April 16, 2005

Should there be an all-women law school?

I'm really happy with the comments function on this blog, which I reactivated a week ago. The discussion on this post, from yesterday, is especially interesting. If you read far enough down into the comments, you'll see that I bring up the subject of a women-only law school. I wanted to start a separate place here to discuss the topic: Should there be an all-women law school?

UPDATE: Christine Hurt says no to the all-women law school. By the way, I realize that there are some serious legal and accreditation problems with such a school -- as noted by various commenters -- and I don't purport to know the answers. I'm mostly interested in speculating about whether it would be a good idea. It's not worth bothering to figure out those details if it's not even a good idea to have an all-women law school. But some commenters seem to think it's not worth figuring out if it's a good idea if there's a legal/accreditation problem. I disagree!

25 comments:

Dean said...

I see not anything wrong with an all-women law school. Presumedly, this would allow for all-men law schools, all-gay/etc law schools, just-Catholic law schools, only-white, only-black.... Are we really asking for the return "separate, but equal?"

Ann Althouse said...

Dean, you should read what Justice Ginsburg wrote about all-female schools in United States v. Virginia the case that rejected the all-male Virginia Military Institute. Here's the key passage:

""Inherent differences" between men and women, we have come to appreciate, remain cause for celebration, but not for denigration of the members of either sex or for artificial constraints on an individual's opportunity. Sex classifications may be used to compensate women "for particular economic disabilities [they have] suffered," to "promote equal employment opportunity," to advance full development of the talent and capacities of our Nation's people. But such classifications may not be used, as they once were, to create or perpetuate the legal, social, and economic inferiority of women."

Ginsburg, writing for the majority, cited the Brief of Amici Curiae Twenty-six Private Women's Colleges with approval and carefully framed equal protection doctrine to respect the interests of these institutions.

PatCA said...

I think an all female law school would be permissible. In the passage you cited, there's an assumption that any separation of sexes represents a denigration of the other. I don't quite believe that. Where's the restriction to a good college education?

Is Smith denigrating/limiting others by restricting admission to females? Couldn't the Citadel open an all female section to satisfy women who want a military career?

Common sense eventually has to come into play to accomodate small but important classes, for instance, transgendered people. The law cannot fix every life problem.

O/T: Ten years ago I worked on a lawsuit filed by a male transitioning to female. He objected that his employer refused to acknowledge this or let him (very female looking) use the ladies room. The defendant? The ACLU! :)

Tara said...

My gut response says no, even though I am generally in support of single sex education. I think it is because I have the feeling that if you're going into law, you better be ready to fit into a man's world. But I think maybe that's wrong and we could all benefit so much from classes full of lawyers who haven't already squished that way (it does sometimes feel like you have to squish yourself). Maybe sometimes the world should squish for women.

lindsey said...

"Couldn't the Citadel open an all female section to satisfy women who want a military career?"

I don't think they get enough female applicants to justify the creation of an all-female section. VMI and the Citadel certainly are not the only military schools in the US. I don't have a problem with all male military schools. As far as I know, VMI and the Citadel remaining single sex wasn't going to prevent women from going to military school or joining the military. I think they should have let them decide. If there are already co-ed military schools, I don't agree with Ginsberg's statement that "But such classifications may not be used, as they once were, to create or perpetuate the legal, social, and economic inferiority of women" because clearly their single sex status isn't preventing women from going to military school. So for me the issue is dependent upon how many military schools there are and how many are co-ed.

Aren't there all black colleges that are public?

G said...

Did Justice Ginsburg mean that an all-male college by its very nature "create[s] or perpetuate[s] the legal, social, and economic inferiority of women"? If so, couldn't one argue that maintaining an all-female institution does the same thing, since it might be deemed a tacit admission that women are less able to compete in a co-ed environment? Or, more weirdly, would the reverse of Ginsburg's opinion, an all-female college would create or perpetuate the legal, social, and economic superiority of women, be valid? I would hope not.

More to the point of your post, I have no problem with an all-female law school. What I do have a problem with is that many of the same people who argue so vehemently for such an institution, argue equally vehemently against the same thing for men. The results can be seen here, 3 all-male colleges versus 67 all-female.

G. Hamid

G said...

Did Justice Ginsburg mean that an all-male college by its very nature "create[s] or perpetuate[s] the legal, social, and economic inferiority of women"? If so, couldn't one argue that maintaining an all-female institution does the same thing, since it might be deemed a tacit admission that women are less able to compete in a co-ed environment? Or, more weirdly, would the reverse of Ginsburg's opinion, an all-female college would create or perpetuate the legal, social, and economic inferiority of men, be valid? I would hope not.

More to the point of your post, I have no problem with an all-female law school. What I do have a problem with is that many of the same people who argue so vehemently for such an institution, argue equally vehemently against the same thing for men. The results can be seen here, 3 all-male colleges versus 67 all-female.

G. Hamid

G said...

Sorry for the double post. There is a small change, though it's not that important.

G. Hamid

JK said...

Although I fully support the idea of an all women law school, I think this would present problems with accreditation. According to the ABA’s requirements for accreditation, section 210 (AALS has similar rules):

“(b) A law school may not use admission policies or take other action to preclude admission of applicants or retention of students on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, or sexual orientation.”

If the ABA were to allow a law school to admit based on sex (i.e. deny admittance based on the applicant’s sex being male), then I don’t see how they could possibly hold other member schools to the same equal opportunity standard of section 210. The very existence of an all women accredited law school seems to destroy the very concept from which it was developed, i.e. the equal opportunity standard. Of course, if the school doesn’t care about accreditation, then there is no problem. I don’t think that would be the case, though.

Dean said...

"Sex classifications may be used to compensate women "for particular economic disabilities [they have] suffered," to "promote equal employment opportunity," to advance full development of the talent and capacities of our Nation's people. " So how many years after women have been compensate "for particular economic disabilities [they have] suffered," and men may apply for compensation from "particular economic disabilities [they have] suffered" that surely will occur by human abuse with power?

Ann Althouse said...

JK: I can't imagine wanting to found a law school that wouldn't be accredited, but let's assume for the sake of argument, that the notion of a law school designed to advance women would be able to overcome that obstacle, and my question is whether it would be a desirable thing.

JK said...

Assuming that the obstacle can be overcome, I definitely think an all women law school would be desirable. I think it would be an important "experiment" that would generate many new insights into the world of law. After all, society and the law are ever-changing, and who's to say that the status quo is best or at least has all the answers? Sometimes a fresh, "out-of-the-box" approach is what is needed.

Abraham said...

Personally I don't think it would make that much of a difference at all, except to produce yet more lawyers, worse, lawyers who are more likely to be rude and inflexible when confronting opponents, because they will probably have been trained in a severely homogenous school.

Incidentally - if it is the case that allowing all-female schools requires allowing all-male schools, why then is UW-Madison permitted to have all-female dormitories (the nicest ones on campus, I might add) but no all-male dormitories?

JK said...

"...lawyers who are more likely to be rude and inflexible when confronting opponents, because they will probably have been trained in a severely homogenous school."

I don't think you are giving enough credit to the young women and the faculty (which doesn't have to be all women) at the theoretical all women law school. Yes, their legal education with regard to the sex of their peers will be homogenized, but that doesn't mean all the women at the law school will think or behave the same way. And I think that an all women law school might force the "good ol' boys club," which is alive and well today in the legal community today, to recognize maybe women have something to offer.

As far as Elizabeth Waters dormitory is concerned -- I believe the reason it is all female is because the dormitory receives a generous amount of money from a fund setup by Elizabeth Waters. However, a stipulation to that money is that the dormitory remain female only.

JK said...

P.S. UW-Madison, at one time, did have an all male dorm.

Wade_Garrett said...

I believe that an all-woman law school would have a large potential upside. Having said that, I wonder if there would be much of a market for it. It might be the case that, if it was a workable idea, somebody would have tried to start one already.

Anecdotally, I have three good friends who went to historically black colleges and who are now law students. None of them had any interest in Howard Law School.

Perhaps the opportunity to go to professional school with classmates who more closely represent the bar as a whole is more appealing than the opportunity to learn in an environment where you are surrounded by people with whom you have a lot in common. Just an idea, I don't really know if this is true.

Not Happy said...

As I've already mentioned elsewhere, I have no problem with a private institution discriminating according to gender. A public women's law school, on the other hand, would be wrong.

To get to the more interesting issues, I do not respect this idea that women - or some women, anyway, - need a women-only environment in order to fulfill their potential, or be able to express themselves comfortably, etc. Why should women feel intimidated by men in the classroom? Perhaps they don't speak up as much because they are naturally - or have been raised to be - shyer than men? We do see that men are usually more aggressive (in this culture, anyway) in many areas. It's plausible that this fact is genetically determined, and that statistically speaking women are more inclined than men are to be deferential and reserved in a contentious evironment.

However, one's genes do not fully determine one's fate, especially when it comes to behavior. It seems to me that in a classroom it would be the teacher who is responsible for making sure that all students have an equal chance to speak. If a teacher is fair, if she makes it clear to students that they are all encouraged to speak up and express themselves, and if she makes sure that all of her students are given an equal opportunity to speak, the students who don't take advantage of this opportunity have only themselves to blame. A woman who says that she isn't comfortable speaking up in an environment like this, one that is structured to be fair to all students, just because there are men around, is a weakling and shouldn't bother trying to become a lawyer.

There was an article in the New York Times during the past few months about teaching techniques at law schools. Lani Guinier of Harvard Law School is teaching classes that emphasize techniques like role-playing games instead of the Socratic method. She's doing this because women are supposed to be more comfortable with this way of learning. But think of what we're talking about here: women who want to be lawyers. A court room lawyer is expected to be able to fight fierce legal battles in order to win a case. She is going to have to deal with judges and opposing counsel who will be ready to criticize everything that she has to say and who will attempt to rip her arguments to shreds. If she is unable to handle this as a student, how is she going to be able to handle it in the real world? It seems to me that she would be better off getting experience arguing with aggressive male law students than going to a touchy-feely all-women law school where she spends a lot of her time doing things like engaging in role-playing games.

leeontheroad said...

There are practical benefits to single sex education, especially for women, that have been demonstrated to the common standard. Whether that institution would succeed in the marketplace of higher education is an open question.

The idea offends the simple notion of equality, but one must assume that said "equality" or "open playing field" exists before that would be a reasonable basis on which to argue against the concept on which such an institution would (presumably) be based. The historical success of all women institutions argues against looking to a simplistic notion of equality or equal opportunity as the standard by which to judge the social or educational value of an all women law school.

Having said that, many women would not attend one-- any more than most women currently attend historically single sex undergraduate instutions. Or than most Black folks currently attend HBUC's. (And by the way, the speciousness of the simplistic equality notion is revelaed if we argue about single sex instutions with reference to HBUC's. Case in point: Howard Univ. graduates the largest number of Black Ph.D.'s; but when and if "top tier" instituions seek to include Black Ph.D.'s in their faculty searches, they do not look to Howard. They overlook it and, instead, look to Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, and possibly Berkley-- just to name US institutions.)

There are practical considerations about the way education works (and "feeds" professions) that are simply missing from this discussion, which, granted, begins with a theoretical question.

DeniseUMLaw said...

Personally, I'd like to see an all-women's law school ( assuming aguendo the ability to actually get accredited) for many reasons.

But, then, I'd also want to ensure that MtF transsexuals were allowed in (even ones that didn't pass (i.e. were noticably TS)). :)

Andrew Shimmin said...

Not the cleverest point, but wouldn't it be worth having an all-women law school just to see what would happen? I'm uneasy about experimenting with elementary school educational methods because if they don't work, then there are kids who can't read. But why should I, or anyone else, have any objection to adults trying something a new way? On what basis can anyone presume to know what sort of lawyers such a school would produce?

Jeffrey Boulier said...

Couldn't the Citadel open an all female section to satisfy women who want a military career?

The Citadel tried to create an all female program at Converse College, which is no longer in existance. But VMI's all-female program at neighboring Mary Baldwin College, the "Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership", is still going strong.

An article that references the Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership, written during the lawsuit, is here.

Here's the VWIL's homepage.

The demise of the old order at VMI is not surprising, given that the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970's made its position untenable. What? It never passed? Fortunately, there was no need, as it was present in the Fourteenth. I bet all the folks at Ms. and NOW felt silly; they'd wasted all their time and energy campaigning for an amendment that had already made it into the constitution.

Adam said...

But think of what we're talking about here: women who want to be lawyers. A court room lawyer is expected to be able to fight fierce legal battles in order to win a case. She is going to have to deal with judges and opposing counsel . . .

But so much of real-world law has nothing to do with that. I've been practicing (as a litigator) for seven years, and only once have I had a contested evidentiary hearing before a judge. And for the world of non-litigators -- whether it's corporate practice, or lobbying, or working for a government agency -- it's completely different altogether.

Law schools are academic schools -- it's not a vo-tech.

rafinlay said...

I would fear that an all-women law school would evolve through political opportunism toward a radical-feminist reading of the law, much as women's-studies departments have become havens for women-as-victims theory. What is aggravating in a "liberal arts" curriculum can be much more dangerous in an institution which would plausibly demand proportional representation on courts, at prestigious law firms, etc., based on presumed discrimination due to its all-female status. Think "Justice Andrea Dworkin"....

cd said...

There shouldn't be an all-women law school because there shouldn't really be more law schools generally.

And no, that's not a snarky anti-lawyer commnent. It may be a snarky anti-law-school comment, however.

(yes, I'm in law school.)

Online Degree said...

Are the Co-ed schools not adequate? Is there any particular reason why there needs to be an all-female school? Seems like it is fine the way it is to me.