A Grouchy Post About the Election

I’m on record as basically hating blogging by law professors about politics, never more so than when the election is near. Obviously, given the state of commentary on the more popular law professor blogs of late, too few agree with me about how unenlightening most political blogging by professors is.   Well, it takes all kinds!  And there’s always Orin Kerr, writing about actual cases, to read.

But here’s something we can all agree on, I would hope. Law professors have no business telling students who to vote for.  I wonder what percentage of the academy already has, or will, violate this simple rule in the next two days?  My bet: over 25%, and the age distribution would be illuminating. Some additional percentage have probably told their students that as lawyers-in-training they have an extra obligation to participate in the “civic duty” of voting. This, in my mind, is nearly as bad, since it is usually motivated by some implicit sense that the targets of the message are going to vote the way you want them to.

Whew. Glad I got that off my chest!

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12 Responses

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    What about following the lead of some employers and warning students neutrally that if they don’t vote a certain way the economy will crash and that they will be stuck with gigantic debt and no job to help them pay it off? (JUST kidding!)

  2. Eric Hodgdon says:

    And, also they have no business stating in class
    “If you vote for a 3rd-party candidate, your are throwing your vote away.”

    A vote can never be throw away by the elector, even if not cast.

  3. prometheefeu says:

    Do you have much evidence of law professors telling their students how to vote? I recall in college having professors tell me to vote, (which I agree with you is equally wrong, but for different reasons) but all the stories I ever heard of professors telling their students how to vote were friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend-who-read-it-in-the-newspaper type of stories.

  4. Matt Bodie says:

    This post is like one of those emails responding to a listserv that complains about other people’s emails responding to the listserv for clogging up his/her inbox.

  5. anon says:

    OK, so telling students who to vote for is wrong. Why is it wrong to ask them to engage in the process (as a lawyer-in-training)?

  6. AF says:

    Yeah, you really lost me in arguing that it’s bad for professors to urge their students to vote. Whatever the professor’s subjective motivation might be, it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

  7. prometheefeu says:

    Telling people to vote is not politically neutral. It implies among other things that at least one of the candidates is worth supporting above the others. That’s why telling students to vote is also wrong. Not voting is also a way to engage in the process. It sends a message to political entrepreuneurs that there are people out there who are dissatisfied with the current choices.

  8. Thomas Gibbons NZ says:

    I think telling students to study might also be wrong. They might want to engage in the process of law school by not studying, attending, or sitting exams.

  9. dave hoffman says:

    Two thoughts.

    First, Matt is right that fatuous political commentary is pretty hard to stomp out.

    Second, Thomas is right to point out that professors often engage in paternalistic advice. My point is that encouraging students to vote, or who to vote for, isn’t really within the ambit of what I think is permissible. Nor, for that matter, would be advice on healthy eating, or who to date. What rankles, I think is that idea that students are almost never well-positioned to disagree with professors when they admonish, so admonishment should be limited to stuff directly connected to the educational mission — how to study, how to prepare for job interviews, career advice.

  10. anon says:

    Why assume no one can offer a commentary-free request to vote, as an exercise in participation in the political/policy process? Your position relies on negative implications that I do not believe are justified.

  11. I have NEVER heard of any law professor telling students who to vote for.

  12. Thomas Gibbons NZ says:

    What if we see part of the mission of law school to be an advanced liberal education, and to encourage citizenship?

    Isn’t the American constitution democratic; doesn’t a robust democracy depend on citizens’ participation?

    Wouldn’t then a law school professor be right to encourage students to vote – and to tell them to encourage those they know to vote, without in any way encouraging them to vote for A, B, or F?