Schools for Misrule is off to the printer

by Walter Olson on January 18, 2011

[cross-posted from Cato at Liberty]

I’m happy to report that my forthcoming book on bad ideas from the law schools, Schools for Misrule, just went off to the printer. Encounter Books commissioned a terrific jacket design (by Tamaye Perry) which you can preview here (PDF). Here’s the description from the book’s jacket:

Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America

By Walter Olson

From Barack Obama (Harvard and Chicago) to Bill and Hillary Clinton (Yale), many of our national leaders today emerge from the rarefied air of the nation’s top law schools. The ideas taught there in one generation often wind up shaping national policy in the next.

The trouble is, as Walter Olson explains in this book, our elite law schools keep churning out ideas that are catastrophically bad for America. Rights to sue anyone over anything in class actions? Hatched in legal academia. Court orders mandating mass release of prison inmates? Ditto. The movement for slavery reparations? Court takeovers of school funding, at taxpayers’ expense? It’s not by coincidence, Olson argues, that these bad ideas all tend to confer more power on the law schools’ own graduates. In the overlawyered society that results, they are the ones who become the real rulers. And the worst is yet to come, the book demonstrates, as a fast-rising movement in the law schools demands that sovereignty over U.S. legal disputes be handed over to international law and transnational courts.

Some imagine that the law schools possess a finer, purer moral sensitivity than the everyday America outside their walls. (“Welcome to the Republic of Conscience!” Yale Law dean Harold Koh announced to incoming students.) But as this book shows, the pipe dream of training philosopher-monarchs not only leads to one policy disaster after another, but distracts law schools from the most useful function they can serve: training competent, ethical and suitably humble lawyers for tomorrow.

On the back of the jacket are wonderful blurbs from star law professor Randy Barnett of Georgetown (famous most recently for the ObamaCare court challenge), bestselling author and attorney Philip K. Howard (The Death of Common Sense), and perennial libertarian TV hero John Stossel.

You can pre-order the book at great prices from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your favorite bookseller. Publication date is February 15, so copies should arrive before you know it.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Schools for Misrule publicity: ABA Journal
01.20.11 at 3:44 pm
Law schools roundup
02.02.11 at 12:16 am

{ 15 comments }

1 Anonymous Attorney 01.18.11 at 4:30 pm

Apparently the worst thing about law schools currently is that they keep pumping out heavily-indebted graduates by the short-ton, none of whom can find any jobs.

To turn the tide, I think what we need are some TV dramas about exciting scientists who create new things and solve problems, sexy engineers who overcome huge odds to build incredible things and uber-competent plumbers who fix anything.

2 gitarcarver 01.18.11 at 5:40 pm

Has the publisher hinted at an ebook release?

3 Jay Markowitz 01.19.11 at 1:01 am

Looks great. Nice incorporation of ‘Overlawyered’ on the front jacket.

Who’s going to do the audiobook version? Joe Lieberman is gonna have some time on his hands…

4 Walter Olson 01.19.11 at 8:12 am

The publisher does intend an ebook release at some point, I believe.

5 Xanthippas 01.19.11 at 12:17 pm

How does handing over U.S. legal disputes to international law confer more power on elite law school graduates? Or really…anything listed above, except perhaps the one about class actions (certainly a profit-maker whose utility can be genuinely disputed.)

6 Ron Laffin 01.19.11 at 1:06 pm

Lawyers should not be permitted to serve as elected officials. Bureaucrats or advisors – OK. But not politicians. It is a classic conflict of interest for the same identifiable group (lawyers) to both make the laws (disguised as politicians) and then administer the laws as lawyers and judges. It should be written into the Constitution. Citizens need to be protected from lawyers and their skewed view of reality, not dominated by them.

7 Craig Matteson 01.19.11 at 3:10 pm

When are review copies going to be available?

8 Shtetl G 01.19.11 at 4:45 pm

Just ordered. I’ve been reading your blog forever so its the least I can do. I hope its good. I still haven’t gone back to Roger Simon’s blog after buying one of his novels:)

9 Walter Olson 01.19.11 at 7:19 pm

>Shtetl G – Thanks!

>Craig Matteson – For review copies (which will be bound galleys at this point) you should approach Encounter Books.

>Xanthippas – As I argue in the book, much of today’s discourse about alleged domestic U.S. violations of international human rights, along with a good bit of the litigation, emerges from the very active international-human-rights programs and centers at law schools like Columbia and NYU. Most of the brand-name players among human-rights NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, also maintain close ties to those law school projects and faculties.

How do the new international-law developments confer power on very highly educated lawyers? A few of those lawyers do wind up pressing cases in Geneva, The Hague, or New York. But the more pervasive way international law is likely to influence the outcome of domestic American legal disputes is for our courts to start reinterpreting U.S. sources of legal authority in ways supposedly consistent with international norms and obligations. Thus in the high-profile pair of juvenile justice cases, Roper v. Simmons (2005) and Graham v. Florida (2010), Justice Kennedy was apparently swayed by the international norms that purportedly had formed on the sentencing questions at issue. (Law school projects took a central role in framing and advancing the public and litigation campaigns that culminated in Roper and Graham.)

If this trend continues, and by 2026 officials in Nebraska and New Hampshire find that before revamping the state’s sentencing or prison management practices in any major way they are expected to consult the purported norms of international human rights practice, there will indeed have been a power shift toward those professionally ensconced as compilers, interpreters and oracles of purported international norms – a group that is now, and will probably be then, quite heavily weighted with elite law school grads.

Hope this answers your question.

10 Doug 01.19.11 at 9:03 pm

you should do a book give away on your blog. leave a comment for a chance to win a copy. You will see how fast I can spam your blog with comments. lol. I will look to pick up the book.

11 Jerome Kowalski 01.20.11 at 10:44 am

Congratulations.

Bad ideas from law schools are a consequece, perhaps unintended, of the incomprehensible proliferation of law schools in an era in which demand for lawyers continues to decline. http://kowalskiandassociatesblog.com/2010/07/25/what-if-they-built-a-new-law-school-and-nobody-came/

Best of luck with the book.

12 Vedwig Tumkin 01.21.11 at 11:46 am

It should surprise nobody that any forum dedicated to the generation of and experimentation with ideas should, in the ordinary course of affairs, result in bad ones, indeed, many bad ones. This goes as well for engineering and English departments as it does for law schools. So there’s little news promised by this book, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Even books that fail to innovate intellectually can be a pleasant read.

On the other hand, while in absolute terms there may be a large number of lawyers in America, and therefore one could plausibly argue we are “overlawyered,” nevertheless, much of what takes place in America does so purely independently of the law. That is, the law is irrelevant to most of our American experience. It’s a niche market, so to speak. Those who obsess over it will be disturbed by negligible inefficiencies and irregularities, but most of us really don’t care.

13 Orin Kerr 01.22.11 at 12:09 am

Based on Brian Leiter’s recommendation, I just ordered a copy, as well.

14 PG 01.22.11 at 8:22 am

I find it implausible to assume merely from the text of Justice Kennedy’s opinions in Roper and Graham that he “was apparently swayed by the international norms that purportedly had formed on the sentencing questions at issue.” In Roper, Kennedy mentions those norms only in the last and shortest section of his opinion, and refers to them as “confirmation” for his “determination that the death penalty is disproportionate punishment for offenders under 18.” Rather than being swayed by international norms, Kennedy indicates that he uses those norms to provide further justification for the outcome he already has deemed justified by U.S. law (and perhaps his own policy preferences). He follows a similar pattern in his Graham opinion.

Incidentally, in both opinions Kennedy cites Trop v. Dulles (1958) as an early instance of the Court’s noting, in an 8th Amendment decision, how other countries punish their citizens. Frankfurter’s Trop dissent, joined by three other justices, doesn’t take the now-standard form of deriding the references to international law, but instead says, “Many civilized nations impose loss of citizenship for indulgence in designated prohibited activities….” Does anyone know if people flipped out about that citation in 1958 the way they do nowadays? I turned up very little contemporaneous commentary about Trop v. Dulles from a Google News check, but someone who has Lexis access could answer the question more certainly.

15 Walter Olson 01.22.11 at 9:23 am

>Orin Kerr Ha! And thanks.

>PG There’s been a large volume of commentary attempting to parse the role of international norms in those two Kennedy decisions, and I won’t rehash it all here. I will say that to the extent things have changed since 1958, one very salient difference is that an organized movement with strong law school participation has arisen that urges the Court to recognize supposed international-human-rights norms, and that movement was very active in the Roper and Graham cases, in both amicus briefs and the surrounding public campaign. Did this campaign work? I agree that Justice Kennedy seemed to be careful to avoid any definite indication of whether the norming arguments made a difference, but advocates for those norms have interpreted both decisions as a sign that they are making progress in establishing this set of arguments as legitimate, and I am disinclined to call them wrong.

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