Harvard Law Review, Law Reviews, Law Schools, Vicious Infighting

Gannett House Smackdown: Internecine Warfare at the Harvard Law Review (Part 1)

Harvard Law Review Andrew Crespo Above the Law blog.jpgAs promised, here’s the first installment in our series about infighting at America’s top law journal: the Harvard Law Review. Some HLR editors are unhappy with the Review’s new fearless leader, president Andrew Crespo, and have been expressing their concerns.
We’ve been leaked a number of HLR internal emails that some of you may find amusingly ridiculous. But we should warn you that they’re not for everyone. If you don’t share our appreciation for tempests in teapots, you may have a “So what?” reaction.
But if you do enjoy the hilarity of petty law school squabbles, then check out the emails — after the jump.

First, some necessary background, from a tipster:

It is tradition at the Harvard Law Review to send out a congratulatory email when former editors get married, have kids, and get Supreme Court clerkships. Apparently, some 2L editors found SCOTUS clerkship announcements offensive (!) because it puts the prestige of the clerkship above the prestige of, say, working for the ACLU or the NAACP-LDF.

Andrew Crespo addressed these concerns by deciding to only email the 3Ls with congratulatory news and then suggesting opt-out procedures and a separate “congratulations” email list. So much for community.

What follows is (1) Crespo’s email and (2) an email from a 2L editor, addressing the fragmenting HLR “community.” To provide context for his first point, a small number of 2L editors found it fit to “annotate” a picture of the Supreme Court membership with the phrase “rich white males.” The rest of the email is rather self-explanatory.

With that out of the way, we’ll let the emails speak for themselves. Like any good drama, this is a story with two sides. Some of you will side with the 2L editor, and some of you will side with Crespo; that’s fine. No matter which side you support, hopefully you will derive some amusement from the insanity of this spectacle — which is taking place, of course, at the world-famous Harvard Law Review.
Email message from Harvard Law Review President Andrew Crespo:
From: Andrew Crespo
To: Harvard Law Review editors
Sent: Monday, March 05, 2007 3:10 PM
Subject: Congratulations, generally
Dear Editors,
I want to briefly apologize for any discomfort I’ve caused through my recent emails congratulating HLR alumni for receiving clerkships with the Supreme Court. After my email two weeks ago congratulating [redactedA] and [redactedB], about five 2L editors told me that they were uncomfortable with these emails and asked that I not send them anymore. These editors expressed displeasure with the fact that current editors hear about the accomplishments of our alumni only when those alumni receive supreme court clerkships. Generally, these editors remarked that my congratulatory emails emphasize one form of achievement over others and create anxiety and competition within our community, especially since 2L editors do not know or have a relationship with many of the alumni involved.
Given this reaction, I decided upon hearing of [redactedC]’s accomplishment to email only those of you who were editors with [redactedC] during his time here. This, in retrospect, was not the best way to deal with the various concerns involved, as a number of 2Ls today have understandably expressed concern and confusion at being left out of the loop.
I admittedly did not expect my congratulatory emails to cause such a stir. My hope in sending these emails was to invite all of you to join in celebrating the accomplishments of our fellow editors and members of the broader Review community, not to invite the electronic rejoinders that seem to come immediately on the heels of each of these congratulatory messages.
I think that part of being a healthy community is celebrating in each other’s successes and the successes of our recent alumni. I do not mean to limit the word “success” to supreme court clerkships; I think it is a nice thing for us to share in all of the accomplishments our editors achieve. As one of the leaders of this community, sharing these accomplishments with all of you is something that I personally enjoy very much, and I’m sorry that this has caused some of you discomfort, as that was never my intention.
I hope that going forward many of you will see fit to share news with me of all of each other’s many accomplishments. To the extent that congratulatory emails “from the president” carry any institutional weight, I don’t want these to be limited to weddings, births, and supreme court clerkships; personally, I’d love to hear about and share the news of all the wonderful accomplishments our editors and alumni achieve. However, I recognize that these emails will continue to make some of you uncomfortable, which I’d like to avoid as much as possible. If you would not like to receive emails of this nature, please don’t hesitate to let me know; I’m happy to create a separate “congratulations” email list for these types of messages.
Again, apologies for stirring controversy through these emails. Hopefully going forward they’ll come across more in the manner in which they were intended — occasions to celebrate and be happy for one another :)
Email message from Harvard Law Review 2L Editor:
[Ed. note: Redactions in the original. They were made by our tipster, not by us.]
To the Harvard Law Review “Community”:
As many of you know, I spend a lot of time around Gannett, and I generally consider it a fun place to spend my time and get to know many of you. However, many of you also know that I am sometimes offended by some of the things that happen and are said around Gannett. So you might imagine that I was a bit taken aback when I learned today that our new community seems to be so interested in ensuring that we never do anything to offend our fellow editors, to the point where we now have to create special email lists for certain messages to ensure that certain members of the community are not offended.
My shock, however, comes not from the fact that we’ve now created such a “community” that we must be fragmented even to the point of creating separate email lists, but that nobody really has bothered to do anything about the things around Gannett that offend me. I presume it is because I have not made them known widely enough. Since we are now so concerned that nobody be offended at Gannett, I hope that the following modest proposals will be quickly ratified by the Law Review community, so that I (and any other editors who may feel likewise) will no longer have to pay the price of being offended just for the privilege of working at Gannett.
1. I am offended by the “decoration” of the photo of the Supreme Court Justices in the Supreme Court office. I’ll assume for purposes of my offense that [redacted1] is right and that all of the men sitting on the Court at the time the photo was taken were “rich.” (Of course, we don’t know if this is actually true – what constituted “rich,” back then and did they all meet that bar? But it seems likely enough that I will not quibble.) I’ll also not dispute that they were all white. Even if they had different ethnic backgrounds, all white people are, deep down, all the same anyway.
Notwithstanding the “truth” of the assertions appended to the picture, it seems to me not just a little bit disrespectful to denigrate the portraits of these men who, despite their many failings, did play an important role in maintaining and advancing the project of the United States of America, one of, if not the most successful experiments in the history of the world in combining and reconciling the competing fundamental desires of human beings: freedom and equality.
At any rate, even if you do not share my views, I still assert that this offends me. Thus, I propose the following: we move the decorated photograph into the President’s office, which after all is not a “public” Law Review workspace and the undecorated photographs into the Vice President’s office (assuming he is not offended by them). This would be analogous to creating a separate email list – a private list/room for those not offended by certain announcements/decorated pictures and a public list/room for the whole body to enjoy and use at their discretion – just not for sending congratulatory emails/displaying pictures of Supreme Court Justices, whether decorated or not. This way, people who want to see the pictures can go to the offices we have established as private to view them [with the permission of their current occupants, of course], while those who do not wish to see them because they are offended can avoid those offices, even when they are looking for Gannett workspace.
2. I am offended by assertions that those who work for “public interest” groups are “working for justice” or “fighting injustice,” with the concomitant implication that those who are not, are not. Seeing as how we live in a pluralistic society, I am of the opinion that there are many conceptions of justice. Though many of you likely disagree with me, I am not entirely sure that justice entails ensuring that violent rapists get out of jail because their sentences are “too burdensome,” or that drug laws impose less of a burden on those who sell drugs to our nation’s children.
Regardless of how you feel about these things, I assert that I am offended by these conceptions of justice. I propose that statements like “I am fighting against injustice” or “working for justice” not be said on the second floor of Gannett house. Like a separate email list, this ensures that I (and anybody else likewise offended) will have a place to go in Gannett house where they will not have to be offended by such remarks, but that those who are not will continue to be free to say them.
3. Finally, I am most offended by the fact that in attempting not to offend people, our President decided that he would effectively keep information from the rest of the body, in effect silencing one viewpoint to cater to the demands of a few. I am not sure what portion of the 2L body enjoys hearing about the accolades of the former members of our organization, but I know that there is a subset, of least one, of our class that believes that hearing these messages is an inspiration. I know that many of my fellow editors aspire to one day be able to have the same opportunity afforded to the 4L’s we hear about in the emails, and it is motivating to know that so many people who have come before us in the organization have been able to, with continued hard work, parlay their early law school successes into such real world achievements in the legal realm.
I know not everybody shares these aspirations and many people have a number of other goals that they would like to achieve in their legal careers. I also have no doubt that it would be inspirational for them to hear about the successes of former editors who have chosen to follow successful paths that have not traveled through the Supreme Court. I would not be, and indeed am not, offended by messages sent to the entire list of editors detailing the achievements of Law Review alumni who have chosen to follow this type of path. Indeed, you may note that in this catalog of things that offend me I have not listed emails from people congratulating fellow editors and alumni for doing things such as accepting jobs with the Federal Public Defender’s office or winning a Skadeen Public Interest Fellowship, even though I may fundamentally disagree with some of the policies of the Public Defender’s office or the programs Skadeen Public Interest Fellows have chosen to pursue with their award. The simple proposal here is that the voice and offense of a few in the community not be elevated to the point where it is allowed to shut off the sentiments of the many again, especially without notice or opportunity to be heard.
So after all of that, I’d like to say the following. I commend our President for recognizing the error of his originally chosen tactic of dealing with the issue raised to him by 5 of our community of 43 fellow editors. It is often difficult to admit to a large group of people that you have made a mistake. However, it should have been apparent from the start that silencing one point of view was not the appropriate response to complaints from a distinct minority of editors, without considering how such an action would look and feel to the rest of the body. As is evidenced by his apologetic email, I assume that the offense created was greater than the offense avoided, which is usually the case when you try to silence one point of view in a debate to advance another.
Obviously the proposals outlined in this letter are ridiculous (save for that accompanying number 3), but so is, I would propose, the creation of separate email lists to accommodate those who are offended by certain congratulatory messages. If I am offended by “public interest” congratulatory messages, is our President going to create a special list for me? Of course not; that would be unreasonable. Am I offended by some of the things I have listed above? Of course I am, but I am not seriously advocating that either of the first two be adopted.
I put up with the Supreme Court office’s decorations because [redacted2] and [redacted1] were elected to chair that office and they reached a compromise. I just smile and nod when people assert that they are “fighting injustice” with the implication that I am either ignorant (at best) or some sort of injustice-loving bigot (at worst) for my conservative views because the people who say those things have just as much right to be in Gannett as I do by virtue of their selection onto the Review. I’d even put up with it if our President decided that he would simply stop announcing Supreme Court clerkships altogether if he thought they were of little value to the community. Of course, absent further restrictions on our email list, other editors would of course be allowed to pass along the information.
But do we really want it to come to that point, where use of our list is limited because our seemingly innocuous messages might offend people? While we should all strive to conduct ourselves in our interactions such that we do not unnecessarily offend each other, I submit to you that when we have reached the point where we have to disaggregate our email list or severely restrict its use in our efforts to avoid what seem like slight offenses, we have reached a point where “community” in the broad sense is impossible and all that we can achieve is fragmentation. I hope this is not the road upon which we are now traveling.
Respectfully an Offended Editor,

(hidden for your protection)

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