Law, Lawyering and Social Movements

This Seminar examines how social movements shape the development of American law, and how lawyers may work in social movements to shape law and legal institutions. A primary goal of the course is to provide a forum for seminar members to explore and discuss clashes of viewpoint – ideology – in law, social movement, and movement lawyering. Can the law remain independent of movements that challenge its very legitimacy? How does the law -- and the ideologies and individuals that comprise legal institutions -- respond to the stresses and demands that law-based efforts to effect social and political change place on them? If a social movement does produce changes in the law, but fails to alter the broader pattern of political and social power that gave rise to the social movement, can the movement be regarded as a success? To what extent is legal change synonymous with political change, and to what extent are the two distinct?

A closely related goal of this course is to arrive at some understanding of what rights mean in America. Is it always necessary to translate one's political interests or demands or needs into a language of rights to secure political victory in American life? How are rights undone?

The primary inquiry of this course will be to describe and understand the legal strategies pursued by individuals seeking to build a social movement and effect significant change. To what extent are they relying on a broader 'rights consciousness' within the set of American ideologies about justice? To what extent do they focus on courtrooms and judges? By trying to understand how -- and if -- legal institutions, law and rights consciousness influence the priorities, strategies and internal organizations of social movements, we can begin to understand both the obstacles and the opportunities that legal institutions present to groups and individuals seeking significant social and political change. An understanding of these obstacles and opportunities may help us understand when and if a rights consciousness is a necessary precondition for social change in the American context, and consider when legal strategies are the proper recourse for movement activists.

This course is not currently scheduled.
Last offered Spring 2018.

Key to Codes in Course Descriptions
P: Prerequisite
C: Prerequisite or Concurrent Requirement
R: Recommended Prior or Concurrent Course