[Ann Southworth, guest-blogging, January 26, 2009 at 11:56am] Trackbacks
Lawyers of the Right:

I am grateful to Eugene Volokh for this opportunity to post some findings from my book, Lawyers of the Right: Professionalizing the Conservative Coalition (University of Chicago Press 2008) and to seek your reactions.

The book is an account of lawyers' roles in the conservative movement and class and cultural conflict among them. It analyzes these lawyers' characteristics, values, professional identities, and strategies, and the extent to which they, and the organizations they serve, operate as a coordinated whole.

The lawyers examined in my book serve several strands of the conservative alliance that has coalesced behind the Republican Party during the past few decades. Most prominent among those elements are social conservatives, libertarians, and business interests -- constituencies that pursue competing and sometimes contradictory goals. Despite their differences, these groups formed a successful coalition for many years, although the future of that alliance now seems uncertain.

One might expect lawyers to influence the likelihood of cooperation. In fact, lawyers may be among a relatively small set of occupational groups -- along with politicians, public intellectuals, political patrons, and perhaps religious leaders and journalists --who are well positioned to play such an integrative role. Lawyers' common characteristics and interests might draw them together and link the constituencies they serve. Alternatively, they could be sharply divided along the lines of the interests they represent and thus contribute little to coordinating the alliance. One of the book's purposes is to assess the likelihood of those competing possibilities.

The book draws primarily from semi-structured interviews in 2001 and 2002 with seventy-two lawyers for conservative and libertarian nonprofit organizations. The interviews grew out of a project that I pursued jointly with John P. Heinz of the American Bar Foundation and Northwestern University and Anthony Paik of the University of Iowa. To define the set of lawyers to study, we drew a sample of conservative and libertarian nongovernmental organizations, using several complementary methods. I requested interviews with ninety-eight prominent lawyers for these organizations and interviewed seventy-two of them.

The "interviewees" included many of the best-known lawyers of the conservative movement, representing all of the major constituencies. They worked for conservative religious groups, abortion opponents, libertarian organizations, groups devoted primarily to business interests, affirmative action opponents, "order maintenance" groups (i.e., organizations concerned with crime and/or preserving the established social and cultural order), and mediator organizations -- which seek to appeal to all elements of the conservative alliance and to promote communication and cooperation among them. The lawyers served these organizations in various roles -- as organizers, officers, litigators, scholars, and consultants. The largest number were in Washington, D.C., but others worked in the South, Midwest and West.

There are striking differences among the lawyers who serve the primary constituencies of the conservative coalition. They work on different issues for different clients in different practice settings, and they are divided by social characteristics, educational background, values, geography, and professional identity. Religious conservatives generally are from rural and less economically privileged backgrounds, and many of them openly invoke God as a source of inspiration and guidance. Lawyers for libertarian groups, like their social conservative counterparts, tend to come from modest backgrounds and appear to be personally invested in the causes they serve, but they are less religious and more enamored with markets and personal liberty. Most of the business representatives come from economically secure backgrounds and describe their advocacy for business-oriented causes as work rather than activism. Lawyers for mediator groups differ from advocates for the other constituencies in their especially elite educational backgrounds, prominence, ties to the legal establishment, and commitment to identifying common ground.

If lawyers for the core constituencies come from different social backgrounds and hold different political commitments and professional identities, what social forces and institutions, if any, bring them together? The book considers experiences, interests, and organizations that may help forge common ground among lawyers who are divided by ideology, geography, and class. It focuses particularly on lawyers' shared interest in promoting strategies in which they play leading roles and on the function of several important "mediator" organizations -- the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.