Carol Platt Liebau

The Harvard Law Review has expanded its affirmative action program -- which has long been restricted to race and ethnicity -- to gender.  Women will now find it easier than their male counterparts to get onto the Harvard Law Review.  Woo hoo -- what a blow for gender equality: The only way enough women can rise to the top, according to the Review, is by getting special "consideration."

Given that the writing competition -- a prerequisite for Review selection for first year students -- is blind-graded, there is no chance that somehow, a group of sexist editors are conspiring to keep women off.  Note also that grades are Harvard Law School are largely based on blind-graded exams, so it's not as though sexist professors are invidiously marking down women, thereby restricting their chances at Review membership.

No, if "enough" women aren't getting on to the law review, it's because their grades and/or writing competition scores simply aren't as high as those of the men who beat them (and/or not as many of them are trying to get on.  A number of my female friends simply declined to enter the competition because they just weren't interested).  Whatever the reasons are for the lower scores or lower interest, surely the solution isn't simply to lower the standards for women to get the numbers "right."

Doing so simply reduces the quality of the female Review members (thereby ultimately lowering the quality of the product) -- and stigmatizes them.  From now on, judges, law firms and other employers will never be clear whether a female Review member gained her slot as a result of performing as well as her male peers, or because she got special "consideration." As a female former Review member, I resent that -- deeply.  In their endless, mindless, reflexive "political correctness," the silly members of the Review just cheapened one of the best credentials their female members may ever obtain.  

What's more, without even realizing it, they've just decimated the confidence of their female membership.  Given that my grades were never stellar (at least compared to many of my counterparts, male and female, on the Review), I am almost positive I "wrote" onto The Harvard Law Review (i.e., my total "score" was based 70% on my writing competition score, 30% on my grades -- rather than vice versa. The whole complex system is laid out here).  Despite my lower grades, I knew I had earned my place on the Review -- it hadn't just been handed to me based on my body parts.  That knowledge is what gave me the confidence to run for the post of Managing Editor, third-highest position on the Review.  As a result, I became the first female M.E. in Review history.  Given my grades, had this affirmative action policy for women been in place at hte time, I doubt I would have had the confidence to try.

What's more, the judge for whom I clerked after law school, David Sentelle of the DC Circuit, might not have been so easily persuaded to hire me.  Though I lacked tippy-top grades, he could still have confidence I had some legal ability -- and writing skill -- because of my Review membership.  Had the affirmative action policy for women been in effect, he wouldn't have had that assurance.  Now, Review membership certifies your excellence only if you're a white male.  How sad.  How racist-sexist.

The controversiy over women's lower numbers on the Review isn't new.  The same howls of outrage were around for my first year on the Review (1990-1991, the year Barack Obama was President) -- that year, as well, only nine women gained membership (I was one of them).  But the calls for affirmative action were resisted, and the next year, many more got on . . . and a woman was elected to be the third female President in Review history.

No doubt the eager liberals on this year's Review think they've helped women.  They haven't.  They've harmed them -- both professionally and personally. 

 


Carol Platt Liebau

Carol Platt Liebau is an attorney, political commentator and guest radio talk show host based near New York. Learn more about her new book, "Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Hurts Young Women (and America, Too!)" here.