John R. Lott,
The headline on the front page of the Washington Post sure sounded impressive: “More than 1,100 law school professors nationwide oppose Sessions’s nomination as attorney general.” Since then, the total has increased to 1,424 faculty members from 180 law schools in 49 different states.
With Senate Judiciary committee getting ready to vote on Senator Jeff Sessions’ confirmation today, the letter is being used as Exhibit A for many liberals arguing that experts view Sessions as unqualified and outside the mainstream.
But with 17,080 faculty members nationwide, perhaps the real question is why there were so few signers. Only 8.3 percent of faculty members signed the letter.
Given that 82 percent of law professors identified themselves as Democrats in 2010, one can infer that only about 10 percent of Democrat professors signed the letter.
From 1991 to 2002, over 23 percent of law professors at the top 20 law schools contributed at least $200 exclusively or mostly to Democrats. By contrast, just 4 percent of law professors were active Republican donors. Assuming that over 23 percent figure has held true today (and given the inordinate hatred for Trump, this might be an underestimate), just a third of active donors to Democrats signed the letter.
The letter itself is written vaguely to maximize signatures. There is a regurgitation of charges made in 1986 that Sessions was “prejudice[d] against African Americans.” It continues: “Some of us have concerns about … his consistent promotion of the myth of voter-impersonation fraud … his support for building a wall along our country’s southern border … his robust support for regressive drug policies that have fueled mass incarceration … his repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and the members of the LGBTQ community.”
The faculty members could disagree with all of these points and still be able to sign the letter. Indeed, it is hard to find any other letter signed by academics (and there are a lot of them) that offers so many escape clauses for signers. But the goal was to get signatures, not to provide a coherent argument against Sessions.
The charges themselves are absurd.
Take their first claim. Only liberal academics would believe that “voter-impersonation fraud” is a myth.
A recent study in the peer-reviewed journal Electoral Studies estimated that illegal aliens cast about 1.4 million votes in the 2008 and 2010 elections, and that their votes “likely gave Senate Democrats the pivotal 60th vote needed to overcome filibusters in order to pass health care reform and other Obama administration priorities in the 111th Congress.”
Here are some cases of suspected impersonation fraud discovered during just the month-and-a-half prior to the November election:
• San Pedro, Calif.: 83 absentee ballots were sent to different registered voters who all supposedly lived in the same small, two-bedroom apartment. If not for an observant neighbor, this case would never have been discovered.
• Chicago: An investigation by CBS-2 found that “119 dead people have voted a total of 229 times in Chicago in the last decade.”
• Virginia: After examining just eight of the state’s 133 counties, 1,046 illegal aliens were discovered to already be registered voters.
• New York City: In an undercover video, Democrats themselves were caught complaining about the amount of voter fraud created by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to give out ID cards without checking recipients’ identities.
The law professors’ second claim doesn’t cite any specific concerns about the wall along the Mexican border. So there is nothing to respond to.
Their third claim blames drug crimes for mass incarceration. But in 2012, only 20 percent of inmates at state and federal prisons were incarcerated for possessing or trafficking any type of illegal drugs — and those sentences were primarily for trafficking hard drugs. Data from Arizona indicate that as few as 0.3 percent of inmates were incarcerated for marijuana possession, and these are rare individuals who have been arrested multiple times. In California, only 1 percent of state prisoners are incarcerated for any type of marijuana-related offense.
The fourth claim doesn’t mention any specific things that Sessions has done to harm women or others. But presumably it focuses what was raised during the hearings, Sessions’ vote against the Violence Against Women Act. But neither law professors nor his opponents during the hearings over the last two days have seriously addressed Sessions explanation for his vote. Sessions had previously supported the Act, but opposed its renewal in 2012 over concerns that it was unconstitutional when changes were made expanding Indian tribes’ jurisdiction over non-tribal members. Tribal courts also have a history of failing to provide adequate legal protections to defendants. No evidence was ever provided that prosecuting non-tribal members in US courts posed any problems to protecting Indians.
Academics keep making fools of themselves with letters like this, which have everything to do with not wanting a Republican attorney general who supports policies they disagree with. Their letter has nothing to do with Sessions’ ability to uphold the law in good faith.