At least a dozen law schools have canceled classes Nov. 3 and are encouraging students to volunteer on election matters.
By Karen Sloan | October 29, 2020
Hundreds of law students won’t be heading to campus Nov. 3 or logging into classes via Zoom.
A growing number of law schools across the country have canceled classes on Election Day in order to facilitate voting and give students the opportunity to do election-related volunteer work. At least two dozen schools won’t be holding classes Nov. 3, and for many it’s the first time that they have made Election Day an official holiday. Just a handful of school canceled classes on Election Day in 2016.
Stanford Law School this year adopted a new policy of not holding classes on Election Day in even-numbered years. This year, dozens of students are volunteering with the Healthy Elections Project, which is a nonpartisan joint venture between Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that aims to ensure the 2020 election is both safe and fair.
“Whatever one’s partisan affiliation, elections are at the heart of democracy and as a law school, we have a particular interest in promoting participation in civic life by our students,” reads a message on Stanford Law’s website. “While the need for poll workers is particularly acute this year because many older poll workers are unable to serve because of the pandemic, in general engagement in support of the election process is something to be encouraged.”
Law schools aren’t the only corner of the legal profession that are observing Election Day as a holiday. Many major law firms are also giving lawyers and staff the day off.
It’s likely that even more law schools would have canceled classes on Election Day if not for the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some law schools started the fall semester earlier than usual in a push to wrap up classes before the Thanksgiving break or move them online, making it more difficult to forego a day of instruction.
Columbia Law School is among the campuses that have made Election Day a holiday for the first time. Students will spend the day manning voter hotlines, monitoring polls, and serving as poll workers. University of California, Irvine School of Law Dean Song Richardson said this summer that the school’s decision not to hold classes Nov. 3—a first—will allow students “to fully engage in the democratic process and participate in related UCI Law activities.”
At the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, students successfully lobbied to make Election Day a holiday from classes, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky told students in an email message earlier this month. Student activism has been crucial to the adoption of Election Day as a holiday at law schools. In 2016, the chapters of the American Constitution Society and the Federalist Society at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law joined forces to push for a cancellation of classes on Election Day. They then dubbed Election Day a “Day of Civic Service.” The American Constitution Society now has an online blueprint for law students who want to lobby their school administrations to make Election Day a holiday from classes.
“Establishing an election day cancellation initiative and day of civic service allows members of the law school community to take the time to vote, deepen their knowledge around elections, and gain clinical legal experience assisting their communities,” the blueprint reads.
New York Law School is yet another school that has for the first time canceled classes on Election Day. Not only that, but it is planning to ramp up communication with students and affinity groups during and after the election and providing opportunities for students to share their feelings about the election in a bid to support them.
“As always, New York Law School encourages all community members to exercise their right to vote,” said law Dean Anthony Crowell on Thursday. “For the first time this year, we will not be holding classes on Election Day in recognition of several factors: the valuable learning and service opportunities offered by poll working and poll watching, the long lines at polling places, the challenges of social distancing and the different time zones of the many students attending classes remotely. Similarly, our staff has been given the day off to vote and for other civic engagement.”
Among the other law schools that are not holding classes Nov. 3 are: the University of Miami School of Law; Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law; the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law; Boston University School of Law; the University of Illinois College of Law; Loyola Law School, Los Angeles; the University of Illinois at Chicago John Marshall Law School; the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law; and Wayne State University Law School.