within the legal system — and the project’s offshoot publication, “The [F]law,” organized the two-day conference, titled “Corporate Capture of the Legal System.”

Former U.S. presidential candidate, political activist, and attorney Ralph Nader opened the event with a moderated conversation during which he criticized the U.S. government for protecting large corporations.

“We have a corporate crime wave in this country,” Nader said.

He urged students to see how these corporations have “immunities not accorded to small businesses,” such as “bailouts, subsidies, giveaways, exonerations, and being too big to fail.”

Nader, who recently penned an open letter to HLS students urging them to be cautious of corporate law, added that while the Law School aimed to “educate leaders who contribute to the enhancement of justice and the well-being of society,” it has been the “main progenitor of corporate attorneys in the country.”

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also spoke at the conference about the role that corporate money plays in politics and the legal system.

“There’s literally nobody who isn’t funded by corporate dark money who doesn’t want corporate dark money out of politics,” he said.

In another panel at the conference, Hanson and MIT emeritus professor Noam Chomsky discussed how corporations exert their influence on public opinion through spending on public relations.

Hanson said corporations “manufacture” a “coercion story,” one in which corporations are forced to submit to regulations, the will of shareholders, and the consent of the consumer, rendering them powerless. But Hanson said such a “story” is “the ultimate attribution error.”

“It’s the way in which we tell stories that leave outgroup members, who have been harmed, accountable and responsible for their own harms and leave ingroup members, who are powerful, immune from any responsibility or accountability in most forms,” he said.

Hanson closed his remarks by calling for united pushback against corporate power.

“This is a time to come together,” he said.

—Staff writer Jo B. Lemann can be reached at jo.lemann@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at neil.shah@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @neilhshah15.

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