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MLaw Prof. Dan Crane explores the question, "Are evangelicals underrepresented among America's legal elite?"

MLaw Prof Explores Evangelical Underrepresentation Among Legal Elite

By Jenny Whalen
May 10, 2013

Are evangelicals underrepresented among America's legal elite? It is a question that has intrigued Michigan Law Prof. Dan Crane for more than a year and one he revisited this month while guest blogging for the Center for Law and Religion Forum at St. John's University Law School.

Although antitrust is his primary focus, Crane, the Frederick Paul Furth, Sr. Professor of Law, said the relationship of religion and the law has long been a side interest.

It was shortly after the retirement of Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, and the subsequent naming of Elena Kagan as his replacement, that Crane and Penn Law Prof. David Skeel began to explore the demographic phenomenon that has resulted in an absence of evangelical Protestants among the country's legal elite.

With Kagan's arrival on what has arguably been a traditionally Protestant court, the religious affiliations of the justices grew to six Catholics and three Jews.

Crane believes the trend continues in other areas of the elite judiciary, which he defines as top federal judges, prominent legal jobs in the executive branch, law professors at prestigious schools, and the talent pool that feeds this elite pipeline.

Looking at the law school pedigree of 54 elite lawyers, ranging from Supreme Court justices to current judges on the D.C. Circuit Court, Crane found that only eight did not attend a traditional Top 10 law school.

Relying on his own "intuitions and fuzzy data points," Crane speculates that while the causes of this phenomenon are complex, "an important contributing factor to evangelical underrepresentation in the legal elite is evangelical underrepresentation in student enrollments at elite law schools."

However, to study this theory, Crane said he would like to conduct far more survey research using the religious categories employed by the Pew Research Center, with social science researchers ultimately overseeing the project.

"Broad demographic information is available, but just knowing a law student's religion doesn't tell you anything very interesting from a socio-economic standpoint," Crane said. "I would like to map law students, and more broadly the legal elite, to see if there is a national disparity concerning evangelicals."

As for why evangelicals may be underrepresented in elite law school student bodies, Crane offers five possible contributing factors in his blog series: geography, socio-economic status, anti-intellectualism, anti-elitism, and alienation from the legal profession.

He also explores the questions, does it matter that evangelicals are underrepresented among the legal elite, and what, if any, is the impact of this underrepresentation on the way law is performed?

Offering three observations on these points, he concludes that while it likely does not matter, the constitution of law might benefit if it did.

"Evangelicals care intensely about the Court and certain issues, but they may feel represented by Catholics," Crane suggests. "What matters to them is that their viewpoint is represented."

Taking this theory one step further, Crane ventures that evangelical and conservative Catholic identities may have even begun to converge.

Regardless of reason, it would seem that evangelicals are not overly concerned by underrepresentation, although the development of law could benefit from a greater evangelical presence among the legal elite, Crane writes.

With its "individualistic experientialism," evangelical input is ripe for law that is "increasingly understood as personal, subjective, and even experiential" in the post-realist, post-modern world.

"It would be a shame if evangelicals continued to stand on the sidelines while the legal academy, the courts, and other legal institutions worked through the implications of law in the post-modern world—something about which evangelicals should have lots to say," he adds.

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