Tags: politics | law | school | hiring

Federal Appeals Court to Decide if Politics Should Factor in Law School Hiring

Sunday, 09 Feb 2014 07:18 AM

By Elliot Jager

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A Federal Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minn., will on Feb. 13 hear arguments in a case involving a law school accused of refusing to hire a highly qualified instructor because she is also an anti-abortion activist, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Peter Berkowitz.

The case, Wagner v. Jones, involves Teresa Wagner, who had applied for the job of legal writing instructor at the University of Iowa law school, and Dean Carolyn Jones, who allegedly refused to hire her on political grounds.

According to Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution and a constitutional scholar, the legal question is "whether a state law-school may deny employment to faculty candidates because of their political beliefs."

Wagner had been working part-time for the law school when two full-time slots for legal-writing instructors became available. She applied and became a finalist for one of the openings, according to Berkowitz.

Wagner's credentials were extensive; she was a trial attorney; had edited scholarly books, and written a legal brief used in a U.S. Supreme Court case involving partial-birth abortions. The law school committee dealing with faculty appointments recommended giving her the job.

But the overwhelmingly liberal law-school faculty voted against Wagner; Jones said she "flunked" her interview.

Of the two available positions one went to a liberal who subsequently resigned. The second is being staffed by adjunct instructors including one with known pro-abortion sensibilities, according to Berkowitz.

Wagner sued the school. A jury agreed that her rights had been violated. However the panel could not agree to hold the law dean exclusively responsible. Through legal machinations the case was dismissed.
Wager wants the appeals court to order a new trial.

At the time of her rejection, the law school had a single registered Republican on its 50-member faculty. Since she launched her suit, the school has hired several more.

Berkowitz argues: "Hiring decisions should be based on candidates' merits, including their ability to vigorously present in the classroom and criticize conservative as well as progressive views. If the Eighth Circuit protects Teresa Wagner's constitutional rights, the court will also bolster legal education in America by promoting its depoliticization."

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