A Few Comments on Evangelicals and the Legal Elite

I wanted to respond to some of the comments to my post on why evangelicals are underrepresented in the legal elite and thought it might be easier to do it in a separate post.

Several people have attributed evangelical underrepresentation to admissions bias.  That may be part of it, but I doubt that’s a huge factor at least in the last decade or so.  The reason is that law school admissions officers are under HUGE, HUGE pressure to maximize two things:  GPA and LSAT score, which feed into the all-important U.S. News and World Report Rankings.  Yes, other factors are also taken into account, but it’s hard for me to see admissions offices routinely turning down applicants with 3.98 GPAs and 179 LSAT scores just because the undergraduate school happened to be Wheaton, Calvin, Houghton, Taylor, or Westmont.

The suggestion of trying to study this empirically is a great one.  If anyone out there with an interest in these questions is (1) hugely wealthy and/or (2) a skilled social science researcher, there are number of very interesting empirical projects that one could undertake to put some meat on these intuitions.  Drop me a line!

Finally, to the comments that anti-Christian hostility drives evangelicals away, a few observations/questions.  My very preliminary survey data on one elite law school suggested that Catholics were largely holding their national market share (around 20%) whereas evangelicals were not.  Is the elite law school hostility anti-evangelical but not anti-Catholic?  Are the Catholics who go to elite law schools disproportionately from the liberal wing of Catholicism and therefore don’t care about the hostility to traditional Christianity?  In short, why are Catholics but not evangelicals going to these hostile law schools?

One response

  1. Professor Crane,

    I posted a comment on your earlier post before I saw that you responded to some of the comments here. I am glad you mentioned the U.S. News rankings here, as I mentioned in my comment. I agree that bias against evangelical applicants is simply not likely to occur when there is so much pressure on law schools to maximize the median scores of their incoming classes. Additionally, I also mentioned that there is overrepresentation of graduates from BYU at at least a few of the top law schools. I think secular liberals from the northeast would view Mormons as similarly situated to evangelical protestants. Yet, we continue to see Mormons entering the top law schools and the upper echelon of the legal profession.

    Additionally, as I mentioned in my comment, I come from what might be described as an evangelical protestant background and attend a top 10 law school. I agree that the five factors you list are the most likely culprits in driving otherwise qualified evangelical protestants away from top law schools. However, I think there are other factors to consider as well. I think many many evangelicals view the law as used by judges as a vehicle for social change when it should be used to maintain social stability. This would be consistent with many evangelicals’ tendency to view even the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts as liberal activist courts intent pushing a progressive agenda. Another reason I think some evangelicals tend to shy away from the law is the strain of populism running through some of the branches of the evangelical movement. I think many evangelicals are deeply suspicious of the idea that unelected judges make some of the most important decisions affecting our country. I realize this is beginning to get into the political preferences of evangelicals, but I think it is justified. I also think there is reason to believe that the populist tendencies of some evangelicals come from their theology. Anyway, maybe these factors could be subsumed under the five factors you already listed. However, I noticed that no one had mentioned these yet, and I wanted to raise them as possibilities for further discussion.

    As for the difference between evangelical protestants and Catholics, Robert Cochran at Pepperdine Law School wrote an interesting article a few years ago examining the rise of Catholic Supreme Court justices. He attributed Catholics’ attraction to law as a combination of Catholic training in natural law and their willingness to engage popular culture on its terms. According to Cochran, this in turn makes them attractive as judges. I can’t help but wonder whether he is right and whether those factors also contribute to Catholics’ continuing proportional representation at top law schools.

    I have a strong interest in evangelicals’ engagement with the legal profession, in addition to the evangelical community’s engagement with the rest of the country generally. I would welcome the chance to discuss these questions you raise at some point through email, if you have the time.

    Like

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