NEWS 2012

Examining America's Elite Lawyers

More ties yield greater policymaking leverage for Republicans


Heinz Political Diagram

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Recent research by IPR legal scholar John Heinz and his co-authors indicates that lawyers active in conservative politics are better organized to seek legislative goals than are liberal lawyers. Republicanleaning Super PACs attract more money than Democratic ones, of course, but money is not the whole story. Networks and organizations matter.

In the study, the three researchers examined the organizational and professional ties for 1,149 lawyers in 119 organizations between 2004 and 2005. The lawyers occupied prominent posts in the organizations and were involved in legislation or litigation on 14 national policy issues ranging from guns and judicial nominations to abortion and gay rights.

The analysis revealed a “donut-shaped” network sharply divided by party, with the conservatives packed together on one side and the liberals spread out on the other. Also notable is the big hole in the middle of the network.

“I think a lot of people believe there are actors in politics who are at the center of things, and these people are pulling all of the strings and calling all the shots,” Heinz said. “We don’t see that.”

John Heinz
John P. Heinz

What the researchers do see, however, is how the density of network ties and connections matter.

“The greater integration on the conservative side of the network means they are better able to coordinate their agenda so that they can have concerted action on a particular strategy,” Heinz explained.

He noted that conservative umbrella groups like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation serve to increase interactions among those lawyers. Coalitions like this are less effective on the left.

“The Democrats tend to pursue their own, individual issues instead of cooperating with other organizations in a broader liberal agenda,” Heinz said. “In this analysis, you can see that the Republicans have a much more integrated political structure than the Democrats.”

Money is another game changer.

“There’s more money on the Republican side. That’s where business is,” Heinz pointed out. “There are financial stakes riding on the outcomes of the legislation and policies that the business community is seeking. They have a considerable incentive to organize and elect public officials who will be sympathetic to their views. One of the things that money will buy is organization.”

Paik, A., J.P. Heinz, and A. Southworth. Political lawyers: The structure of a national network. Law & Social Inquiry 36(4): 892—918.