Via @pointoflaw, I learned of a recent column by Randy Cohen, who writes The Ethicist for The New York Times.

Last week, Cohen chose two inquiries:

While interviewing law students for jobs as paid summer interns and full-time associates for my firm, I noticed several had résumés listing their activities in the Federalist Society. Some of my partners have conservative views similar to those of the society, but I do not. These students’ politics would not affect their professional function, but my review is meant to consider their judgment and personality (though I don’t need to give reasons for the assessments given). May I recommend not hiring someone solely because of his or her politics?


I am a doctor. A hospital physician asked me to care for a notorious medical-malpractice attorney whose cases include “birth injury.” My wife is a pediatrician who has been sued. She was utterly innocent and the case was dropped, but the experience was devastating. I refused to accept this patient, partly because of my wife’s history, partly for fear that he might turn around and sue me someday and partly because I could never look at him impartially. Now I feel guilty. Thoughts?

Legal Ethics Forum rounds up some legal blogger reactions to the first inquiry.

The inquiries are awfully similar to one another. As noted by the article, the law firm had more qualified applicants than it could accept, and the potential patient was able to secure other medical treatment. It’s a big world out there; you are not everyone’s keeper.

Thus, Cohen had a simple answer for both:

If you simply take a dislike to someone — he’s a blowhard; she’s whiner — and cannot rise above those feelings, then you may honorably turn those folks away. It is not foolish to want your workday free from intimate interactions with people you detest.

Oops, my mistake: that should have been Cohen’s simple answer for both.

Instead, that answer was solely for the doctor, who was free not to treat the trial lawyer because the doctor’s political beliefs — i.e., his views on patient’s right to recover for damages caused by medical malpractice — differed from the trial lawyer’s.

Not so for the law firm. No, when it comes to Federalist Society members:

Is it your position that only people who share your politics should be allowed to make a living? … I am tempted to believe that those whose politics differ from mine lack “judgment and personality” and taste in clothes and finesse on the dance floor. But this proposition is unsupportable. As to judgment: politics is famously a subject about which honorable people differ. … You must abandon your mini-McCarthyism and cease denying employment to those you deem politically misguided.

Cohen apparently didn’t even see any conflict between the advice he gave the lawyer and the advice he gave doctor, and doesn’t bother to defend the contradiction.

Which leaves us to speculate: What does Cohen think is the material difference between the two inquiries?

One possible answer: Cohen believes Federalist Society members and trial lawyers should be subject to special rules. Federalist Society members’ political beliefs are good, trial lawyers’ political beliefs are bad.

End of story.

Some ethics.