“Reality” and Justice

“Reality” as a Claim for Justice — by Beth Mertz

In these oddly jaded times within the social sciences, it is interesting how controversial a claim to be capturing “reality” can be.  Of course, this is not surprising.  One of the key jobs the social sciences can perform is to keep us from too easily accepting commonly accepted “truths” that are in fact false, or perhaps just very dubious or impossible to prove.  Even the very positivist field of forensic psychology at times sounds oddly postmodern in its denial of any fixed “truth” – we know a lot more about what can cause false identifications or memories than we know about accuracy, as if there are no accurate eyewitness identifications or memories of abuse.  Again, there is a good reason for some of this:  we now know that many people have been unjustly jailed, even sent to death row, based on false identifications and evidence.  At the same time, reading this literature, one sometimes feels a sense of vertigo, as if these hard-nosed empiricists have actually given up on there being any accurate memories or actual “reality” that happened at all – although of course, their own work depends on their own abilities to remember and code and identify some kind of empirical “reality” with accuracy – as does so much of the fabric of social life.

In the more qualitative areas of social science, as in my own home field of anthropology, this discomfort with identifying “truths” and fixed realities has reached high levels – again for very good reasons.  Too often the “realities” fixed by cross-cultural encounters have been based in the self-serving perceptions of Westerners engaged in colonial or post-colonial adventures designed to impose their norms (and profit-margins) on people with less power but much wisdom, so frequently ignored and lost in the transactions.  The realization that anthropology itself had been complicit in these impositions froze the field in its tracks in many ways, and plunged it into a sometimes-productive, sometimes-infuriating phase of epistemological questioning.  (I may be prejudiced, but I do think that this phase has left the field well-placed to help in the cross-cultural translation processes now becoming so ubiquitous in an era of concern with the “global.”)  Again I just note that while questioning is very important, if we generate only critique, we are unlikely to be able to contribute to activist attempts to improve the frequently very dismal situations being studied – and this ought to raise some ethical issues for us.

Moving then to law, that very applied arena of social studies, it is perhaps surprising to encounter yet more agnosticism about “reality” – and I can only repeat, once more for terrific reasons.  What other field has the awesome task of deciding the fate of accused human beings, of jailing them or even killing them?  In the hands of legal decision-makers can rest the fates of businesses and churches; of children, abused women, the wrongly accused, and the mentally ill.  When juries or judges find “facts,” on the way to making decisions, they are ringed around with procedures that limit the scope of their inquiries – in a sometimes successful, sometimes terribly wrongheaded effort to keep out factors that are deemed wrongly prejudicial or inflammatory, and so forth.  This means that the truth that emerges from legal decisions can never claim to be the “actual reality,” but only the “facts” as framed very particularly in this legal proceeding.

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Mission Matters: Tejani on For-Profit Legal Ed Exceptionalism

One important theme in New Legal Realism is the issue of legal educational reform, as seen in a number of past blog posts.  Like the original legal realists, our group worries about how to bring the “real world” into the law school classroom, and about how legal education is supporting and/or failing future generations of lawyers.  In this post, NLR blogger Riaz Tejani takes on the questions raised by today‘s for-profit law schools, asking whether we should be paying more attention to what is happening to the students in those schools.

Are We All For Profit?

“Go Home Law-Mart!” So proclaimed a short film released by the alumni association of Charleston School of Law when the corporate owner of three for-profit ABA law schools sought to acquire theirs as its fourth institution.  Although the proposed buyout was pretty noteworthy, equally sensational was the ensuing chorus of student, faculty and community voices against it.  Their collective action challenged a widespread view in higher education today that, when it comes to neoliberalism, everybody’s doing it.

Administrators at for-profit colleges and trade schools like to say ‘all schools are for-profit’.  All institutions, they argue, depend upon a net surplus of funding after salaries and operating costs are deducted.  Labels like “for-profit”, “not-for-profit”, and “nonprofit” should not, they stress, mislead people to impute greed on one side and charity on the other.  In the context of American law schools—cited widely as University “cash cows” for high tuition and relatively cheap operating costs—this suggestion is plausible.

But with thousands of student lives and millions in federal loan dollars at stake, claims dwelling in the semantics have been obscurantist.  This may be difficult to avoid: few can readily discover the day-to-day inner workings of a proprietary institution, much less a law school.  To properly understand how the for-profit movement is affecting legal education, deeper study will be useful. In my new study I have collected ethnographic observations of one of the six ABA-accredited “for profit” schools of law and, in the process, learned how little the equivalence based on surplus creation holds up.  The goal of institutions—their underlying purposes—influence everyday life and knowledge transmission therein.  In education, mission matters.

Among my informants, students describe with such passion the way their voices have been dismissed in the face of institutional (i.e.: local administrative, corporate and shareholder) objectives.  One recurring example has been protest over the firing of valued tenured professors, and the understanding that those were the most strident student advocates amid a recent wave of corporate-mandated curriculum change.  As people try to make sense of their own marginalization, power dynamics latent in corporate “for-profit” models becomes an unassailable explanation.  Those observations shed valuable light on the neoliberalization of higher learning in a sector most proximate to the New Legal Realism.  Do the rules taught and learned sound the same?  Are professional ethics communicated differently?  Are global citizenship and social justice conveyed as thoughtfully?  And is legal practice a means of serving carefully drawn policy goals or is it treated as an end in itself—a widget oriented quality control test for Six Sigma ninjas?  These questions reward careful field research.  But I wonder if the latter is even necessary to knowing whether, really, we are ‘all for-profit’.

If by profit one only means “benefit”, then closer study might be important to distinguish between types and magnitudes enjoyed by stakeholders.  But if by profit one means surplus—as do most of Merriam-Webster’s definitional bids, then I don’t think it is that complicated.   The question is not whether there remains a surplus at the end of the (school) day, but where that travels in the global web of financial linkages characterizing our era.  In the case of most public and private law schools, financial surplus remains either in the degree program, at the campus level, or in the university system that harbors these.  Students, whose above-cost tuition dollars help make up that surplus, should (in theory) see the value they helped generate accrue in facilities or cultural capital around them.  During times of austerity, those amounts still help to cover gaps at the local or relatively local level.

Under the for-profit model schools belong to global private equity firms whose managers have arranged capital commitments from institutional investors (often wealthier school endowments!) with guarantees of steady, sometimes lavish returns on investment.  This means two things.  First, surplus value generated at the local level is shipped off to equity investors on a regular basis.  Second, in times of fiscal austerity, this steady flow of high returns cannot be interrupted.  The risks of conducting the business—with its cycles of growth and austerity—shall be borne not by owners or administrators but by students. This may be just fine for some who feel, under a contract view of education, “you get what you pay for”.   But by likening themselves existentially to non-profit and not-for-profit institutions, for-profits obscure this unique allocation of risk.   They also render student transactions with themselves less than fully informed.  Exacerbating this is a deficiency of information about daily life in the schools.  Finally, though social media and word of mouth allow more data than ever to flow through student hands, law school is still something one experiences only once at only one institution, and comparative perspective for most students is of limited use post-matriculation.

For prospective students, however, transparency is of obvious value.  For them, benefits of enrollment in some of those schools—with part-time programs, non-traditional colleagues, solo-practice oriented instruction—might still be decisively attractive.  But those students should receive honest information about the risks involved, and the social (i.e. sociological) condition of for-profit legal ed.  With that they can decide for themselves whether and where their enrollment will be, within their own moral economies, truly “for-profit”.

Additional Conversation: Hajjar and Mertz Respond to Margulies

Joe Margulies: I view this as a very curious thing.  We all recognize that emotional attachments figure in the social construction of meaning, including in the meaning of legal texts.  Anyone who doubts that should read, as I did, the blogosphere’s reaction to the Hobby Lobby decision.  And we all recognize we have our own emotional attachments.  The net of those two observations is nothing so prosaic as to wonder whether it is possible to ignore our emotional attachments in the name of ‘objectivity'; I think that’s silly.  The more curious thing is that, in acceding to our emotions, we fall back on an embrace of the mythologized notion of law as above politics.  It’s as though that myth provided a kind of safe harbor for emotional (secular) aspirations.  So curious.

Lisa  Hajjar: I don’t have the same recollection of the LSA panel as one in which the participants expressed a die-hard fidelity to law, nor do I know if that “mythologized” view of law fits me or not–it might. But “me” from my own perspective likes the law for two main reasons: it provides a lens through which to judge the world (political in the sense of Kramer’s quote that you cite above), and it has the potential to do some very good harm (while also doing vast amounts of bad harm). For example, I am an enthusiast for a perpetrator-centered perspective on rights; rights laws are valuable for their potential/capacity to hurt rights violators. (See, for example, http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/247/a-meditation-on-the-importance-of-the-perpetrator-.) If anything, I would be an instrumentalist rather than an idealist.

Joe: I think that requires some unpacking before I really understand it.  I agree that rights laws have the potential to hurt rights violators.  So, as an example, I would point to a law that said, “Thou shall not refuse to serve African-Americans in your restaurant, and if you do, we’ll fine you $10,000 per incident,” and agree, that law has the potential to hurt rights violators.  But what we all know is that such a law has meaning and substance only in operation, and the gulf between what the law says on paper and what happens in real life is the gulf between myth and reality.  That gulf, I suppose, is captured by your qualifier word, “potential.”  The law has the potential to do good, like Brown v. Board had the potential to do good.  And my point is that, for emotional reasons, we attach ourselves to the myth of Brown rather than the reality; we attach ourselves to the myth of the torture memo rather than the reality, etc.  That’s one lesson I took from the LSA conference.

Lisa: My previous comment requires some repackaging. I am interested mainly in what we can call “the harder human rights”–torture, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. And it is to those matters especially that I formulate my affection for a perpetrator-centered perspective on rights and the good harm theory. Sure, racist discrimination is awful. But it is not “legally” the same as torture in that it is not comparably criminalized.  Joe, I have benefited so much from your work. But one way in which I invoke your work in my own is by arguing in favor of the “sociological perspective”: to think about law NOT as a lawyer (what the law does in courts, for example) but what the use of the law does in the world, which suggests anything from counterfactuals (e.g., what would “the law” be like today if not for those who used it in Rasul, Hamdan, and Boumediene, as well as the various efforts to apply universal jurisdiction to American torturers) and the longue durée (e.g., it is possible to act against torturers today in ways that were inconceivable two decades ago, regardless of whether Cheney and Co continue to walk free).

Beth Mertz:   This is a great conversation.   My own question is how to move between the rhetoric or language of law and the “law in action” perspective in a way that does justice to the fact that the language still matters, even if it doesn’t matter in the way the ideology wants us to think it does. AND I’m concerned with the further question of whether to entirely cede the conversation about doctrine to groups that believe the ideology or myth (and ignore law-in-action).  So, for example, some progressive people started using a language of originalism once that was adopted in some  SCOTUS opinions — not because they necessarily accepted originalism, but because to leave the “other side” unanswered in its own terms simply meant conceding altogether. So, why not say that “even in your own terms, this makes no sense”?  Of course, even taking this attitude might be seen as legitimating the underlying ideology, which I think is what’s bothering Joe.  So it’s a tough double-bind at a strategic level, not to mention at an intellectual level. These are the tough questions about really translating between social science and law that NLR folks have been struggling over.  I’d also like to hear more from Lisa about the distinction she makes between criminalized or “hard” rights and others.  I’m not sure I see that difference as altering the underlying dilemma we’re discussing here, which I think we face no matter what kind of rights we’re discussing.

Joe:  Thanks, Beth.  This is at the core of so much of my thinking.  It’s a puzzle to me.  I think the complexity arises from the fact that doctrine matters in different ways for different types of disputes.  Law professors tend to look at SCT decisions.  Ironically, that’s where doctrine is least important, since that’s where popular culture takes over and assimilates the case into partisan narratives, as has been done countless times, most recently in Hobby Lobby.  But we know from your pal Sally Engle Merry, and from any public defender, that at the “lower” levels, doctrine matters a great deal.  It helps to settle thousands of routine cases every day.  No one thinks doctrine alone explains these outcomes, but it clearly contributes, and the social science evidence about implicit bias suggests that it matters most when the cases are simplest.  The political scientist in me wants to develop a model to explain all this, while the historian doesn’t really think that’s necessary. But the lawyer in me says we need to think carefully about the work we ask the single word, “doctrine” to do.

I also think this figures into the second part of your question.  If we can refine what we mean by doctrine, I think we can develop a language that allows us to take doctrine seriously when we’re talking w colleagues but not abandon what we know about law-in-action.  And I hope we can be more sophisticated than to say, “Well, it’s like the old nature-nurture debate.  Both matter some.”

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Joe and Beth are regular bloggers here at “New Legal Realism Conversations.”  Lisa is on the Sociology faculty at University of California-Santa Barbara. Her areas of expertise include  sociology of law, law and society, international and global studies,  and political sociology. Her research interests include human rights,  international law, torture, war and conflict. She is the author of  Courting Conflict: The Israeli Military Court System in the West Bank  and Gaza (University of California Press, 2005) and Torture: A  Sociology of Violence and Human Rights (Routledge, 2012).

 

Margulies on LSA: Ruminations on Law, Legal Realism, and Emotional Attachments

Following the 50th Anniversary Law & Society Conference in Minneapolis, we at NLR Conversations had the idea of sharing some reactions to the experience. I’ve been thinking about this a great deal, and wanted to set down some thoughts about the first and last panels I attended. Sorry for the shameful delay in putting this to paper, for which I can offer the usual, pedestrian excuses as well as the chaos associated with a move from Northwestern to Cornell.

The first panel I attended—in the wee hours of the first day—was on constitutional change, including a presentation by my former student, Amy Myrick, who summarized her very interesting doctoral research about congressional proposals to amend the Constitution. It was quintessential new legal realism—or at least, so it seemed to me.  Each paper not only acknowledged but actually emphasized the sometimes-wide gulf between law as it exists within the four corners of a case or statute, and law as it enters and alters the life of the community.

For example, Ken Kersch, who teaches political science at Boston College, presented an excellent paper about the modern conservative attachment to the myth of the common law, especially an idealized conception of 19th-century laissez-faire jurisprudence, which conservatives accept as an archetype and use to inform policy judgments about what 21st-century jurisprudence ought to be.[1]

It was obvious from all the papers, as well as from the comments both by the discussant (my Cornell colleague Aziz Rana) and the audience, that everyone in the room understood that “law” acquired meaning not simply from its production, but from its injection into the public square, where it becomes subject to continual contest and negotiation, and that there was almost no point in talking about “law” as an abstract, fixed thing except to mark the distance between such a notion and reality, which is immeasurably more complex.

Contrast this with so much of the writing that we find in modern law reviews. For example, as I was writing this little missive, I scrolled down the archives of the Cornell Law Review and plucked, at random, Volume 97, Issue 4, and pulled up the lead article, Alexander Tsesis, Self-Government and the Declaration of Independence, 97(4) Cornell L. Rev. 693 (2012).

Over the course of 60 pages and 273 footnotes, Professor Tsesis argues that the Declaration should be read as a legally binding text that “sets constitutional obligations to protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and that it imposes on all three branches of government a duty “to protect inalienable rights on an equal basis.” Id. at 695. Tsesis then uses this argument to critique City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997), and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010).

The Declaration, in other words, is an 18th century super-case, the four corners of which not only can but must control the resolution of legal controversies 250 years later, without reference to historical, political, or intellectual context. In fact, the only context Tsesis provides comes when he catalogs nearly every mention of the Declaration by judges, legislators, and scholars over the course of two-plus centuries, all of which combine to show that We the People have more or less always revered it.

I certainly do not mean to criticize Professor Tsesis, whom I do not know. As far as I can judge, he wrote an excellent article, as articles of this sort go, and he seems to be a perfectly competent legal academic. But this is not the sort of scholarship one would expect from New Legal Realists. The Declaration was a document written by a particular person with a particular set of biases and objectives at a particular moment in time for quite particular purposes. It was injected into the colonial blood stream, where it acquired a complex cluster of meanings, the precise content of which may be difficult or impossible to reconstruct. In time, it acquired symbolic, mythical meaning, the content of which we worship (but also change) as much or more as we do the original understanding. Of course, the same can be (and has been) said of the Constitution.[2]  To speak of “the Declaration,” therefore, without reference to its symbolic life, to its many meanings, and to its particular creative history, is at best incomplete – and at worst, seriously misleading..

The last panel I attended was an author-meets-reader session. Three authors, of which I was one, discussed each other’s books, and were in turn critiqued by Jothie Rajah of the American Bar Foundation, Rick Abel of UCLA Law, and Maureen Duffy from Calgary Law. Broadly speaking, the topic was torture, and discussion naturally turned to the torture memo, written in 2002 by John Yoo. Here, unlike in the first panel, nearly everyone on the panel and in the audience seemed to want to treat the torture memo as “bad law” and the enhanced interrogations as indisputably illegal. Much more importantly, discussion about the torture scandal took place without regard for how the torture memo has in fact been used since it became public in 2004.

In fact, I would go further than this. The lesson that seemed self-evident at the first panel (viz., that this thing we call law is an odd compound which immediately changes its character upon exposure to the outside world) had been forgotten. People wanted to believe, contrary to what they know to be true, that we could pick up the torture memo, measure it against existing statutes by applying conventional tools of statutory interpretation and legal analysis, and conclude in some definitive way that George Bush was a crook. It reminded me of Larry Kramer’s observation about the Constitution, made in a very different context:

If the Constitution is law …, it is not (supposed to be) politics. It is, of course, political, in the sense that all law is political: it has political consequences, those who interpret and apply it cannot help but bring their politics with them into the interpretive process, and so forth. But modern recognition of the inherently political nature and structure of law still accepts the fundamental premise that law can and should be separated from politics. Law is, if you will, the part of politics that is supposed to be left to courts and judges.[3]

Yet this is precisely the idealized, mythologized view of law that realists reject, or so I had thought.[4]  Law is not, if you will, separate from politics. And this is true not simply for the reasons collected by Kramer. It is political not simply because interpreters have biases, but because the meaning of any text is inherently and inevitably constructed, torn down, and reconstructed again in an intensely social and never-ending process; it is political, in other words, in the very broadest sense, and so much so that there is really no point talking about law in the pure form envisioned by Kramer.

The upshot of all this, it seems to me, is clear enough. In the second panel, many of the participants were seduced by an emotional attachment to a particular understanding and followed it to a point that was intellectually indefensible. This of course is something we must guard against. We can condemn the enhanced interrogation program and its trappings without sacrificing intellectual convictions about the nature of law in American society. Even more importantly, we can condemn it for the horrors it produced without getting into sterile and unwinnable debates about whether the torture memo is faithful to that iconic but “essentially contested” symbol of all things good, ‘the rule of law.’[5]

And as scholars trying to devise a consistent and defensible vision of law in society, it behooves us to do so.

Joe Margulies
Cornell University
July 2014

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[1] The paper was adapted from, Ken I. Kersch “Constitutive Stories About the Common Law in Modern American Conservatism,” in Sanford Levinson and Joel Parker, editors, NOMOS: American Conservatism (New York University Press, forthcoming) (to appear with comments by Lino Graglia).

[2] See, e.g., Michael Kammen, A Machine That Would Go of Itself: The Constitution in American Culture (New York: Alfred Knopf 1986).

[3] Larry D. Kramer, The Supreme Court 2000 Term Forward: We the Court, 115 Harvard Law Review 4-169 (2001).

[4] Now is as good a place as any to disclose that I have been closely involved in these issues since late 2001. I was lead counsel in Rasul v. Bush, and now represent Abu Zubaydah, the person for whose interrogation the torture memo was written. I am one of the few people in the world who actually know what was done to Abu Zubaydah, and have no doubt in my mind that it was torture and morally repugnant.

[5] Jeremy Waldron, Is the Rule of Law an Essentially Contested Concept (in Florida)?, Law and Philosophy 21: 137-164 (2002). For a discussion of how the torture memo has been used in the public square, see Joseph Margulies, What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity (Yale Univ. Press 2013).

Happy Birthday to the Law & Society Association!

We at the New Legal Realism blog want to congratulate the Law & Society Association on the occasion of its 50th anniversary meetings.  The LSA Meetings, currently underway in Minneapolis, have for many years drawn social science and legal scholars together for productive scholarly conversations across many tough-to-traverse disciplinary boundaries.  The “broad tent” approach always espoused by LSA has drawn its critics, but it also has permitted diversity of many kinds to flourish – not least of which is the constant back-and-forth between theories and methods from a broad range of social sciences, on the one hand, and the concerns of lawyers who struggle on the ground to bring law to its best potential.  We celebrate that ongoing vibrant exchange in our May NLR post.

Work in the LSA tradition has spanned all of the social sciences, permitting scholars to match the methods they use to the questions they seek to answer (rather than adhering to methodological orthodoxies).  It has, importantly, drawn on theory as well as method from the social sciences, while it has also bridged the divide between legal scholarship and empirical research.  The very first winner of the LSA’s prestigious Harry J. Kalven, Jr. Prize in 1983 was University of Chicago law professor Hans Ziesel, who along with sociologist Kalven, had conducted a famous study of “The American Jury.”  Abraham Goldstein described the project as follows:

… directed by a distinguished lawyer and sociologist, it offered at long last to fulfill the promise of realist jurisprudence.  The legal   realists, who came of age in the 20’s and 30’s, had called academic lawyers away from the abstract doctrines announced by appellate courts and had urged them instead to study legal institutions and processes as they functioned in the real world – the behavioral assumptions underlying them, the interactions among them and the relation they bore to other social phenomena. (Review of “The American Jury” in Commentary Magazine (April 1967))

Since 1983, the Kalven Prize (along with other LSA honors) has been awarded to scholars from a broad range of disciplinary backgrounds, including psychology, anthropology, law, criminology, political science, and sociology – and has recognized work using experimental, qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods conducted to high standards.  At the same time, we see among those honored by the LSA an enduring concern with justice and with applying social science knowledge to real world problems.  This year’s honorees include Empirical Legal Studies founder Ted Eisenberg, whose quantitative research contributed to better understandings of the law in action across a host of arenas (from jury behavior to capital punishment to attorney fee systems) – and Kim Lane Scheppele, whose empirical ethnographic work on comparative constitutional law manages to also bridge legal and social science theory at high levels, while speaking directly to urgent policy issues.

The John Hope Franklin Prize at LSA honors top-notch research on race, racism, and the law — and work by outstanding scholars on gender, class, legal history, and international topics (to mention just a few) has been fostered and recognized by the LSA (which regularly draws scholars from across the world together).  In its ongoing support for truly interdisciplinary research and intellectual exchange about the law in action, LSA exemplifies the spirit of the new legal realism.  Happy Birthday, LSA, and here’s to the next 50 years!

MARGULIES RESPONDS TO KRISTOF: IT’S NOT THAT SIMPLE!

As those who have been following New Legal Realism know, a core question for us is how best to translate social science for law?  Indeed, sometimes we’ve asked whether you can even “get there from here.”  In a provocative New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof called out to members of the academy, welcoming their input to public debate while bemoaning their failure to reach out beyond narrow disciplinary boundaries: “Professors, We Need You!” 

Kristof has received pushback from academics, who have pointed out that he failed to recognize the many professors already actively involved in public debate, the many more who’d like to be if the media would only let them, and the ways the structure of the university punishes those who spend too much time on such efforts: see, for example these posts: 1. Huffington Post; 2. Corey Robin; 3. Scientific American  (and more– see bottom of the page for links to more responses)

We at the New Legal Realism blog were delighted to see this much-needed conversation take off.   Regardless of Kristof’s blind spots, he has called attention to an ongoing problem:  how do we get some of the best-informed views into the public domain, without eviscerating those views in the process??   The “old” Legal Realists shared this concern, hoping to apply the best available social science knowledge to policy issues facing this country during the New Deal era…. and the New Legal Realists are working toward a similar goal today.  In both eras, similar problems persist: easy answers are more palatable than complex ones; a number or quantitative result seems simpler, but by itself often misses the depth of qualitative research; politics and law often warp the information received from careful researchers beyond recognition.  In the following piece, new NLR blogger Joe Margulies replies to Kristof with a challenge of his own, saying in essence: 

Journalists, We Need You Too!

 Have academics abandoned the public square?  Nicholas Kristof apparently thinks so. In his column in the New York Times, Kristof complained that the academy has developed “a culture that glorifies arcane unintelligibility while disdaining impact and audience.”[1] Part of this is old; mocking academic gibberish makes easy sport, and because it is easy, has often been done. But the claim that academics not only speak nonsense but court irrelevance is a more serious charge. Is it true?

Well, yes and no. It is certainly true that a great many academic specialists have deliberately taken themselves out of public life. And that’s a shame, since their expertise could help bring more light and less heat to the issues of the day. But who can blame them? Imagine yourself an authority on climate change at a small Midwestern university. For years, you have carefully studied the evidence. One day, you pen an editorial for your local newspaper in support of some initiative—say, perhaps, a high-occupancy commuter lane on a nearby highway. You point out that, among other benefits, carpooling might help reduce greenhouse gases and slow the rate of global warming.

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2013 in review

Our yearly blog report is in and it shows that our web presence grew in 2013.  We occupy a relatively quiet corner of the internet, but that’s okay with us!  We are happy to stand with the “slow movement” — especially the “slow reading” process that encourages us to value careful thinking over racing to amass greater quantities of stuff.  That said, we have some exciting new ideas for posts — and some new bloggers — planned for 2014.  Thanks to you all for tuning in this past year.  We are especially proud that we are hearing from people all over the world (88 countries in all).   There really is a new spirit and interest rising in studying law “on the ground”!  Happy New Year!

 

Aman on Lawyers, Social Science, and Globalization

What should social scientists know about lawyers’ views on globalization? In our previous post, Michele LaVigne argued that social scientists need to consult with lawyers more if they want their research to have any impact on fairness in indigent defense. Fred Aman was inspired to send in some advice to scholars interested in law and globalization.

Globalization: Legal Aspects

Law’s role in globalization is often misunderstood, mainly with respect to whether “the global” is its own distinct and unified field. To a large extent, this misunderstanding reflects the influence of neoliberalism, some versions of which treat globalization as a function of capitalism (thereby relegating it to the preserve of economics). Such a formulation leaves little room for law, except in relation to international law and such “global” institutions as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and other legal arrangements primarily associated with the liberalization of trade. From this standpoint, one might imagine that globalization is all about competition—a competition for markets and investments that is global in scale and increasingly intense as markets expand. Accordingly, one might not think that law has much to do with this phenomenon beyond stepping out of the way, except where law contributes to the creation of markets and to ensuring that they function efficiently.

But the reality of globalization challenges such formulations. Law has an important role to play, particularly in contexts in which economic activity generates human rights questions, such as child labor. We need to focus on law’s prominence in the creation, implementation and contestation of globalization. The contexts in which law is relevant reflect the great diversity of relationships, circumstances, and legal arrangements under which globalization develops….

Globalization is embedded in our institutions—domestic and international, public and private, by virtue of legal arrangements (legislation, agency regulations, contracts, etc.) that draw global “forces” into everyday life, and vice versa. It is not a unilinear process or geography “out there,” but a dynamic relation across multiple regimes of public and private ordering. Globalization is subject to a wide array of influences and control and yields pervasive social effects—some of them broadly homogenizing, some of them diversifying in highly specific ways Understanding the relationship of globalization to law requires analysis of the interactions of markets, rights and bodies of law at all levels of government, domestic and international, as well as diverse processes of governance that involve norm creation, enforcement and adjudication by state and non-state actors alike.

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Shedding Empirical Light on Indigent Defense

Often the new empiricism in law takes the form of advice from social scientists to lawyers.  In this interesting post, Professor Michele LaVigne turns the New Legal Realist tables, and gives social scientists advice on the kind of information that is needed by lawyers involved in trying to make the legal system fairer:

Happy Birthday Gideon

 For a brief while this year, the news turned its attention to the state of indigent defense in the United States.  First, Gideon v. Wainwright turned 50 and we heard that Gideon is a dream unfulfilled or deferred, or at the very least, it’s an unfunded mandate and in many jurisdictions it looks like one.   Then came the sequester and no surprise, federal defender services took the first hard hit, with federal defenders facing either lay offs or furloughs that will drag on for who knows how long. (There is no corresponding shortfall for federal prosecutors)

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Law in action and law on the books: A primer

We are pleased to welcome a guest blogger, Bill Clune, whose post gives us his “primer” on the concept of law-in-action, a concept shared by the original legal realists, scholars in the law-and-society tradition, and many new legal realists. Clune’s reflection was occasioned by questions raised at the University of Wisconsin Law School. We welcome other reflections on the concept of “law-in-action” at newlegalrealism@gmail.com.

Guest Blogger: Bill Clune,* May, 2013

This essay was prompted by a question from the then Assistant Dean of Admissions to me as Admissions Chair about what to tell applicants who asked him about the meaning of “law-in-action.” He is a graduate of our school [the University of Wisconsin Law School], which has specialized in the area for many decades, and he had listened to and read many explanations, including those on our web site, which is also available to and often read by the applicants. I think of myself as having spent a lifetime of scholarship and teaching in the area, but it was easier for me to give examples and say words circling the concept than to formulate a clear, concise explanation. The puzzle was accentuated by a survey subsequently administered to our law students which found that the most common understanding of law-in-action was clinical education, a response which seemed to me unquestionably valid from a student perspective yet also incomplete.

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