The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
A recent Washington Post editorial included this line: "The law school at George Mason is fairly unusual in having a libertarian- and conservative-leaning … student body…" Perusing media coverage of the $30 million gift that led to the renaming of the law school after the late Justice Antonin Scalia, I saw several other news stories and blog posts (whose links I didn't save) asserting, without any evidence, that the law school has a "conservative" student body.
In fact, in my experience, the average George Mason law school student—unlike the average faculty member—leans a bit to the moderate left. This is backed up by some informal, anonymous surveys my co-blogger Ilya Somin and I have conducted. Here's what I wrote in 2012:
Just for fun, I conducted an anonymous online presidential straw poll for my [required] Con Law I class. The result was twice as many votes for Obama as for Romney (with one vote for Johnson). It was at least possible that this was an anomaly, especially because my class is composed primarily of evening students and transfers. But then Ilya surveyed his Con Law I day class, and got a nearly identical result. [UPDATE: Ilya just posted his final results above, and they are somewhat less pro-Obama than mine, though still pro-Obama. I had based the "nearly identical result" comment on non-final results.]
In 2010, I shared the following results from an anonymous survey of my (required) class:
Q Which of these is closest to your political views?
1. Green 0
2. Very Liberal 5
3. Liberal 10
4. Moderately Liberal 9
5. Moderate 7
6. Moderately Conservative 11
7. Conservative 3
8. Very Conservative 4
9. Libertarian 6
10. Other 0
I have no reason to think the results would be appreciably different today, and indeed my Con Law classes typically have students with a very nice mix of political, ideological and methodological perspectives, which is not something that one finds in other secular law schools in our region. I don't think the naming gift will change our students' ideological makeup in any meaningful way. Do students decline to attend ASU's Sandra Day O'Connor Law School because they don't like federalism or oppose multi-part balancing tests? No one sensible thinks that naming a law school after a distinguished Supreme Court justice means that the law school is endorsing the justice's views on any or all issues, much less that the law school is trying to impose those views as an official law school orthodoxy.
More generally, reading about the naming gift and associate controversy has reinforced in me the notion that news stories always seem reasonably accurate until you read one about something about which you have personal knowledge.