Boycotting AALS

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There is quite a debate in the blogosphere about boycotting AALS events next January at the Manchester Grand Hyatt because the owner of that hotel has donated money in support of Proposition 8, which would add a ban on same-sex marriage to the California Constitution. (Paul Caron at Tax Prof  has collected links to a number of the posts and pieces on the boycott.) While I certainly oppose Mr. Manchester’s views and have sympathy for those intending to boycott, I am not convinced that a boycott of the hotel is the best way of going about showing my disagreement with Mr. Manchester’s support of Proposition 8.

Months ago, I committed to participate in the AALS Tax Section’s panel this coming January and to participate in the tax break-out session of the AALS Section on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity’s full-day program on sexual orientation and gender identity across the curriculum. I plan to honor both of those commitments. If it turns out that I will be speaking in the Manchester Grand Hyatt, so much the better. It seems quite appropriate to have a full day of programs on sexual orientation and gender identity issues at Mr. Manchester’s hotel to help draw attention to the ways in which his views adversely impact the LGBT community. The section simply could not have picked a better place to highlight the importance of its full-day program.

Moreover, on the tax panel, I will be presenting a paper that I have been working on that argues that the federal and state defense of marriage acts (including the one that Mr. Manchester supports) are a tax on lesbian and gay families. As a tax, I argue that the DOMAs are subject to challenge under constitutional restrictions on the taxing power and, where those challenges are unavailable or unavailing, provide same-sex couples grounds for arguing that a robust notion of tax equity requires that the tax imposed by the DOMAs must be taken into account in determining the justness of the overall tax burden.

To my mind, participating in such events at the Manchester Grand Hyatt is a better way of expressing disagreement with—and, in keeping with our role as legal educators, of educating others about the effects of—Mr. Manchester’s views than boycotting his hotel.

-Tony Infanti  

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0 Responses to Boycotting AALS

  1. ebuz says:

    While I agree with Professor Infanti about the symbolic value of holding our panel on Mr. Manchester’s property, the problem I have is that, assuming the boycott is still going on in January, we might have to actually cross a picket line to do it. Personally, I cannot bring myself to undermine the unions who are giving up so much to stand in solidarity with us.

    -Erin Buzuvis

  2. Tony Infanti says:

    I guess I don’t see how it is that one group’s choice to express disagreement with Mr. Manchester’s views by picketing in front of the hotel prevents others from engaging in simultaneous, but different expressions of disagreement with those views. It would seem that multiple forms of protest would be more effective than a single form of protest. This approach recognizes that different people have different strengths to bring to the table in protesting. Unions have a long history of picketing as a form of protest, while educators have a history of teach-ins to educate their students and others about an issue. What about the two is incompatible? In other words, why not engage in both at the same time?

  3. Theodore Seto says:

    If the boycott is successful, the number of major organizations that will book the Manchester Grand Hyatt for conferences in the future will drop substantially. (The AALS certainly never will.) Mr. Manchester will then have to choose between sponsoring nasty laws and making money.

    If the boycott fails, the credibility of organizations who are attempting to lead in this area — SALT in particular — will be compromised. Who will care what SALT has to say if even Tony Infanti ignores them?

    I understand where you’re coming from, Tony, but this time I think you’re wrong.

  4. Tony Infanti says:

    Ted,

    I would like to respond to your comment and expand on my post a bit here. At the outset, I would point out that it is notoriously difficult to determine the effect of a boycott, which makes gauging either success or failure an uncertain enterprise. But, even so, the important question that your comment raises is what the purpose of AALS’ joining the boycott would be. Before delving into this question, I would note that there have been no allegations that I am aware of that Mr. Manchester discriminates against lesbians and gay men; the debate has revolved entirely around his decision to donate $125,000 in support of Proposition 8.

    So, then, is the purpose of the AALS’ joining the boycott to change Mr. Manchester’s views on same-sex marriage? In my opinion, coercion (including economic coercion) is both an ineffective and unseemly means of changing someone’s opinion. Persuasion is a more appropriate means of changing opinions.

    Or, is the purpose to punish Mr. Manchester for having expressed a political opinion? I do not think that it is appropriate to punish individuals for expressing their opinions (however much I may disagree with them), and I certainly do not think it appropriate for the AALS–a non-partisan organization comprised of law schools dedicated (at least implicitly) to perpetuating our democracy and the rule of law–to stifle political debate on controversial issues about which reasonable people can differ.

    In addition, if the AALS were to move the venue and, therefore, to take a side in this debate–a debate that, I would add, does not directly relate to its mission of improving the legal profession through legal education–I wonder what action the AALS would next be urged to take against, for example, BYU Law School. BYU Law is both affiliated with the Mormon Church and a member school of AALS. The Mormon Church has been a loud supporter of Proposition 8, and has publicly urged its members to give of their time and money to see that it is passed. If the AALS were to punish Mr. Manchester for his support of Proposition 8, wouldn’t it be even more appropriate for the AALS to punish one of its member schools for expressing the same opinion? Furthermore, don’t forget that boycotts are a two-way street. If the AALS were to boycott the Manchester Grand Hyatt, I would not be surprised when, a year or two (or more) from now, a group of religious law schools/professors demands that the AALS boycott another hotel because of the political views of one of its owners (e.g., in support of LGBT rights on the ground that these views conflict with their freedom of religion).

    Or, is the purpose of the boycott simply for the AALS to disassociate itself from Mr. Manchester and his views? It is entirely appropriate for individuals to decide that they would rather not contribute to the pot of money that Mr. Manchester uses to express and further his political views. I myself will certainly choose to stay at a different hotel so that my money does not go to him. But, what about the AALS? Given that its decision to use the Manchester Grand Hyatt predated knowledge of Mr. Manchester’s support of Proposition 8 (and I would be surprised if the AALS would have chosen this hotel as a conference venue if it were faced with knowledge of the boycott in advance–I’m sure that they would have opted to avoid any controversy), I believe that the AALS could defensibly decide not to change the conference venue for the reasons described in the previous paragraph. In retrospect, I wonder whether it wouldn’t have been wiser for SALT and other organizations to attempt to raise the consciousness of individual faculty members about the boycott, urge them to consider not staying at the hotel, and then request the AALS to ameliorate the situation by including a program representing both sides of the debate that was open to the public (i.e., to the entire San Diego community) to educate them about these issues. It is along these lines that I wrote my post.

  5. Theodore Seto says:

    Tony,

    You make many points, not all of which I fully understand.

    No one, to my knowledge, is suggesting that AALS”join the boycott.”(I certainly am not.) The problem is that most of what you, I, and other attendees send to AALS as annual meeting registration fees will end up in Mr. Manchester’s pocket. I am simply unwilling to have my money end up there. Others may be as well.

    You characterize Mr. Manchester’s decision as to how to spend his money as”speech”and defend it. You characterize my decision as to how to spend my money as”coercion”and condemn it. Surely you cannot mean this.

    You suggest that if AALS were to change the venue of its annual meeting, consistency would require that it take unspecified actions against BYU. This is not so. No significant portion of any money I send to AALS ends up in BYU’s pocket.

    You suggest that it will not be possible to determine whether the boycott has been successful. This is not so either. If the AALS and other major organizations become reluctant to book major events at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, the boycott will have been as successful as anyone might reasonably hope.

    You characterize the question of whether lesbians and gay men should be allowed to marry as a”controversial issue about which reasonable people can differ.”I am not clear why this is relevant to whether I should spend my money in ways that will end up in the pocket of someone on the other side of the issue. In any event, I am not fully comfortable with your characterization of the issue. Clearly, gay marriage is controversial and is an issue about which people do differ. So was slavery in 1850. So was interracial marriage in 1960. So is torture today. So what?

    You characterize the AALS as”a non-partisan organization comprised of law schools dedicated (at least implicitly) to perpetuating our democracy and the rule of law”and on this ground assert that the AALS should not take sides on any controversial issue. Please recall that I am not asserting that the AALS should take sides here. But in any event, I seriously doubt that the proposed boycott, no matter how successful, will destroy our democracy or undermine the rule of law.

    Finally, you warn that if I fail to register for this year’s annual meeting because of Mr. Manchester’s activities, someday some professor with different political views will decline to attend the AALS annual meeting because she perceives it to be unacceptable for other reasons. I have no doubt that this is already happening.

    I wish you well in your efforts to educate Mr. Manchester on this issue. I am less optimistic than you are, however, about the likelihood of success.

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