Advising the Advisors

U.S. Supreme Court Building. Photo by Duncan Lock.

"Any law professor who does not get asked to sign 'scholars' briefs'," Richard Fallon observes, "is not much of a scholar." A professor in constitutional law at Harvard Law School, Fallon considers the ethical implications for legal scholars of participating in scholarly briefs in his article, "Scholars' Briefs and the Vocation of a Law Professor."

In briefs of this kind, scholars draw on both their legal knowledge and their perceived objectivity to provide support to one side of an argument before a court. Scholars may write the briefs themselves, but often they are sought out by one party or the other to endorse an already-written brief.

In his article, Prof. Fallon suggests that his colleagues ought to consider exercising some restraint when it comes to these documents: "Law professors often should say no, or at least we should say no much more frequently than many of us now do. And when we say yes—as we should sometimes—we should insist that scholars' briefs reflect higher norms of scholarly integrity than many such briefs now satisfy."