Top scholars convene at Maryland Carey Law for annual ConLaw Schmooze

Maryland Carey Law hosted the world-renowned Maryland Constitutional Law Schmooze on March 6-7, bringing together leading scholars in the legal academy, political science, and political development.

This year, the schmooze topic was Groups and the Constitution, with sessions dedicated to Parties, Courts, and Elections; Groups and Constitutional History; Groups and the Culture Wars; and Groups and Prejudice. Prominent scholars present included Ariel Bendor, dean of the Department of Graduate Studies of Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv; Andy Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law and Political Science at Northwestern University; Julie Novkov, co-editor of the American Political Science Review; and Susan Burgess, chair-elect of the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association.

Begun in the 1980s by Georgetown (now Harvard) Law Professor Mark Tushnet, the schmooze found its permanent home at Maryland Carey Law when Professor Mark Graber, a long-time collaborator with Tushnet, went from alternating as organizer to taking on the role in full starting in 2003.

The gathering may have a long history, but it’s not a conventional conference. Instead of full-length papers, participants make 5-minute presentations, after which the discussion takes off with moderator duties bouncing from one commenter to the next.

The gathering is invitation only, with the coveted slots going to only around 25 scholars each year—plus their research assistants. But Graber emphasizes that one of the goals of the schmooze is for emerging researchers to get to share ideas with those at the top of their field.

“I don’t simply invite superstars,” says Graber. “A lot of people think that superstars are the ones who create movements. No, you create movements by cultivating new people and giving them a place at the table.”

So while top scholars from Princeton, Penn, University of Virginia, London School of Economics, and Maryland Carey Law are well represented, so too are graduate students from schools that are not as prominent.

Graber also prioritizes diversity when assembling the guest list, reporting that attendance is typically at least half women. He also actively seeks to include scholars of color.

As the name implies, the gathering has an informal feel, which welcomes lively discussion, and, essential for schmoozing, features lots of food. Schmoozers particularly look forward to the traditional Indian buffet at Baltimore’s historic Lexington Market, a visit to which has become an annual tradition.

Maybe the relaxed atmosphere has something to do with the productivity that emerges from the conference.

“Each year,” notes Graber, “we see a remarkable amount of scholarly work come out of the schmooze.”

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