Obama and the Bluebook

December 10th, 2013

Derek Muller, noting that the significant 15th edition of the Bluebook was released during Barrack Obama’s helm as President of the Harvard Law Review, asks whether Obama’s “greatest contribution to legal scholarship was the Bluebook”?

I heard from someone who was on the Review at the time that it was Kenneth Mack, now-Harvard LawProf, who spearheaded to edits to the 15th Edition of the Bluebook. Mack wrote this article on about the Law Review when the President was president, titled, “The Obama Phenomenon: How Past and Present Resonate.”

Here are Mack’s comments on the election of Obama as President:

The African American editors had been strategizing to elect one of our own to the presidency for several years, and it was not an easy task. Being on the law review was the most race-conscious experience of my life, and race-based attitudes and prejudices crossed political and ideological lines among the law students comprising its staff. Many of the white editors were, consciously or unconsciously, distrustful of the intellectual capacities of African American editors or authors, and simply being taken seriously as an intellectual was often an uphill battle. Yet, a black editor, Crystal Nix (now Crystal Nix-Hines, a Hollywood screenwriter) had won election to a high editorial post the year before and with that precedent, four black editors threw their hats in the ring for the election to the presidency in the winter of 1990. Seventeen editors eventually decided to run for the position.

There were many elements involved in Barack’s eventual victory, but the one moment that stands out to me was a vote, taken among the editors a few weeks before the election, that divided liberals and progressives from conservatives among the editorial staff. The law review, like America today, was sometimes bitterly divided along political lines, although there the liberals and progressives were in the clear majority. We argued about everything from affirmative action to the politics of legal scholarship. The conservatives lost this particular vote and many of us, myself included, were inclined to talk no further with them about it. Yet Barack followed up the vote by publicly offering to discuss the issue further and to find common ground with the conservatives, while seeming to empathize with their views. Not everyone on the winning side agreed with that tactic, but it paid dividends. I remember vividly a moment during the presidential election when a conservative editor who I had never known to support a black editor or a black author rose to pledge his firm support behind Barack, who everyone knew was a liberal-progressive.

Barack, of course, won the election handily with an incredibly broad range of supporters. It was a moment of triumph that crossed racial and political lines, as well as about every other demographic line among the editors. When Barack walked into the room where the election took place to accept the results, I was the first to greet him and the two of us hugged for several minutes. Tears rolled down both of our faces, as well as those of many in attendance. I was among the large group of candidates whom Barack had trounced in the election, and I believe that had our positions been reversed, the empathy that I had seen so often would have induced Barack to do the same thing for me.