News Center

Elsewhere Online twitter Facebook SLS Blogs YouTube SLS Channel Linked In SLSNavigator SLS on Flickr

Lawyers, Beware Lawyers: The Dangers Of Taking A Legalistic Approach To America’s Budget Wars

Publication Date: 
October 19, 2013
The Economist

CLP Director Deborah Rhode's new book "Lawyers as Leaders" which ponders the power wielded by American lawyers is cited in this Economist article on lawyers in the budget crisis. 

Examine the latest budget stand-off to shame Washington and embarrass America, and lawyers are everywhere. An ambitious Republican, Senator Ted Cruz (once solicitor-general of Texas) played a large role in triggering the crisis. Other lawyer-politicians led efforts to pull the country back from the brink. Early outlines of a deal came from a dozen independent-minded or swing-state Republican and Democratic senators, nine of them lawyers by training. Further heavy lifting fell to the Senate’s Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, and his Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell, both former lawyers (though only Mr Reid can claim the distinction of being targeted with a car bomb, shortly after declining bribes from the wrong sort of Nevada businessman). President Barack Obama is a lawyer, as is his treasury secretary, Jack Lew. Though fewer than one in 200 Americans has a law licence, the profession can lay claim to a third of the current House of Representatives and to more than half the seats in the Senate.

For comparison, in both Britain’s House of Commons and its Canadian counterpart just one in seven members is a lawyer, and one in 15 deputies in the French Assemblée Nationale. A Lexington’s Law suggests itself: just as Britain should limit its cabinet to two old-Etonians, Congress should try to rub along with no more than two dozen Harvard or Yale Law graduates at a time.


“Lawyers as Leaders”, a new book by Deborah Rhode, a Stanford law professor, ponders the extraordinary power wielded by American lawyers. As noted by Alexis de Tocqueville nearly two centuries ago, the clout of America’s legal establishment is boosted by a national habit of asking judges to decide knotty political questions. In modern times courts have triggered giant shifts in fields from civil rights to abortion laws or the regulation of greenhouse gases, often in the absence of a national democratic consensus. These are often, rightly, points of pride. Yet judge-made laws have often proved fragile, and vulnerable to challenge.