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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Boycott at AALS?

I'm vacationing in British Columbia (beautiful!) and was, for much of the last week, camping and climbing on Mt. Rainier (I am disappointed to say that I failed to summit this year), so I've been for a while under the closest thing one can get these days to a news blackout.  I recently emerged, though, to learn that "[o]rganizations representing thousands of legal educators say they will boycott the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting in January if it is held at a San Diego hotel owned by a foe of same-sex marriage."  (Go here and here for some Mirror of Justice posts on the issue.) 

It appears that the concern animating the threatened boycott is not that the hotel discriminates against gays and lesbians; it is, instead, that the hotel's owner -- described by the National Law Journal as a "devout Catholic" -- donated money to support California's Proposition 8.  In the Journal story, Villanova's Louis Sirico, "chairman of the AALS Section on Legal Writing, Research and Reasoning, said that if the AALS does not move the meeting, his group will not attend events at the hotel.   'It's a matter of principle,' he said. 'We just don't believe in this kind of discrimination.'"

But again, it does not appear that the hotel -- or its owner, for that matter -- has actually engaged in any "kind of discrimination"; the owner, instead, has expressed (through financial contributions) support for a political measure, which Prof. Sirico and others believe to be discriminatory.  Should the distinction matter?  Perhaps not. 

What should we make of this particular threatened boycott?  If I had a relatively easy way of avoiding doing business with people I thought were nasty or malevolent, I suppose I would.  (Would I, if it were possible without too much inconvenience, avoid doing business with, say, large donors to NARAL Pro-Choice America, or some other group whose agenda I oppose?  Should I?  I'm not sure -- my efforts to not buy goods "made in China" have all been pathetic failures.)  And, I suppose that many people believe that the view the owner has expressed provides at least some evidence that he is someone with whom they ought not to do business.  Or, is something else going on?  That is, is it not so much that those threatening the boycott are seeking to avoid the taint that comes with associating themselves with the owner (and his views), but are instead seeking to express, through the boycott vehicle, as well as more conventional speech-vehicles, their own views, i.e., contrary views to the owner's?  Is it problematic, at all, that it is likely that at least some of the members of the various organizations discussed in the Journal story do not, in fact, object strongly to meeting at the hotel?

Posted by Rick Garnett on August 5, 2008 at 05:16 PM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I read of a boycott by some groups of the AALS’s annual meeting of law professors: (HT Garnett, who links to a Mirror of Justice debate): The groups object to holding the annual meeting at the San Diego Manchester Grand [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 5, 2008 7:50:48 PM


I have little to no sympathy for the thinking behind such "boycotts." If ideological purity demands that we refrain from doing any business with someone who has done something we don't like--even when, as in this case, that "something" is one of the clearest examples of protected speech under our constitutional scheme--then we won't do business with anyone at all.

An example: a few years ago, students at my university successfully got the Taco Bell franchise replaced with Burger King, because Taco Bell apparently used "unfair" labor practices in harvesting its tomatos. Practically, I'm in favor of the change because I hate Taco Bell and BK's Spicy Chicken sandwiches are way tasty for $1. But theoretically, this strikes me as completely silly. The same pickers probably sell to Sysco, and as Sysco sells food to just about everybody, this means you can't eat food period. Plenty of companies give monies to both sides of the aisle on a regular basis. It's called "hedging your bets." Refusing to admit the reality and utility of this fact due to ideological inflexibility just comes off as childish: it's a publicly demonstrative way of having your say and boosting your ideology brownie points, but it frequently has little if anything to do with the real world that people happen to live in.

Villanova is having a little temper tantrum. Fine. The hotel won't go under if it loses them.

Posted by: Ryan Davidson | Aug 8, 2008 2:33:41 PM

Considering that AALS has a non-discrimination policy, I don't see a reason for a full vote. Rather if the organizers believe that having the meeting at the hotel conflicts with their non-discrimination policy, then they should change the venue.

Posted by: NYesq | Aug 6, 2008 4:52:20 PM

Silenced Catholic, who has "silenced" you? The Church does not deny LGB individuals the right to participate in civil society--instead it opposes both the secularization of those matters where it sees a Sacramental interest (i.e., marriage) and the creation of a culture where convenience and personal will matter more than concern for others (i.e. abortion, death penalty, lack of compassion for the poor).

Even the Catechism does not teach that homosexuality, in itself, is a sin--it is any sex outside of marriage that is sinful. True, the Church calls on gays to be chaste, but if that is an effort at "silencing" people, then the Church is silencing every 15 year old on Earth.

You can disagree with the Church, but don't bandy about red herrings to shift the discussion from this hotelier's personal views to a general "Catholicism is wrong for having the views it has" conversation.

Posted by: Certainly no Apologist | Aug 6, 2008 9:15:36 AM

Perhaps when members of the Catholic hierarchy stop boycotting people like Doug Kmiec, those dismayed by the hierarchy's mistreatment of LGB people will stop boycotting those who support it. Seriously, this is a big human rights issue. And the sooner intellectuals in the church have the courage to be like Michael Perry and frankly acknowledge how tragically wrong the higher-ups are, the more chance we have that some grace will permit a reversal of groundless "othering" of people. If the church denies certain people full participation in civic life for no intelligible reason, how can it be heard to complain when it's treated the same way?

Posted by: Silenced Catholic | Aug 6, 2008 1:28:52 AM


Obviously we need to boycott the AALS until the leadership answers them!

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 5, 2008 9:04:38 PM

Great questions. But how do we force the AALS leadership to answer them?

Posted by: Steve Bainbridge | Aug 5, 2008 6:41:55 PM

In Michigan, there is a meat company that makes some of the best hot dogs I've ever eaten. I discovered the company is a major contributor to various tort "reform" organizations, so I no longer buy their products. I don't want my money, in any way, being used to support an agenda I'm opposed to. So I "suffer" by eating inferior hot dogs. That choice only affects me.

Presumably, the choice not to use this hotel will affect everyone attending the AALS conference. Some will be affected negatively because the event will be at a more inconvenient/not as nice/more expensive/something else bad hotel. Others may support Prop 8, and won't want to be associated with a group that opposes it. It seems to me that the responsible thing to do is for the AALS to put it to a vote and let the members decide whether to hold it there or not.

Posted by: Justinian Lane | Aug 5, 2008 5:49:03 PM

There's also a discussion of this over at the Legal Ethics Forum: http://legalethicsforum.typepad.com/blog/2008/08/the-threatened.html

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 5, 2008 5:41:13 PM

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