Why Are Evangelicals Underrepresented Among the Legal Elite?

In a recent post, I asserted that evangelical Protestants are dramatically underrepresented compared to their national demographic figures in the American legal elite.  In this post, I ask why that is the case.  Let me make clear at the outset that I want to avoid causal reductionism, particularly of the kind that leads to easy imputations of blame.  The causes of this phenomenon are surely complex.

Let me begin by offering a thesis:  An important contributing factor to evangelical underrepresentation in the legal elite is evangelical underrepresentation in student enrollments in elite law schools.  Since the American legal elite is overwhelming staffed with graduates of elite law schools, there is at least a strong association between evangelical underrepresentation in student enrollments and the upper echelons of politically important legal jobs.  Since law school pedigrees are very important to securing elite jobs, then it is likely that evangelical underrepresentation in elite law schools provides a significant explanation for evangelical underrepresentation in the legal elite.

In my last post, I asserted (based on admittedly casual evidence) that evangelicals seem to be dramatically underrepresented (again compared to their national demographic percentage of 26%) in elite law student enrollments.  I can’t improve on that assertion for now, but I can provide some evidence on the importance of an elite law school pedigree for securing elite legal jobs.

A few snapshots:  Since 1970, the law school pedigrees of the thirteen Justices appointed to the Supreme Court are:  seven from Harvard, three from Yale, two from Stanford, one each from Columbia, Northwestern, and Washington & Lee.  Attorney General appointments since 1970:  Harvard (5), Chicago (2), Yale (1), Columbia (1), Berkeley (1), George Washington (1), Pittsburgh (1), Maryland (1), Ohio State (1), and Mercer (1).  Solicitor General appointments since 1970:  Harvard (3), Yale (2), Columbia (2), Chicago (2), Berkeley (1), Virginia (1), Duke (1), George Washington (1).  Among the current active or senior status judges on the D.C. Circuit, which is the top feeder circuit to the Supreme Court (with four current Justices having come from the D.C. Circuit), the figures are:  Harvard (4), Chicago (2), North Carolina (2), Yale (1), Virginia (1), Penn (1), Michigan (1), and UCLA (1).  To put a bow on this, of the 54 elite lawyers included in the foregoing lists, only 10 did not attend a traditional Top 10 law school (and the number falls to 8 if Northwestern and Duke, traditional Top 14 law schools, are included).

To bring things closer to home, consider the JD pedigree of faculty at my current employer, the University of Michigan Law School.  On the tenure or tenure-track faculty, the figures are as follows for faculty with a U.S. JD or LLB:  Yale (16), Harvard (9), Columbia (2), Michigan (2), NYU (2), Berkeley (2), Stanford (1), Virginia (2), Chicago (1), George Washington (1), Wisconsin (1).  These figures are broadly representative of the faculty at top law schools.

Now back to evangelicals and elite legal jobs.  If evangelicals are (and historically have been) underrepresented in student enrollments at the Top 10 law schools, which is the opening of the elite pipeline, it will be no surprise that they are underrepresented in the upper echelons of legal jobs.  So why are evangelicals underrepresented in elite law school student bodies?  Let me offer five possible contributing factors:

  1.  Geography

The elite law schools all draw their student bodies nationally, but there may be overall bias (in the statistical sense) toward students from the Northeast, particularly at the two most important “feeder” schools, Harvard and Yale.  Evangelicals are 26% of the nation, but just Read more

Clarke et al., eds., “Religion, Intolerance, and Conflict”

Here’s an interesting cross-disciplinary collection that assembles a Religion, Intolerance, Conflictreasonably broad range of contributors–Religion, Intolerance, and Conflict: A Scientific and Conceptual Investigation (OUP 2013), edited by Steve Clarke (Oxford), Russell Powell (BU), and Julian Savulescu (Oxford).  The publisher’s description follows.

The relationship between religion, intolerance and conflict has been the subject of intense discussion, particularly in the wake of the events of 9-11 and the ongoing threat of terrorism. This book contains original papers written by some of the world’s leading scholars in anthropology, psychology, philosophy, and theology exploring the scientific and conceptual dimensions of religion and human conflict.

Authors investigate the following themes: the role of religion in promoting social cohesion and the conditions under which it will tend to do so; the role of religion in enabling and exacerbating conflict between different social groups and the conditions under which it will tend to do so; and the policy responses that we may be able to develop to ameliorate violent conflict and the limits to compromise between different religions. The book also contains two commentaries that distill, synthesize and critically evaluate key aspects of the individual chapters and central themes that run throughout the volume.

The volume will be of great interest to all readers interested in the phenomenon of religious conflict and to academics across a variety of disciplines, including religious studies, philosophy, psychology, theology, cognitive science, anthropology, politics, international relations, and evolutionary biology.

Varieties of Progressive Civil Religion

Here’s a very interesting short piece by Professor David Fontana (GW), which responds to Professor Fred Gedicks’s (BYU) longer article, American Civil Religion: An Idea Whose Time is Past.  Both papers are worth your attention.  What interests me is the taxonomy of progressive American civil religion that these papers go some distance to fleshing out (Steve Shiffrin’s book about the religious left is also useful).  It is sometimes assumed that all progressives are opposed to civil religion, while all conservatives support it; progressives are supposed to be for the naked public square, while conservatives prefer greater public modesty.  There is a little truth in this caricature, but the picture is more complicated.  Civil religion is neither the possession of the left nor the right.  Instead, the fight seems to be about the variety of civil religion that the country ought to embrace.  And as to that question, it seems that not only do conservatives disagree with progressives but progressives differ among themselves.  Fred’s piece, for example, is largely skeptical about civil religion but in the end calls for a “thinner,” “Rawlsian,” “procedural” version that, he claims, “can function to bind us together as a people and a nation.”  And though he does not believe “religion” can perform this function, the election of Obama made him “proud to be an American” and provided something like this “thinner” variety of civil religion (or civil civilianism).  By contrast, Fontana writes:

The issue with the American civil religion, though, is that it had come to be seen as so ideological and exclusionary that it alienated many mainstream and liberal voters. While advocacy of an American civil religion could have motivated those true believers, typically those on the political right that Gedicks discusses, a politically conservative civil religion that had “appropriated the symbols and practices of American civil religion and infused them with sectarian meaning” turned off many voters. An American liberal civil religion held out more promise as an inspiring American nationalism, but with a tolerant edge. Enter Obama onto the national political stage, perhaps “the most theologically serious politician in modern American political history,” whose speeches have been just as full with religious imagery and rhetoric as they have been with civil imagery and rhetoric. Obama’s speeches were full of references to civil ideas, or as Gedicks defines them, Rawlsian ideas, as well as to religious ideas . . . .

In other words, then, perhaps the American civil religion is not dead, but has been brought to life by our new President. Since Bellah’s concept of the civil religion was about the idea as a political tool as much as about a sociological concept, it has come to life again because it has been used by a group—and a political phenom—better able to use it in the political sphere. Indeed, just as maybe only Nixon could go to China, maybe only Obama can reinvigorate civil religion.

The claim that Obama is “the most theologically serious politician in modern American political history” is supported by a citation to Professor Charlton Copeland’s piece, “God-Talk in the Age of Obama: Theology and Religious Political Engagement.”  I’m not sure how one would measure such things; read Copeland’s paper to find out how he claims to do it.

But the interesting thing about both pieces is the durability of civil religion, the hardiness of this plant and its capacity to take root in what one might think would be the inhospitable, stony soil of the progressive heart.  For Fred, the terrain is truly rough and desiccated.  For Fontana, it’s a little richer, but only a little.

And that points toward another interesting feature of progressive civil religion.  What binds Fred’s and Fontana’s accounts is that for both writers, civil religion is feeble.  It lacks deep roots.  For Fred, civil religion is “thin” while for Fontana it has a shelf-life of roughly two and a half more years.  I am reminded of the following passage concerning the modern orientation toward tradition in the sociologist Edward Shils’s excellent book of the same name:

Tradition is like a plant which repeatedly puts down roots whenever it is left in one place for a short time, yet is frequently torn up and flung from one place to another, so that the nutriment of its branches and leaves is cut off and the plant becomes pale and enfeebled.  Traditions may be unavoidable but they are not always very strong.  Tendencies to seek and find traditions may be ubiquitous in human society and the tendencies to seek and find might always find a tradition to attach themselves to.  The tendency to seek a religious tradition may be present in all societies but if they are unaided by the availability of traditions and proponents of tradition, substantive traditions may become etiolated and very weak.  (315)

For progressive civil religion, that may be the point.

Byrd, “Sacred Scripture, Sacred War”

The American Revolution had roots in both the Enlightenment and Evangelical Christianity. Intellectual histories often stress the former, but scholarship increasingly focuses on the Revolution’s Evangelical ideology as well. In June, Oxford University Press will publish Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution by Vanderbilt’s James P. Byrd. The publisher’s description follows:

The American colonists who took up arms against the British fought in defense of the ”sacred cause of liberty.” But it was not merely their cause but warfare itself that they believed was sacred. In Sacred Scripture, Sacred War, James P. Byrd shows that the Bible was a key text of the American Revolution. Many colonists saw the Bible as primarily a book about war, and God as not merely sanctioning violence but actively participating in combat. When war came, preachers and patriots turned to scripture, not only for solace, but for exhortations to violence. Byrd has combed through more than 500 wartime sources, which include more than 17,000 biblical citations, to see how the Bible shaped American war, and how war shaped Americans’ view of the Bible.

McCall, “The Church and the Usurers”

Next month, Catholic University Press will publish The Church and the Usurers: Unprofitable Lending for the Modern Economy, by University of Oklahoma Law Professor Brian McCall. The publisher’s description follows:

Professor McCall explains in a scholarly yet accessible manner the core principles of the usury doctrine. Tracing its history from Biblical texts, through Aristotelian philosophy and Roman law, to the great scholastic synthesis Professor McCall separates the unchanging principles from the changes in there applications to the new economic realities.