July 31, 2009

The Logic of Legal Language

Eric Engle, Harvard University Law School, has published "Language, Logic, and Law: Death of Reason or Dearth of Reasons?" Here is the abstract.
This article outlines a theory of language logic and law. First, it presents a theory of truth as a correspondence between a material fact and a description of that fact. Binary logic is then examined and determined inadequate to represent legal decision making because not all statements are true or false, only. Some statements are unknown or unknowable. The paper develops the basic functors for a ternary logic in order to resolve the paradox of material implication, to give legal theory adequate representational tools for exact modelling and critique of the law. That is a truly innovative and unique contribution of this article to the science of logic. The paper then looks to normative inferencing and argues that normative inferencing is possible using ordinary logical methods: implication, analogy, etc.

After developing these theories of truth and logic, a theory of language is developed. Language is not inevitably indeterminate because statements are ultimately reflections of and refractions from material facts. All three inquiries lead to the conclusion that the radical critique of legal reasoning (the 'death of reason critique') is not well founded. Legal science is possible because language is not inevitably indeterminate and truth exists and is knowable. Legal science in turn can be used to shape substantive justice. Critical jurists can and should take up scientificity as a key to effective legal reform.

Download the paper from SSRN here.

Call for Papers

The 9th International Roundtable for Semiotics of Law (IRSL 2010), 3-6 September 2010 - Poznań

Legal Rules, Moral Norms AND Democratic Principles

Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań, University of Łódź, Poznańskie Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Nauk

Conference Venue:
Department of Philosophy, Adam Mickiewicz University & PTPN, Poznań

Honorary Chairmen:

Prof. Tadeusz Buksiński
Director of Department of Philosophy
Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań

Prof. Marek Zirk-Sadowski
Chairman of the Department Theory and Philosophy of Law at the University of Łódź
Vice – president of the International Association for Legal and Social Philosophy (IVR)
Vice-president of the Polish Supreme Administrative Court

Organizing Committee:

Dr Karolina M. Cern Dr Piotr W. Juchacz Dr Bartosz Wojciechowski
Poznań Poznań Łódź

* * *

We live in the world of rapid global changes, nonetheless, we try to manage the solid universal development. There are many differing factors aiming at the most exact and fruitful description of the world in change. Among them we can distinguish a specific world-wide tendency for democratization of our lives in social, individual and political dimensions. As some point out, there are just a few political orders that would not claim themselves democratic ones.
Though, this peculiar global trend gives rise to doubts as well as problems, the most profound seems to concern the question whether the “democratic turn” is a real or just a virtue one. Democracy generally means the governance by people – but who are the people? What kind of governance by people can be claimed democratic – everyone or only a chosen one?
What – if any – is the normative issue of such a governance? Democracy, after all, is not a simple descriptive model of governance; it is deeply rooted in our preferences and hence normative patterns of conduct which are not yet to be understood as the norm but rather as founding principles. Democracy is a thoroughly normative model. It is always as constructed and uttered in the picture of life at the same time.
Does it mean that democracy, as a normative project, can fit only a part of our world and can not fit the other part believing in different gods, philosophies or systems of values? Or maybe democratic principles are to be understood from a secular-rational value perspective (postweberian values) as formal frames that give people real possibility to fill it with theirs convictions of the preferred norms that should be obeyed in the name of equality and freedom. But does it not presume a special civil engagement and a strong civil participation? Further, does it not entail self-expression built on a strong feeling of a self-direction? All of it utters posttraditional values which are not yet dominant throughout the world. For this reason a question is raised, what, if any, is the legal issue of democratic political order. Are - following Sir Neil MacCormick - normative order, institutional normative order and institutional order three different ones or cross themselves somewhere or do they even have the same issue that keeps dividing itself into different orders?
Should be morally impartial legal rules the great if not the only support for peace in a pluralistic world? But then, altering Ronald Dworkin’s question, we can ask how is – if it is at all - democracy possible here?
* * *

The 9th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law invites all interested in problems concerning Legal Rules, Moral Norms and Democratic Principles to take part in our meeting in Poznań (Poland). The perspective of considerations – whether it is purely semiotic, legal, philosophical, sociological, cultural, sociolinguistic etc. – is free to be chosen by each participant.

We invite everyone who would be interested to participate in The 9th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law to send us an application till the 1st of May 2010. It should be prepared in either English or French (max 300 words) and sent by e-mail to bartwoj@op.pl; karolinacern@yahoo.com; juchaczp@amu.edu.pl and to Anne Wagner at valwagnerfr@yahoo.com .

Selected papers will be published in a special annual issue of the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law (http://www.springer.com/).

The Eternal Life of Vampires

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan on why vampires live forever.

July 29, 2009

Call For Papers

Call for Papers

Justice, Media and Public
Changing Public Perceptions in the New Media Landscape

Research Institute for Law, Politics and Justice
Keele University, 25-26 March 2010

Confirmed keynote speakers:
His Honour Judge Keith Cutler, Chairman of the Judges’ Council Committee on Communications
Olga Kavran, Spokeswoman to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, The Hague
Joshua Rozenberg, Freelance journalist, former BBC legal correspondent and former legal editor of the Daily Telegraph
Daniel Stepniak, Associate Professor, University of Western Australia, author of Audio-visual Coverage of Courts: A Comparative Analysis (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

This conference invites contributions on the theme of representations and public perceptions of crime and justice in a multimedia communications environment. The new media landscape is creating both opportunities and challenges for improving and maintaining public confidence in the criminal justice and legal system. How can new information and communication technologies (ICTs) be utilized in public outreach initiatives? What kind of strategies are criminal justice agencies already deploying to maximize the potential of new technologies? To what extent do user-centred communication practices (blogging, social networking, on-demand TV, mobile technologies, file sharing, etc), generate public confidence and perception issues that are new or different? How are narratives and representations of justice evolving in the new media environment? Are old media and their institutional practices genuinely in decline or are we just witnessing a reordering of the public sphere under the influence of new technologies? What lessons can be drawn from the past in order to understand the new media landscape and its implications for the communication of justice?
While the main emphasis is on new media and ICTs, the submission of abstracts involving reflections on policy and practice, theoretical developments, methodological innovations and recent empirical analyses relating to communication, media and public confidence in the criminal justice and legal system is also very much encouraged. Contributions from postgraduate and early career researchers are particularly welcome.
The conference aims to attract an international audience of academics and practitioners from the (criminal) justice field. It seeks to facilitate a dialogue across disciplinary, professional and jurisdictional boundaries.
Please send an abstract of maximum 250 words proposing individual papers or panels to Lieve Gies (l.gies@keele.ac.uk) by 31 October 2009. For any queries, please contact the organizers Lieve Gies (l.gies@keele.ac.uk) and Rob C Mawby (rim3@leicester.ac.uk).

July 28, 2009

Women's Memoirs

From History Today: Julie Peakman writes about "blaming and shaming in whore's memoirs." Men may have had power, but women often got the last laugh. Says Dr. Peakman,

Just as the exploits of the likes of Britney Spears, Amy Winehouse and Charlotte Church fill today’s gossip magazines, notorious 18th-century women frequently found themselves in the limelight for their emotional outbursts, drunken revellings or pub brawls. Juicy titbits about them and other famous people were delivered in exposés of their affairs, adulteries and divorce cases, which in turn became part of the social make-up of public life. Gossip about sexual liasions first started to be broadcast in an explosion of print at the beginning of the century. Sex and how it figured within the lives of prostitutes, bawds and aristocrats became a topic aimed at an audience with an increasing appetite for titillation.

Read more here.

The Allure of Alcohol in the Newest Harry Potter Flick

The New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope discusses the flood of alcohol in the newest Harry Potter movie.

Previous Harry Potter movies have shown drinking, but this one takes it to a new level. In one scene, Harry, Ron and Hermione order butterbeers at the pub, and Hermione ends up with a frothy mustache. While it’s never been entirely clear whether butterbeer is alcoholic, it seems to have an effect on the normally uptight Hermione, who acts tipsy walking home as she throws her arms around the boys. As the mother of a 10-year-old Harry Potter fan, I was taken aback by the reaction of the young people in the theater. They snickered at Hermione’s goofy grin and, later, guffawed when an inebriated Hagrid passed out. While I don’t think my daughter fully understood what was going on, I wondered how other parents, educators and addiction experts would react.

Read the rest of her article here.

Does the image of teens quaffing booze present a teachable moment? Only, I'd suggest, if parents and guardians know about the moment to begin with. A good reason for them to go to movies with their children, and to interest themselves in their children's reading, movie-watching, videogame playing and other hobbies. But not too much. Nothing so uncool as an adult who's trying too hard. Remember your own tween and teen years. Heed the cardinal rule: Embarrass Them Not!

July 27, 2009

GLAAD: HBO Features More Gay, Bi, Transgender Characters On Its Shows Than Other Networks

The AP reports on a Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) study that found that HBO features more gay, bisexual, and transgender characters on its series than any other network. The survey looked at original primetime series on ten cable and the five major networks, more than 6000 hours of original programming.

Here's a link to the news release from GLAAD. Here's a link to the full report, formally called the Network Responsibility Index.

July 23, 2009

The ABA's Ed Adams On NPR

NPR has a great interview with Ed Adams, editor and publisher of the ABA Journal, who discusses the 25 Top TV Legal Shows here.

And In the Role of Hamlet's Dad...

From the ABA site, this piece by Debra Cassens Weiss, noting that Associate Justice Stephen Breyer made his acting debut as the Ghost in Hamlet, during a conference on Shakespeare and the Law. (I assume that's Hamlet's father's ghost, BTW, not Banquo's ghost). Here's more from the Chicago Maroon.

The Top Twenty Five TV Legal Dramas

The ABA features the Top Twenty-Five Lawyer Shows, as chosen by a jury of 12 (of course!) here. Says its news release:

Perry Mason always came out on top, but “L.A. Law” bested Mason as the number-one pick among lawyers for the “25 Greatest Legal TV Shows” in the August issue of ABA Journal. “Perry Mason,” the highly influential series from 1957-1966, came in second, followed by “The Defenders,” another seminal legal program that shaped future programs and their subject matter. “Law & Order,” now in its 19th season came in fourth, and “The Practice” was the judges’ fifth pick. For a complete list of the top 25, see www.abajournal.com/magazine.

The “jury” was composed of 12 experts, nine lawyers, two academics and a TV critic, all who write or teach about the convergence of popular culture and the law. They were asked to rate and rank their favorites among scores of programs that focused on law and lawyers in recent decades. The list excluded daytime judge shows and reality TV programs.

Pop culture matters

“It’s hard to underestimate the impact of popular culture on our society,” said Edward Adams, editor and publisher of ABA Journal. “Television has provided us with a steady diet of legal shows that have had a huge impact on the public’s impression of what lawyers do. Some of this information is accurate; some is sensationalized; and some of it is flat-out wrong. But all of it contributes to the expectations of citizens when they walk into a lawyer’s office, sit on a jury, or just run into a neighborhood lawyer at a backyard barbeque.”

The August issue of the ABA Journal is a follow-up to the August 2008 examination of iconic legal films. “While movies are certainly memorable, television literally inhabits our living rooms,” said Adams. “Week after week – sometimes for decades with particular shows – it shapes the public’s impression of the legal profession, for good and for ill.”

Many of these programs have been studied by legal scholars and used by law professors to teach certain aspects of the law, or courtroom procedure, or the finer points of legal ethics.

The ABA Journal covers the trends, people and finances of the legal profession. The flagship publication of the American Bar Association is sent to every ABA member and reaches more than half of the 1.1 million lawyers in this country each month. In addition, its Web site, www.ABAJournal.com is updated every business day with 25 to 50 breaking legal news stories, features, a directory of more than 1,800 legal blogs, and an archive of the full text of the magazine going back through 2004.

With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, and provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

[Full disclosure: I was one of the "jury" asked to come up with the list. It was great fun.] Read more about this feature in the upcoming issue of the ABA Journal here.

July 22, 2009

Call For Participation: ASLCH Conference

From Keith Bybee, Syracuse University School of Law

Call for Participation: 13th Annual ASLCH Conference

March 19-20, 2010
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

The Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities is an organization of scholars engaged in interdisciplinary, humanistic legal scholarship. The Association brings together a wide range of people engaged in scholarship on legal history, legal theory, jurisprudence, law and cultural studies, law and literature, law and the performing arts, and legal hermeneutics. We want to encourage dialogue across and among these fields about issues of interpretation, identity, ideals, values, authority, obligation, justice, and about law¹s place in culture.

We will be accepting proposals for panels, roundtables, papers, and volunteers for chairs and discussants from July 15th until October 15th 2009.

PLEASE NOTE: To submit proposals, please go to the online submission site https://www.regonline.com/13thAnnual

As it becomes available, additional information about accommodations and other conference matters, will be posted to the, "ASLCH Annual Conference Information" page on the ASLCH webpage at http://www.law.syr.edu/academics/centers/lch/conference.html.

We welcome submissions on any law, culture and humanities subject. Examples of recent panel topics include: Imagining Rights in the Era of Globalization; The Child as a Legal Subject; Law and Love; The Color of Justice; The Cultural Lives of the Judiciary; Law and the Sacred; E.M.
Forster and the Question of Social Justice; Thinking about Places and Spaces; Feminism v. Feminism: Conceptions of Justice in Transnational Criminal Law; South African Dignity Jurisprudence; Film as Legal Text.

We invite scholars with interests across the range of areas in Law, Culture and the Humanities to organize panels, performance pieces, screenings, or to submit proposals for individual paper presentations.

We urge those interested in attending to consider submitting complete panels, and we hope to encourage a variety of formats such as roundtables, sessions in which commentators respond to a single paper or issue or sessions in which the chair presents the papers and their authors respond.
We invite proposals for sessions in which the focus is on pedagogy or methodology, for author-meets-readers sessions organized around important books in the field, or for sessions in which participants focus on performance (theatrical, filmic, musical, poetic).

Ideally, traditional panels should include NO MORE THAN 3 papers. All panel proposals should indicate the name of the chair. In most cases having a separate discussant is desirable. All panels should be planned in such a way that 30 minutes of the one hour and 45 minutes generally allotted for sessions is reserved for discussion/comments by the audience. Proposals must indicate whether a ³smart room² with computer, audio or video presentation technology will be needed. More detailed instructions about participation rules and limits are listed on the first page of the online conference submission system.

We would also welcome you to volunteer to serve as a chair and/or discussant, whether you are submitting a paper proposal or not. If you would like to serve as a chair and/or discussant, please indicate the areas or subjects of your interest/expertise.

Participants will be notified of their acceptance by December 31st 2009. We cannot promise that we will be able to accommodate all proposals.

Questions, please contact Linda Meyer (Linda.Meyer@quinnipiac.edu)

Call For Stories

From Nancy Levit, Professor of Law, UMKC

UMKC Law Review “One-L Revisited” Law Stories Contest

Introduction by Scott Turow

With stories by:

Ian Ayres
Pamela Bridgewater
Alafair Burke
Stephen Carter
Andrew McClurg
Marc Poirier
Deborah Post
Lisa Pruitt
Saira Rao
Jeffrey Rosen
Cameron Stracher
Robert R.M. Verchick
Adrien Wing

The UMKC Law Review devotes part of one issue each year to a collection of “Law Stories” – short tales about various aspects of the legal world. For the next edition, the theme will be One-L Revisited. An introduction by Scott Turow, author of the classic account of the One-L experience, will lead off this collection of true stories about being a new law student.

We invite current law students and recent graduates (2006 or later) to submit stories. Winning submission(s) will be published in the Spring 2010 issue of the UMKC Law Review, and the first place winner will receive a $500 prize.

• Non-fiction stories about the first year experience
• 1,000 - 5,000 words, including footnotes
• Footnotes are discouraged—we are looking for stories, not conventional law review articles or notes
• Open to current law student s and recently graduated law students (2006 or after)
• Send to lawstories@umkc.edu with “Law Stories Submission” in subject line
• MS Word or PDF formats only
• Submission deadline October 23, 2009

UMKC School of Law
5100 Rockhill Road, Law 1-200
Kansas City, MO 64110

Lynn Herdon, Editor-In-Chief

Law, Literature, and Presidential Advice

Harold H. Bruff's new book Bad Advice: Bush's Lawyers in the War on Terror (University of Kansas Press, 2009) begins with a chapter that should delight law and humanities devotees. It discusses some famous political advisors in literature and their interactions with their leaders: for example, Shakespeare's Archbishop of Canterbury and Henry V, and Robert Bolt's Sir (or Saint--it depends on whether or not you're Catholic, I suppose) Thomas More and Henry VIII.

Notes Dr. Bruff, "[E]xecutive advisers feel great pressure to make decisions that serve both the law and the nation. Sir Thomas More became a saint (Canterbury and Wolsey did not). It would not be prudent, however, to expect saintliness as a routine virtue among executive advisers, or among the senior officials who are their clients. What behaviors, then should we expect--and demand--of the lawyers as they serve their insistent clients?"

Harold Bruff is Charles Inglis Thomson Professor of Law at the University of Colorado Law School.

July 21, 2009

Atlas Shrugged To Be Filmed?

From the Risky Biz Blog comes news that Ayn Rand's meganovel, Atlas Shrugged, might finally be headed for the big screen with Charlize Theron in the role of Dagny Taggart. Reporter Steven Zeitchik notes that an option with the Rand estate runs out next year so Lionsgate, MGM, and Viacom/Paramount seem to be trying to make this project happen.

July 20, 2009


NPR on the current flock (herd?) of werewolves.
For more about werewolves, see Werewolves in Literature.

New Film About Women Judges and Attorneys in South Africa

Courting Justice, a new film from Women Make Movies, may interest readers of the Law and Humanities Blog. Here's the description.

From tyranny to democracy. Fourteen years after the defeat of apartheid, South Africa’s fledgling democracy is acclaimed for its constitutional promise of comprehensive human rights and unprecedented judicial reform. But what is essential for transformation to succeed?

Courting Justice takes viewers behind the gowns and gavels to reveal the women who make up 18 percent of South Africa’s male-dominated judiciary. Hailing from diverse backgrounds and entrusted with enormous responsibilities, these pioneering women share with candor, and unexpected humor, accounts of their country’s transformation since apartheid, and the evolving demands of balancing their courts, country, and families.

Creator Ruth Cowan, a feminist and developing world scholar, is a leader in the fields of microfinance, human rights, judiciary development, and gender and race issues. With acuity and spirit, her film chronicles the hard fought progress of achieving gender and racial justice in a burgeoning new judiciary. It is a pivotal work that examines the exciting transformation of an entire legal system, through the intimate, unique, and inspiring stories of women working to change it from the bench.

July 17, 2009

Silver Gavels Awards Coverage From DC

Coverage of the ABA's Silver Gavels Awards via Legal Bisnow. [Full disclosure: I'm a member of the ABA's Gavel Awards Screening Committee].

Canadian Legal Norms On Film

Ed Morgan, University of Toronto Faculty of Law, has published "The Mild, Mild West: Living by a Code in Canadian Law and Film," at 2 Law, Culture, and the Humanities 115-135 (2006).
Canadians live by the rules. If the overriding myth of American history is that of rugged individualism and the conquest of the frontier, the story told of Canada is one of socialized, orderly engagement with and development of the north. This article probes the national image as it appears in the poplar and the legal realms. The vehicles for this exploration are Canadian constitutional law and Canadian film. A species of case law - that dealing with the division of powers and, more specifically, with federal criminal jurisdiction - will be juxtaposed with a species of movie - the Canadian North Western and, more specifically, The Grey Fox (1982). The imagery and national aspirations expressed in one medium help illuminate the equivalent motifs in the other. It turns out that if Canadians live by anything, it is a code of continuous dissent, since the constitutional rules that govern national life are in an evolving state of debate.

Download the article from SSRN here.

July 16, 2009

Perry Mason Babies

In yesterday's New York Times, Alessandra Stanley discusses Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's mention of the fictional Perry Mason as an influence on her. Newly sworn Senator Al Franken also noted that as a child, he liked watching Mason (as played by Raymond Burr) hunt down the real perpetrator of the crime of which his innocent client was accused.

Perry Mason's nine year dominance might lead one to believe that no other television lawyers existed in television land during the late 1950s and early 1960s but as Ms. Stanley points out, the iconic series The Defenders aired during that period, as did a number of other shows. Yet we remember Perry Mason. Why should that be? Ms. Stanley suggests that today's Generation Ys and others will remember other tv lawyers, perhaps Ally McBeal, whom I discuss here, or Denny Crane. Both, I would note, creations of the clever and quirky David E. Kelley, whose tv shows, I suggest represent a particular cultural period.

But Mason, particularly as interpreted by Burr, who originally planned to audition for the part of Hamilton Burger, represents the lawyer we all wish we could hire for ourselves if we were in trouble. Thoughtful, tough, calm, reliable, unflappable, competent in far more areas of the law than any one of us could ever hope to be (but above all in the criminal law), but ultimately ethical and thus untouchable, he will help us even if we lie to him. He doesn't doubt his clients, because as we see in every single episode, his clients are NEVER guilty. Except in one episode (The Case of the Terrified Typist, when the client turns out to have been using someone else's name--a legal problem that results in a mistrial) the clients are uniformly innocent. Perry Mason saves the innocent client from what is everyone's worst nightmare--conviction and incarceration, or execution. In a society in which we now know to a certainty that innocent people have been and are being condemned to death for crimes they have not committed, Perry Mason represents the innocent person's last, best hope. He is the SuperLawyer that a young person, watching television in the late 50s and early 60s, and dreaming of a legal career, most wants to emulate. He believes in the law, and he knows not just how the law can be used, but how it must be used, in order to fulfill its highest promise, in order to bring about justice.

Perry Mason is not the only character who understands what the law can and must be. I have been watching the episodes as they have been released on DVDs, and I have noticed that other characters in the legal system also exhibit these traits. Even though Mason's constant adversaries, the district attorneys, wait for him at every turn, they also uphold the highest standards of the law. While his most constant nemesis, Hamilton Burger (William Talman), watches him carefully, pouncing every time he thinks Mason has "concealed evidence" or "tricked the court," he also waives any objection if he thinks Mason is on the track of the real killer and close to proving a fraud upon the court. Another upholder of justice is Lieutenant Arthur Tragg (Ray Collins), who always testifies truthfully. No episode ever shows Lt. Tragg in any kind of deceitful or underhanded activity. And a fair number of episodes end by showing Mason, Tragg, Burger, Street, and Drake together discussing a just-concluded case, or going out for dinner or drinks, a kind of camaraderie that we rarely see suggested in today's legal dramas. If it were suggested, the suggestion would be that something nefarious or unethical would be afoot. The principals involved in the show (the recurring characters) are clearly devoted to the law as a profession, as a calling. That notion underlies their unstated motivations in every episode. And I believe it comes through so clearly that the audience, particular the young audience that watched so faithfully during the fifties and sixties, absorbed it to the extent that a great many of us decided that we too wanted to be, if not lawyers, then involved somehow in bringing about justice or making the world a better place.

Finally, the judges, more often than not, seem willing to give Mason the benefit of the doubt. Although they sustain objections from the prosecution, they sometimes let Mason chase what look like rabbits if in doing so he will get to the truth of the matter, even though they are careful to give reasons for their rulings. After all, while the prosecution is serving the cause of justice, it also has the power of the state to do so. Mason in serving the cause of his client has only his knowledge of the law, his faithful and discreet secretary Della Street, honest and effective private investigator Paul Drake, and on and off one or two law clerks to help him. Some Perry Mason judges seem "defendant-friendly," putting their thumbs on the scales of the legal system to help him out. Perhaps part of what attracted Judge Sotomayor, Senator Frankel, and so many of the rest of us about the Perry Mason series is the image of the hero working within the legal system for his client, and trusting that system to vindicate them both.

The Death of Law

Lance McMillian, John Marshall Law School (Atlanta) has published "The Death of Law: A Cinematic Vision," forthcoming in the University of Arkansas (Little Rock) Law Review. Here is the abstract.

Three recent films – Children of Men, V for Vendetta, and Minority Report – sound a warning call by painting stark and contrasting visions of life in the United States and Great Britain in the 21st century. Central to all three stories is the role of law as enforced by the state. Law’s importance to the narrative of film is nothing new. Because it has the power to both liberate and oppress, law presents a ready well of dramatic potential from which to draw inspiration. The movies studied here mine this potential well. The common fear that animates each of these works of art centers on the use of law as a tool of oppression. By projecting this future, the filmmakers hope to teach us something about ourselves in the present. Do they succeed?

This Article attempts to answer this question by examining the vision of law presented in the three films. The collective conclusions of the movies strike a pessimistic chord: in the future, the law will be dead. I offer critiques and counter-critiques of this prevailing vision. But no matter the reliability of film’s predictions about what lies ahead, the existence of the films is important in its own right. Criticism need not be accurate to be powerful. Even if darkness is not on the horizon, free societies would do well to periodically remind themselves of what darkness looks like.

Download the article from SSRN here.

Equity In Law and Literature

Gary Watt, Reader and Associate Professor in Law, School of Law, University of Warwick, and an editor of the journal Law and Humanities, has published Equity Stirring:The Story of Justice Beyond Law (Hart Publishing). Here's an abstract.
Sir Frederick Pollock wrote that 'English-speaking lawyers ...have specialised the name of Equity'. It is typical for legal textbooks on the law of equity to acknowledge the diverse ways in which the word 'equity' is used and then to focus on the legal sense of the word to the exclusion of all others. There may be a professional responsibility on textbook writers to do just that. If so, there is a counterpart responsibility to read the law imaginatively and to read what non-lawyers have said of equity with an open mind. This book is an exploration of the meaning of equity as artists and thinkers have portrayed it within the law and without. Watt finds in law and literature an equity that is necessary to good life and good law but which does not require us to subscribe to a moral or 'natural law' ideal. It is an equity that takes a principled and practical stand against rigid formalism and unthinking routine in law and life, and so provides timely resistance to current forces of extremism and entitlement culture. The project is an educational one in the true etymological sense of leading the reader out into new territory. The book will provide the legal scholar with deep insight into the rhetorical, literary and historical foundations of the idea of equity in law, and it will provide the law student with a cultural history of, and an imaginative introduction to, the technical law of equity and trusts. Scholars and students of such disciplines as literature, classics, history, theology, theatre and rhetoric will discover new insights into the art of equity in the law and beyond. Along the way, Watt offers a new theory on the naming of Dickens' chancery case Jarndyce and Jarndyce and suggests a new connection between Shakespeare and the origin of equity in modern law.

James Boyd White and Ian Ward have both praised the book.

'This beautiful book, deeply learned in the branch of jurisprudence we call equity and deeply engaged with the western literary tradition, gives new life to equity in the legal sense by connecting it with equity in the larger sense: as it is defined both in ordinary language and experience and by great writers, especially Dickens and Shakespeare. Equity Stirring transforms our sense of what equity is and can be and demonstrates in a new and graceful way the importance of connecting law with other arts of mind and language.'

James Boyd White, author of Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force

'Equity Stirring' is a fine example of interdisciplinary legal scholarship at its best. Watt has managed to produce a book that is fresh and innovative, and thoroughly accessible. Deploying a range of familiar, and not so familiar, texts from across the humanities, Watt has presented a fascinating historical and literary commentary on the evolution of modern ideas of justice and equity.

Ian Ward, Professor of Law at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

To order copies of Equity Stirring, click here. Readers of the Law and Humanities blog can get a 10 percent discount by using the Code Word "EQUITY" in the special instructions field. Now, aren't you glad you read this blog?

July 7, 2009

Fans, Take Note!

Amazon is now taking orders for both season 1 and the complete set of DVDs of Ally McBeal.

July 6, 2009

A Review of James Boyd White's Living Speech

Zachary R. Calo, Valparaiso University School of Law, has published "Law, Language and Love: James Boyd White's Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force," in the Journal of Law, Philosophy, and Culture (forthcoming). Here is the abstract.

A review essay considering James Boyd White's, Living Speech.

Download the essay from SSRN here.

July 3, 2009

Themes of Justice and Ethics in Langston Hughes

Robert L. Tsai, American University College of Law, has published "Langston Hughes: The Ethics of Melancholy Citizenship." Here is the abstract.
As a body of work, the poetry of Langston Hughes presents a vision of how members of a political community ought to comport themselves, particularly when politics yield few tangible solutions to their problems. Confronted with human degradation and bitter disappointment, the best course of action may be to abide by the ethics of melancholy citizenship. A mournful disposition is associated with four democratic virtues: candor, pensiveness, fortitude, and self-abnegation. Together, these four characteristics lead us away from democratic heartbreak and toward renewal. Hughes’s war-themed poems offer a richly layered example of melancholy ethics in action. They reveal how the fight for liberty can be leveraged for the ends of equality. When we analyze the artist’s reworking of Franklin Roosevelt’s orations in the pursuit of racial justice, we learn that writing poetry can be an exercise in popular constitutionalism.

Download the paper from SSRN here.

July 1, 2009

National Security TV

Dawinder S. Sidhu, Hosh Law, has published "Wartime America and The Wire: A Response to Posner’s Post-9/11 Constitutional Framework." Here is the abstract.

Pragmatists subscribe to the view that an individual’s practical experiences shape and inform an individual’s concept of the law. In Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency, one of the legal community’s most admired and prolific pragmatists, Judge Richard A. Posner, presents his thoughts on how courts should resolve questions of constitutional law that implicate national security and individual rights.

As the relationship between security and liberty remains largely undefined in the post-9/11 world, Posner offers an important and timely perspective on a critical area of constitutional law. His framework is one in which security interests invariably supercede liberty interests in times of crisis. As such, according to Posner, an executive possesses significant authority to respond to national security needs in wartime and despite established rights, the judiciary should commensurately play a limited checking role on relevant executive action, profiling and discrimination of Muslims may be condoned, torture can be used to elicit information from detainees, and an executive may invoke the “law of necessity” to step outside of the “law of the Constitution.”

This essay uses an element of practical reality -- specifically themes from the acclaimed television series on law enforcement and crime, The Wire -- to challenge each of these conclusions from Not a Suicide Pact. Drawing on those themes, it argues that security and liberty are not locked in a zero sum game, that the judiciary should robustly check executive action especially in these perilous times, that profiling and discrimination of Muslims in the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing should be deemed impermissible, that torture is not only inconsistent with American legal obligations but also counterproductive to the war campaign, and finally that the executive is bound by and must not act beyond the Constitution, exigent circumstances and moral positions notwithstanding.

The essay thus suggests that the courts should give pause to the direction of constitutional law urged by Posner. Appealing to both law and practical reason, it admits that the law must be flexible in the post-9/11 era, but posits that the law and traditional constitutional norms still must guide and restrain the executive temptation to defend the nation at all costs.

Download the paper from SSRN here.