Vol. 19 No. 2 (February, 2009) pp.120-123
LAWYERS OF THE RIGHT: PROFESSIONALIZING THE CONSERVATIVE COALITION, by Ann Southworth. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008. 272pp. Cloth. $50.00. ISBN: 9780226768335. Paper. $19.00. ISBN: 9780226768342.
Reviewed by Joshua Wilson, Government Department, John Jay College, CUNY. Email: jcwilson [at] jjay.cuny.edu.
Much of the scholarship on law, politics, and social movements has dealt with progressive causes and the political Left. Recently, however, some scholars have begun to focus their attention on the other end of the political spectrum. Some of this work concerns the Right’s efforts to develop political infrastructure (e.g. Teles 2008), while others have looked at Conservatives’ use of litigation and rights discourse as political tools (e.g. Brown 2003; den Dulk 2006; Dudas 2005; Moore 2007). Ann Southworth’s LAWYERS OF THE RIGHT: PROFESSIONALIZING THE CONSERVATIVE COALITION is among the most recent additions to this growing literature.
As the title suggests, Southworth looks at issues related to both infrastructure development as well as the “conservative coalition’s” use of litigation as a political tool. The book’s main task, however, is to describe who the various lawyers within the broader conservative coalition are (e.g. where they went to school, their socio-economic status, what motivates their work, and so on), as well as what connects and separates the various groups that these lawyers represent and to which they belong. As such, the book puts a conservative spin on the intersection of the cause lawyering and social movement literatures.
The conservative coalition that Southworth studies includes social conservatives, libertarians, business advocates, and “mediators.” The first three of these groups consist of six somewhat distinct conservative “constituencies” – religious conservatives, anti-abortion activists, order maintenance groups, anti-affirmative action activists, libertarians, and business groups. Southworth’s final category, mediators, includes organizations that are somewhat separate from the other members in the conservative coalition. Mediators are multi-issue organizations that seek to create and maintain ties across the spectrum of specific conservative issues and advocacy groups.
The substance of Southworth’s book begins with a compact overview of the developmental history of modern conservative legal advocacy – from the 1980 Horowitz Report’s call for Conservatives to respond to the Left’s grip on public interest law and the wider legal establishment, through to the creation of the Federalist Society and the proliferation of highly specialized conservative public interest law firms. While a single-chapter synopsis of the development of conservative legal and political infrastructure obviously cannot match the richness found in Steven Teles’ book-length account of the subject, Southworth provides a solid [*121] summary that can be useful for teaching or for those otherwise seeking a fast introduction to the issue (Teles 2008). This being said, it should be noted that Southworth’s brief account provides a broader scope than Teles’ given that she includes information about the Social and Religious Conservative elements of the conservative coalition that Teles excludes from his book.
With the context set, the next five chapters comprise LAWYERS OF THE RIGHT’s main contribution by delving into the descriptive details that open the “window into the world of lawyers for conservative causes and probes the little discussed cultural conflict among them” (p.1). Southworth begins this section by asking “whether lawyers of the conservative coalition are likely to contribute to mutual understanding and cooperation within the alliance or whether disagreements and dissimilarities among them make them unlikely to build consensus” (p.42). The short answer to this question is that the lawyers, like the constituencies they represent, are divided by social space and policy goals.
Chapters Three and Four use data about law schools attended, practice location and setting, religion, funding sources, motivation, and professional identity to illustrate the social differences between the various groups of lawyers. Chapter Five begins by continuing this demographic data argument by applying generational grouping to the various lawyers, but it also transitions to investigating other potential substantive or issue-based bridges for the gaps exposed thus far. The issue-based bridges examined range from illuminating to predictable. For example, the finding that the lawyers of the conservative coalition “were generally united in their disapproval of liberals” is to be expected (p.99). In contrast, the disharmonies around the specifics regarding the desire to reshape the Federal bench and other issue-items, as well as the shared “dissatisfaction with what they viewed as the pillars of the liberal legal establishment” were quite compelling (p.116).
Chapter Six is possibly the most interesting in the book. The data from the preceding three chapters expose multiple rifts that lead one to question the usefulness of collectively identifying the groups as being part of a conservative coalition or movement. In the words of one interviewee, “you quickly find out that [conservative public interest law groups] are really autonomous and inward looking. And there’s not a lot of [collaboration]” (p.121). Chapter Six, however, with its focus on mediator organizations provides the support for the claim that these groups are still part of a common movement.
Southworth uses the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society to illustrate how mediator organizations “seek to promote communication among the lawyers, to mobilize lawyers’ participation in conservative and libertarian causes, and to elevate legal over extralegal strategies” (p.126). Mediator groups do this in part by adhering to the message of the Johnny Mercer song “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive.” By “promoting cooperation and suppressing conflict within the conservative movement, primarily by convening meetings and fora of diverse [conservative] activists,” these groups [*122] have become the center that holds the coalition together (p.127). This point is clearly illustrated by Southworth’s graphic displays of communication and membership data. While these mediator organizations are studies here as well as in Teles’ recent work, their obvious importance makes them worth further study.
In spite of the connective role played by these mediator organizations, the preponderance of Southworth’s data, even within this chapter, argue that the groups remain divided. The most significant gap exists between the Social Conservatives on the one side, and the Libertarians, Business Conservatives, and Mediator groups on the other. This finding is illustrated in the previous chapters and is repeated in Chapter Seven’s observations regarding the coalition members’ differing views on the efficacy of litigation and their corresponding use of lawyers. Given the repeated illustrations of the gaps between Social Conservatives and the rest of the conservative coalition, the need to learn more about the separate social networks and other institutional infrastructure used by “religious people and the lawyers who work for them” is exposed (p.145).
By concentrating on opening a “window into the world of lawyers for conservative causes and prob[ing] the little discussed cultural conflict among them” (p.1), Southworth’s book provides interesting information about the types of lawyers within the coalition, but it largely avoids developing the subtitle of the book – PROFESSIONALIZING THE CONSERVATIVE COALITION. As Southworth states in the introduction, her “primary purpose in writing this book was to portray lawyers of the conservative coalition rather than to evaluate their causes” (p.4). As a result, she is describing who the lawyers of the right are, rather than how the conservative movement came to use, or prefer using, lawyers and other professionals as opposed to nonprofessional grassroots activists.
Sticking to the descriptive task, Southworth notes but does not develop many interesting points and arguments. For example, Southworth posits in the concluding chapter that “the very lawyer tendencies that have been decried by critics on the left – their [i.e. lawyers’] propensity to channel energy into law-related strategies and to promote ties among elites at the expense of the rank and file – may actually have contributed to the conservative movement’s success” (p.184). This is a very compelling thesis and one that would advance the study of lawyers in social movements generally, as well as the professionalization of this movement specifically. The development of this thesis is, however, beyond the intended descriptive scope of Southworth’s project, and therefore provides fertile ground for future work that applies her observations.
Southworth elsewhere points to a collection of specific cases where the branches of the conservative coalition have publicly “clashed in high-profile litigation” (p.178). The most developed argument in the book is that the data illustrate that tensions and divisions exist within the conservative coalition. The binary classifications of liberal and conservative are so broad, however, that one should assume that diversity, and thus tension, exists within them. The argument and the reader would benefit [*123] from a more in-depth exploration of one or two of the specific cases that Southworth identifies. Such an addition would illustrate the potential seriousness of the rifts within the conservative coalition, as well as the work that mediator organizations perform in order to maintain the coalition.
To conclude, Southworth’s book is valuable in that it highlights the fault lines that exist within the conservative coalition, begins to explore the role of lawyers within the conservative movement, and identifies, but does not fully explore, many interesting points about the conservative legal movement. In doing so it pushes the field further and identifies the avenues along which it can continue to develop.
Brown, Steven. 2003. TRUMPING RELIGION: THE NEW CHRISTIAN RIGHT, THE FREE SPEECH CLAUSE, AND THE COURTS. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
den Dulk, Kevin. 2006. “In Legal Culture, But Not Of It: The Role Of Couse Lawyers In Evangelical Legal Mobilization.” In A. Sarat and S. Scheingold (eds). CAUSE LAWYERS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Dudas, Jeffrey. 2005. “In The Name Of Equal Rights: ‘Special Rights and the Politics of Resentment in Post-Civil Rights America.” 39 LAW AND SOCIETY REVIEW 723-758.
Moore , R. Jonathan. 2007. SUING FOR AMERICA’S SOUL: JOHN WHITEHEAD, THE RUTHERFORD INSTITUTE, AND CONSERVATIVE CHRISTIANS IN THE COURT. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing.
Teles, Steven. 2008. THE RISE OF THE CONSERVATIVE LEGAL MOVEMENT. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
© Copyright 2009 by the author, Joshua Wilson.