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Lawyers for Radical Change


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City Journal

The legal profession, once a guardian of republican government, is now a force for social upheaval.

John O. McGinnis

Spring 2022

The transformation of the legal profession marks a fundamental change in American democracy. In the republic’s early days, lawyers provided ballast for stability and served as an anchor against excessive populism. The judiciary’s sober attachment to formal order was a primary reason for giving it the power to review the constitutionality of legislation. Law was the profession most likely to preserve the enduring framework of republican government against the mutable passions of the hour.

Nowadays, lawyers are a force for often-radical progressive change. Nothing symbolizes that shift better than the American Bar Association. Once an embodiment of conservatism, it has been captured by the Left. Its resolutions at its annual meeting constitute a wish list of Democratic Party proposals. It also deploys its influence in the accreditation process of law schools to make them even more monolithically left-wing than they already are.

The reasons for the shift lie, at least in part, in the reorientation of lawyers’ interests. Since the birth of the modern regulatory state, lawyers are no longer primarily the allies of commercial classes, as they were in the early republic, but instead the technocrats and enablers of regulation and redistribution. The more the nation intervenes in economic affairs to regulate and redistribute, the greater slice of compliance costs and transfer payments lawyers can expect to receive. Thus, they cannot be counted on as supporters of property rights or even of a stable rule of law. Their interest lies frequently in dynamic forms of legal transformation and the uncertainty they bring. Far from supporting a sound, established social order, they are likely to seek to undermine it. Only an ideological attachment to older forms of legal orders, like that which Federalist Society members manifest, can call lawyers back to the essential role they play in the civic life of our republic.

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