Robert Reich: The Shame Of Harvard Law School – OpEd


Donald Trump’s star is fading. Americans for Prosperity, the network of donors and activist groups led by conservative billionaire Charles Koch, announced on Sunday that it will oppose him for the 2024 Republican nomination. 

If Trump doesn’t get the Republican nomination for president next year, the likeliest alternatives are either Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

What do DeSantis and Cruz have in common? For one thing, anti-democracy extremism. 

In the 2022 midterms, DeSantis campaigned on behalf of Republican election deniers, and he has established a new state office to investigate so-called “election crimes.” He has banned Advanced Placement African American Studies, prohibited discussions of gender identity in schools, and stripped Disney (Florida’s largest employer) of the ability to govern itself in retaliation for the company’s opposition to the latter policy. 

Ted Cruz joined the plan concocted by Trump and John Eastman to object to the 2020 election results in six swing states and delay accepting the Electoral College results on January 6, potentially enabling Republican state legislatures to overturn them. He was also one of the first senators to challenge Biden’s election certification. 

What else do DeSantis and Cruz have in common? Both graduated from Harvard Law School (DeSantis, class of 2005; Cruz, class of 1995). 

So, the two likeliest Republican candidates for president as Trump fades, who have both attacked the legal foundations of American democracy, are the products of the most prestigious law school in the nation. 

Harvard Law School isn’t responsible for DeSantis or Cruz, of course. But the institution harbors the mythic ideal that it inculcates the future leaders of America with a sense of public duty to democracy and the rule of law. DeSantis and Cruz surely taint the mythic ideal. 

These two Harvard Law grads also point up the inconvenient fact that Harvard Law School — like Yale Law, which I attended decades ago — is little more than a trade school that teaches students how to make money by winning cases for clients, but doesn’t impart a higher public duty to uphold and strengthen democracy and the rule of law. 

Yet lawyers hold a public trust. Which is why the D.C. Bar association’s disciplinary counsel has called for disbarring Rudy Giuliani (NYU Law School class of 1968) after finding that Giuliani, as the attorney for then-President Donald Trump, pressed a baseless, failed legal challenge to the 2020 election results. And why a federal judge in Michigan has sanctioned Trump lawyer Sidney Powell (University of North Carolina School of Law class of 1978) for election-related litigation the judge found to be “abusive.” 

In November, Harvard dropped out of the U.S. News & World Report rankings of law schools, which emphasize such crass things as the salaries of their graduates. As Harvard Law School Dean John Manning explained, the ranking “does not advance the best ideals of legal education or the profession we serve, and it contradicts the deeply held commitments of Harvard Law School.” 

Okay, Dean Manning: What are the best ideals of legal education and the deeply held commitments of Harvard Law School?

If legal education and the legal profession have learned anything over the last two years and three months, shouldn’t it be that lawyers have a public duty to uphold and protect our system of self-government? 

Both DeSantis and Cruz have rejected the rule of law. Both have undermined our democracy. Both exemplify the authoritarian idea now dominant in the Republican Party that law is nothing more than a tool to advance one’s ambitions. They are the shame of the legal profession — and of Harvard Law.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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