Lawyers, Politics, and the "Lawyers' Interest": An Historical Inquiry
James Wice Gordon
Western New England University School of Law
December 21, 2011
Journal of the Legal Profession, Vol. 9, p. 5, 1984
The assumption that the occupational identification of "lawyer" is the salient feature in evaluating political motivation is interesting, if questionable, according to the Author. Does occupational identity overwhelm other identities? Are politically active lawyers really a homogeneous group? Are they less affected by competing identities associated with wealth, geography, familial and constituency concerns, political ideology, party considerations, or any of the myriad other sources of public and private motivation of behavior? Surely the hypothesis that politically active lawyers behave differently from nonlawyers is worth investigating. This Article offers some preliminary responses to these questions posed, which are grounded in empirical research. The completed first stage of the project, with which this Article is concerned, entailed the intensive examination of the behavior of lawyers in a self-contained legislative body. The Author chose the state constitutional convention held in Kentucky in 1849. The Author states that whether political lawyers acted together, capturing and shaping the substantive public policy of mid-nineteenth century Kentucky, may seem a small matter. However, the broad question concerning the impact of the legal profession on our institutions and society, addressed here in the Kentucky setting, is not. Given the ubiquity of lawyers in American life and politics, the question surely deserves more serious attention from legal historians than it has hitherto received. A definitive answer to the question whether a "lawyer's interest" has existed-or perhaps still exists-and has seriously influenced our public life in support of particular groups or for its own benefit, must await further research. However, armed with the new tools of the social sciences we are today better able than ever before to undertake the empirical research which is necessary in order to offer a response.
Keywords: politically active lawyers, lawyers, politics, legal profession
Date posted: December 22, 2011