Law schools saw a ‘Trump Bump’ of female applicants during ex-president’s term. Will the overturning of Roe draw even more?

Published on: July 19, 2022 10:05 AM EDT|Updated on: July 19, 2022 3:41 PM EDT

7/8/22—Alexis Martinez, a third year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, poses for a portrait in the school’s library.

Alexis Martinez, a third-year student at the University of Baltimore School of Law, started her educational journey wanting to pursue a career in entertainment law. But the social climate that emerged during former President Donald Trump’s administration prompted her to shift her focus to civil rights, and women and minority advocacy in particular.

“Entertainment law made sense for me because I spent so much time in the industry,” said Martinez, 38, who worked as a professional makeup artist before switching her focus to law. “And perhaps I will get a chance to work in that field. However, at this point, the call is much stronger to protecting human rights.”

Now, weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ended what was close to a half-century of federal protections for abortion, Martinez knows that her energy as a lawyer will be needed more than ever.

“I plan on finding ways to shift my focus a little in light of Roe, though I’m still in the process of researching what firms and organizations would be a good fit,” said Martinez, of Canton. “I am — and always have been — very passionate about the right to bodily autonomy, and anything tied to human rights.”

Experts believe the highest court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, despite polls showing that a majority of Americans backed the landmark 1973 ruling, will continue a trend of women flocking to law schools.

Although the American Bar Association reports there’s been rising numbers of female law students since 2015, in 2016 — the year of Trump’s election — women began making up the majority of students enrolled in law schools in the nation. And Maryland has one of the largest percentages of female law students in the country: 61%, as of 2021. It’s also expected that Roe v. Wade will further affect the type of law that women will pursue and practice.

Paula A. Monopoli, a law professor at the University of Maryland’s Francis King Carey School of Law, predicted that the trend of women comprising the lion’s share of incoming law school students would continue. Women make up 69% of students enrolled in the University of Maryland’s law school. Monopoli also thinks law schools will continue to broaden their curriculum to reflect intersectionality and the contributions that women have made to the profession.

“That’s what we need — a whole generation of all our students equipped,” said Monopoli, who is also the founder of the Women, Leadership and Equality Program at the law school. “These are important equality issues for everyone. I do hope we see more women coming.”

Monopoli said she remembers discussing an increase in female law students after Trump took office in 2017, a day that was followed by massive nationwide protests of women. Candidate Trump had faced dozens of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, which he denied, and calls to drop out after a tape surfaced of him making crude remarks about women. He also had vowed to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, returning the question of whether abortion was legal to the states. He made good on that promise, nominating three judges, including Amy Coney Barrett, who would go on to become part of the 6-3 conservative majority on Roe.

“The number of women has been steadily increasing over the years,” she said. “We have seen an increase in women who are coming to Maryland who are saying it is our work in gender that has brought them there.”

Law schools have come a long way since Ruth Bader Ginsburg was famously among just nine women in a class of hundreds at Harvard Law School in the 1950s. The future Supreme Court justice transferred to Columbia Law School and graduated from there, tying for first in her class. Her death shortly before the 2020 election allowed Trump to nominate Barrett, cementing the court’s conservative majority.

According to the American Bar Association, women in 2020 made up 54.1% of law school students in the United States. This came six years after first-year female law students eclipsed their male counterparts for the first time. By 2016, women for the first time were a majority of all law school students, according to the American Bar Association.

An ABA spokeswoman declined to comment on the trend, stating that the association does not speak about “issues that call for speculation, especially on political or other ‘hot-button’ topics.”

Brian Fish, president of the Baltimore Lawyers Chapter of The Federalist Society, agreed that more women are going to law school and to pursue higher education in general.

But Fish added, “I don’t think the percentage of women going to school has anything to do with Donald Trump. The law school feminization has been trending that way in higher education for at least 10, 15, 20 years. I don’t think women are going to law school to be liberal advocates. I just see women trending more.”

Fish said that the legal society, which has played a major role in appointing conservative judges and Supreme Court justices in recent years, has not had a real presence at Maryland law schools “in years.” He cited what he considers their left-leaning philosophy.

“We have given up in trying,” he said. “University of Maryland law school is beyond a lost cause. University of Baltimore has drifted away.”

Although there is no evidence yet to show an increase in applications or gender-based enrollment at law schools based upon the highest court’s recent ruling on abortion rights, experts say that the “Trump Bump” — the belief that more women enrolled in law schools to challenge Trump’s policies and appointments — is real.

“We still believe the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election and his subsequent presidency drove many to apply to law school who might otherwise not have considered it,” said Jeff Thomas, the executive director of legal programs for Kaplan. “He is no longer in office, but we continue to believe the political climate in general can drive the number of law school applicants. We just have to wait and see how these latest Supreme Court rulings impact that.”

Thomas said recent court decisions “on issues like reproductive health and the Second Amendment might significantly impact who applies to law school and boost the number of applicants overall, similar to how Donald Trump’s 2016 win did, but it’s just too early to tell.”

At the University of Baltimore School of Law, where figures show that enrollment among women has exceeded that of men since Trump’s 2016 election, students and staff are already preparing for the fallout from the Roe reversal.

Anecdotally, staff and students say that Trump, his conservative Supreme Court picks and his policies have fueled the increases. Trump, who remains the subject of multiple investigations after his 2020 defeat, has signaled that he plans to run again in 2024.

“We definitely have students who are coming because of the assault on reproductive rights. They work in internships working on reproductive health care, abortion access. And they are planning to do that after they graduate,” said Margaret Johnson, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore School of Law and co-director of its Center on Applied Feminism. “That was their motivation to do that as a lawyer.”

Johnson, who has worked at the law school for the past 16 years, expects to see even greater interest in the Center on Applied Feminism when classes resume this fall.

“We are getting our preparations underway. We have a larger cadre of students then we had in the past. There are urgent needs that our students have and want. And we want to address that,” she said.

Alexandra Becnel, a 32-year-old Fells Point resident, is the current editor-in-chief of the University ofBaltimore Law Review. Becnel plans to encourage incoming editors to address the recent decisions of the high court and how they will affect people.

“I really want to encourage them to take on the disastrous things happening in the law,” said Becnel, who has a background as a private investigator. “I want them to use their time to speak to issues that impact people. It’s a unique opportunity to have a voice in the legal community … say something meaningful and to have a small impact.”

Although it is too early to see the long-term effects of Roe’s reversal, Becnel has already noticed classmates financially supporting mutual aid organizations and union-organizing to support efforts that fight the reversal.

“This is just the beginning. There are a lot more rights that we could lose,” she said. “We can’t be women looking out for women. It has to be people caring about every other person’s rights.”

Martinez, who is scheduled to graduate in December, is taking a few more courses this fall, including the school’s Immigrants Rights Clinic. She said she is eager to take the bar and start practicing law so that she can help “undo all the mess (Trump has) been at the helm of,” she said.

“We’re looking at a fight on a bunch of different fronts for people who are going to have a lot of rights stripped away,” she said. “We have to think about how people are being disenfranchised.”

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