Why Was Barack Obama Elected President of the Harvard Law Review?
It is not clear to me how Barack Obama was elected president of the Harvard Law Review. The previous president, Peter Yu, is quoted by the New York Times (2-6-90) saying that Mr. Obama's election ''was a choice on the merits, but others may read something into it.'' Mr. Yu doesn't spell out Mr. Obama's merits or the requirements for the office of president, and the NYT (2-6-90) only explains how the rules worked in 1990 for electing the HLR editors:
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...
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.
Note again that the New York Times article did not explain the rules that governed the election of the president in 1990; The Times only explained the rules that governed how the editors were elected.
President-elect Barack Obama's 1995 memoir Dreams From My Father is a very well-written book; so perhaps Obama had superior grades and wrote a superior essay.
Still, we actually don't know why the editors elected Mr. Obama. In fact, the writer Jack Cashill believes that Mr. Obama is not a particularly accomplished writer and that the Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers had a hand in writing the young Obama's Dreams From My Father. The Weather Underground bombed Americans, trained in Cuba, and tried to overthow the United States by force.
In the preface of his 2004 edition, Mr. Obama wrote:
ALMOST A DECADE HAS passed since this book was first published [in 1995]. As I mention in the original introduction, the opportunity to write the book came while I was in law school, the result of my election [in 1990] as the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. In the wake of some modest publicity, I received an advance from a publisher and went to work with the belief that the story of my family, and my efforts to understand that story, might speak in some way to the fissures of race that have characterized the American experience, as well as the fluid state of identity---the leaps through time, the collision of cultures---that mark our modern life.
Like most first-time authors, I was filled with hope and despair upon the book’s publication---hope that the book might succeed beyond my youthful dreams, despair that I had failed to say anything worth saying.
Nowhere does Barack Obama's book identify his qualifications for being elected president of the HLR. Did he have superior grades? Was his writing competition superior?
I looked up the current process for election to the Harvard Law Review:
Membership in the Harvard Law Review is limited to second- and third-year law students who are selected on the basis of their performance on an annual writing competition. Harvard Law School students who are interested in joining the Review must write the competition at the end of their 1L year, even if they plan to take time off during law school or are pursuing a joint degree and plan to spend a year at another Harvard graduate school. Students who spend their 1L year at other law schools and are applying to transfer to HLS must write the competition in the spring before they enter HLS as 2Ls. (More specific information for prospective transfer students can be found here.)
In recent years, the number of students completing the competition has ranged from 200 to 255. Between 41 and 43 students are invited to join the Review each year.
Fourteen editors (two from each 1L section) are selected based on a combination of their first-year grades and their competition scores. Twenty editors are selected based solely on their competition scores. The remaining editors are selected on a discretionary basis. Some of these discretionary slots may be used to implement the Review's affirmative action policy.
The competition consists of two parts. The subcite portion of the competition, worth 40% of the competition score, requires students to perform a technical and substantive edit of an excerpt from an unpublished article. The case comment portion of the competition, worth 60% of the competition score, requires students to describe and analyze a recent U.S. Supreme Court or Court of Appeals decision. You may view a video recording of a 2008 presentation explaining the contents of the competition here. (You will need Real Player 10 to view the video.) [See full article.]
That page also only explains how editors are elected. I assume that current editors elect the new members.