When governments attack–and delusional law professors find the problem to be corporations

Geoffrey Manne —  11 November 2010

I find it interesting that many on the left, so intent on maintaining their anti-market narratives, distort reality so badly that black is white and up is down–and “government” is “corporations.”

I’ve highlighted this before when discussing the misdirected criticisms (and solutions) of self-described privacy advocates who point the finger at Google when really they should be concerned about the government.

Now comes Brian Leiter referring us to an article on “Corporate Attacks on Law School Clinics.” That’s the title of his post which contains nothing more than a heated admonition to read a linked article, so the title says it all:  Corporations are attacking law school clinics (and this is a huge problem that should concern everyone).  And I have no doubt many corporations are upset with many law school clinics.  But what’s so fascinating is how, when you click through to the article, you discover that the actual attacks on law school clinics are, in every single example adduced in the story, actually emanating from governments.  It’s pretty amazing.  Here are the relevant snippets from each example in the article, but I recommend reading the whole thing:

In spring 2010, a law-clinic lawsuit against a $4 billion poultry company triggered a legislative effort to withhold state funds from the University of Maryland unless its law school provided the legislature with sensitive information about clinic clients and case activities.

The attack plan included the introduction of legislation that would forfeit all state funding if a university offered certain types of law-clinic courses.

The first occurred in 1968 at the University of Mississippi, where the appointments of two untenured professors were terminated following complaints that their new clinical program participated in a desegregation lawsuit.

In efforts to terminate the program, clinic opponents sponsored a bill in the legislature to withdraw state funding for the entire law school.

In 1993, then-governor Edwin Edwards was so upset at statements the clinic’s director made that the governor threatened to deny financial assistance to state residents attending the university and to prohibit Tulane medical students from working in any state hospital unless the director was fired.

A few years later, the clinic’s success in representing a low-income, minority community opposed to a proposed chemical plant led then-governor Mike Foster and business interests to threaten to revoke Tulane’s tax-exempt status and deny it access to state education trust-fund money, to organize an economic boycott of Tulane, and to refuse to hire its graduates.

When the university still refused to terminate the course, clinic opponents successfully persuaded the Louisiana Supreme Court to impose restrictions on whom law school clinics can assist and what kinds of representation students can provide.

When state legislators expressed disapproval of a law school clinic’s representation of citizens concerned about a proposed highway, university officials began charging the clinic for the university’s overhead costs, prevented it from approaching funders unless it agreed to avoid certain cases that might upset legislators, and pressed it to separate from the school and move off campus.

The clinical program at Rutgers University is defending itself against a lawsuit brought by a developer, who was defeated in a clinic case and is now seeking to use the state’s public records law to gain access to internal clinic case files that would otherwise be beyond the reach of a party to a lawsuit

A dispute in Michigan this past winter demonstrates that attacks also can occur when students get in the way of powerful government interests. The district attorney in Detroit, upset with the efforts of a University of Michigan innocence clinic to exonerate a man it alleged was wrongfully imprisoned for ten years, sought to force the students to testify at trial against their client, an unprecedented effort to interfere in the students’ attorneyclient relationship.

Perdue persuaded legislators to attach a rider to the university’s appropriations that conditioned $750,000 in funding on submission of a report detailing clinic cases, clients, expenditures, and funding, much of which is confidential information.

An even harsher attack occurred in Louisiana this past spring, where the Louisiana Chemical Association (LCA) pushed for legislation, subject to narrow exceptions, that would forfeit all state funds going to any university, public or private, whose clinics brought or defended a lawsuit against a government agency, represented anyone seeking monetary damages, or raised state constitutional claims. The bill also would have made clinic courses at the state’s four law schools subject to oversight by legislative commerce committees.

This isn’t cherry-picking.  Unless I made a mistake, this is every single example of “attacks on law school clinics” in the article.  And every single one involves government actions or the threat of government actions.  Wow.  How on earth could anyone read this article and feel comfortable calling this a problem of corporations?  Don’t get me wrong–I understand that there are often corporate interests behind these actions, spurring them on.  But to call this a “corporate” problem rather than a “government” problem–with the implicit call for government to do something about the problem–is to fail so utterly to understand the problems of government power that it boggles the mind.

Like Brian Leiter, I find this list troubling.  I am appalled at how much inappropriate  government interference this represents.  But it is simply delusional to call this a problem of corporations.  You want to fix the problem?  Rein in the ability of governments to interfere to thoroughly with private life that special interests don’t have access to such a powerful and, often, invincible bludgeon.

Geoffrey Manne


President & Founder, International Center for Law & Economics

5 responses to When governments attack–and delusional law professors find the problem to be corporations


    No doubt we’re well past the point of even diminishing returns, but let me say that I wasn’t interested in discussing psychology with you. I was simply struck by the audacity of someone who holds an essentially irrational position declaring everyone else to be delusional. But so it goes in the blogosphere.


    Now I see–you are concerned with my use of the word delusional, and you’d like to have a conversation about psychology. I will admit that the word was hyperbolic in the title to my post (surely we can dispense with arguing about what hyperbolic means, right?). But the point of the post was clear, and your need to argue about whether I used the word “delusional” diagnostically rather than colloquially is lame. You’re a blogger, Brian. You know how it goes. You are delusional as in “convincing yourself that X is the problem when I think it is really Y.” I am quite aware that we could argue about where the real problem lies, and I am quite aware that you are not alone in holding your ideological delusions–I’m not even sure that “delusion” in the sense you are trying to insist on requires that you hold your belief alone. More than one poor, delusional soul thinks UN black helicopters are out to get them, and I’m quite sure each is delusional, even if not alone in his faulty beliefs. So, to reiterate: A bit hyperbolic, but perfectly understood (to be clear: I think your ideology blinds you to the real problem and you so relish finding delicts to blame on capitalism that you ignore and even abet the more significant culprit. This I refer to as your delusion.).


    I understand you had a sentence in there designed to cover your tracks on the obvious point, but your title, and the whole argument, is meant to obscure the obvious point, and your last sentence, above, captures what seems to me to be the actual ideological delusion very aptly: “It is a remarkable thing how often the left implicitly or explicitly asks for more government power to stop perceived abuses that are really problems of too much government power in the first place.” Obviously, I am not alone in doubting that this is a correct diagnosis of the problem; I am not alone in not thinking that “too much government power” is a systematic problem; I am not alone in thinking that there are circumstances in which state power can act as a check on the power of capital; and so on. To characterize disagreement on these points of substance as involving a “delusion” is, shall we say, rather rich with irony.


    I’m pretty sure that the words in my post “Don’t get me wrong–I understand that there are often corporate interests behind these actions, spurring them on” make it crystal clear to anyone with a better-than-fourth-grade reading comprehension level that, yes, I do know that. (And by the way–I would have said “always” instead of “often” except that several of the examples were government actors getting pissy at the clinics all on their own). Ideological blinders are a serious thing, Brian, and you may be the most blindered law blogger I know. The point of my post, if you had bothered to read it before sputtering out your vituperative comment (a parody of your own ideological delusions, perhaps?), is that, however much corporations may hate these clinics, it is through the power of the state that they attack them. It is a remarkable thing how often the left implicitly or explicitly asks for more government power to stop perceived abuses that are really problems of too much government power in the first place.


    Ideological blinders are a serious thing, but this is really breathtaking in its stupidity. Do you think the legislative action occurred by happenstance? Are you aware (I know this is shocking) that some times monied interests get the legislature to do their bidding?

    Seriously, did you write this in order to parody the ideological delusions of libertarians? I’m hoping that’s the explanation.