July 23, 2008


Harvard Law Reviewed: Kicking down doors. (Elise O’Shaughnessy June 1990, Vanity Fair)

The new president of the Harvard Law Review was somewhat taken aback by the deluge of media coverage that followed hard on the heels of his election. The New York Times ran a “First Black” headline, which probably won’t be the last time that label is affixed to Barack Obama. The twenty-eight-year-old law student says he wasn’t going to run for the office until a black friend talked him into it. “There’s a door to kick down,” the friend argued, “and you’re in a position to kick it down.”

First Black Elected to Head Harvard's Law Review (FOX BUTTERFIELD, February 6, 1990, NY Times)
Mr. Obama was elected after a meeting of the review's 80 editors that convened Sunday and lasted until early this morning, a participant said.

Until the 1970's the editors were picked on the basis of grades, and the president of the Law Review was the student with the highest academic rank. Among these were Elliot L. Richardson, the former Attorney General, and Irwin Griswold, a dean of the Harvard Law School and Solicitor General under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.

That system came under attack in the 1970's and was replaced by a program in which about half the editors are chosen for their grades and the other half are chosen by fellow students after a special writing competition. The new system, disputed when it began, was meant to help insure that minority students became editors of The Law Review.

Harvard, like a number of other top law schools, no longer ranks its law students for any purpose including a guide to recruiters.

It's an honorary post rather than merit-based?

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 23, 2008 4:35 PM

Wow, that explains a lot.

I'd love to get a peak at his LSATs and grades . . .

Why do I get the sense that they'd be Kerry-esque? Or, even worse, like Gore's, who somehow managed to flunk Div School (though, to be, fair, if Vandy Div was like UChicago Div, belief in God might have been enough to get flunked).

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 23, 2008 5:09 PM

Good one, Jim. :-) From all indications, however, that would not have been a disqualifier for Gore.

Posted by: Jorge Curioso at July 23, 2008 5:14 PM

Fie, the coarse days when the media referred to African-Americans as "Blacks"!!!

Posted by: Twn at July 23, 2008 5:39 PM

From the Vanity Fair article:

The sense of mission derives in part from his experiences in the Third World. He saw brutal poverty while growing up in Singapore with his mother, an anthropologist, and his half-brothers and -sisters in Kenya still live hand to mouth at times. Obama says that his late father’s experience in the Kenyan government left him a broken and bitter man, and he responds warily to the assumption that he himself will run for office. “If I go into politics it should grow out of work I’ve done on the local level, not because I’m some media creation.” Though, as media creations go, he’d be a pretty good one.

Media creation! The press was tipping their hand back in 1990.

Posted by: pchuck at July 23, 2008 5:55 PM

Flunking doesn't mean much and Gore had high test scores.

Posted by: oj at July 23, 2008 7:20 PM

I dunno about Gore's scores, and maybe things were different in 72, but by the 90s getting a B was a bad grade at a top grad school, at least in the humanities/social sciences. B- was the equivalent of an F for undergrads. Which means no one flunked out of grad school, they just kind of got the message that they weren't going to progress and left.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at July 23, 2008 8:30 PM

while growing up in Singapore

I thought it was Indonesia. Or is this another example of all those omniscient fact checkers at work?

Harvard, like a number of other top law schools, no longer ranks its law students for any purpose including a guide to recruiters.

At Harvard law, everyone isn't just "above average", but they're in the "top ten percent", too!

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at July 24, 2008 7:32 AM
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