One of the big areas of legal scholarship today involves study of the expressive function of law: how does an action or a rule symbolically articulate a particular position? Well, come January 2009, law professors will have a fine opportunity to experience expressivism first hand, as they select their conference hotel. Will they choose the pro-gay marriage Marriott or the anti-gay marriage Hyatt? Will they pick the pro-free ideas Hyatt or the anti-free ideas Marriott? Let me explain...
Some of you have been following the hot debate about the Legal Writing Institute's decision to boycott the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, when the Association of American Law Schools annual conference rolls into town this January. The owner of the Hyatt, Douglas Manchester, has donated substantial money to support a referendum repealing gay marriage in California. The LWI viewed the use of the Hyatt as a violation of its non-discrimination policy. The AALS has contracts with both the Hyatt and the nearby Marriott for both rooms and meeting space, and it has been ruminating how to respond to these pressures.
As both Paul Horowitz notes, the AALS has all but conceded to the LWI on the issue. While the 2009 law teachers' conference will be hosted by both the Grand Hyatt and the Marriott in San Diego, the AALS has exercised their contractual option "to hold all AALS events at the Marriott to ensure the maximum participation by our members." Presumably, this means that the Hyatt will lose both rental fees and, more importantly, food service revenues. And since it has given over a huge block of rooms to the AALS, it seems unlikely that it will find another large renter to use these facilities or services. Of course, this all seems entirely kosher under the contracts. If the Hyatt hadn't been willing to accept that possibility, it would presumably have demanded different terms.
What's interesting to me, however, is that this conference will feature a major signalling opportunity for attendees. The very act of staying at the Hyatt may be seen - particularly among members of the LWI, for instance - as staking out a political position...either on the referendum itself or the propriety of using a boycott. And I imagine that those commentators highly exercised by the very notion of the boycott, as well as those who support a ban on gay marriage, will choose to stay at the Hyatt. Some progressive folks might not particularly care about the issue, but they'll stay at the Marriott so as not to rile up their more opinionated friends. I suspect that the Marriott will book first; where will the progressive overflow flow? (One good idea: the Hotel Solamar.) One thing is for sure: hotel choice is now in play as a means of (ambiguously) staking out a political position. Hotel choice will be on peoples' minds. Taking a leaf from Eric Muller's book (academic subscription required), perhaps everyone should simply wear a hat stating their hotel choice.
Of course, there is a bit of an irony here, as all the social lefties flock to a hotel chain started and run by a member of the not-so-liberal Church of Latter Day Saints. Then again, the Marriott is a major pornographer, at least according to one conservative Christian activist group. Damn it's hard to signal clearly!