The biggest impact any president can have on the nation is the ability to shape the Supreme Court. Conservative voters are especially concerned about this because they believe the Court has become too liberal in recent years. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, conservative concerns about the Court have reached panic levels. Given the age of current Justices, the next president could shape the Court for a generation.
The importance of this issue was highlighted by Donald Trump releasing names of his potential nominees. It was a good strategic move giving conservatives a reason to unify behind his campaign. For most potential Republican voters, Trump’s choices were far preferable to those Hillary Clinton would nominate.
But, the issue of Supreme Court nominations is just the tip of the iceberg. When you look beneath the surface, conservatives face a far greater challenge with courts and the legal system.
Research by Northwestern University Law Professor James Lindgren shows that the legal system feeding cases to the Supreme Court over-represents Democrats and under-represents Christians. While 41% of the working population are Democrats, 61% of lawyers claim that affiliation. At the same time, 68% of lawyers are Christians compared to 78% of working Americans. That’s a bit problematic, but not overwhelming.
When you go a little deeper and look at who’s teaching the next generation of lawyers, the differences become truly astounding. Nationally, there are a few more Democratic voters than Republicans and Independents, but the overall numbers are fairly even. However, among law school faculty, 82% are Democrats, 11% Republican, and 6% Independent. Fewer than half are Christian.
If we want our legal system to look like America, the nation’s law schools are not even close.
This matters tremendously because we are in the midst of a great national and cultural debate about the proper relationship between a free people and their government.
On the one side are the founding ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence—the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s a belief in freedom and self-governance. It’s the idea that we can do whatever we want with our lives so long as we don’t interfere with the right of others to do the same.
The other side is a progressive tradition that has been on a collision course with America’s founding ideals for more than a century. Theodore Roosevelt, the first progressive president, complained that we needed to stop talking about the rights of the people and start talking about their duty to government. Though Roosevelt was a Republican, his views are now more welcome among Democratic party leaders.
Lindgren’s research suggests that the rising generation of lawyers is unlikely to receive a balanced perspective on this clash. That could push our system of laws and governance even further out of touch with the nation it is supposed to serve.
There are no easy answers to this dilemma, but it is important to recognize that the problems with our judicial system run much deeper than the Supreme Court.