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Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought



Law, Jurisp & Social Thought

103 Legal Institutions and Democratic Practice

This course will examine the relationship between legal institutions and democratic practice. How do judicial decisions balance the preferences of the majority and the rights of minorities? Is it possible to reconcile the role that partisan dialogue and commitment play in a democracy with an interest in the neutral administration of law? How does the provisional nature of legislative choice square with the finality of judicial mandate? By focusing on the United States Supreme Court, we will consider various attempts to justify that institution’s power to offer final decisions and binding interpretations of the Constitution that upset majoritarian preferences. We will examine the origins and historical development of the practice of judicial review and consider judicial responses to such critical issues as slavery, the New Deal, and abortion. The evolving contours of Supreme Court doctrine will be analyzed in the light of a continuing effort to articulate a compelling justification for the practice of judicial intervention in the normal operation of a constitutional democracy.

Limited to 40 students. Fall semester. Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Fall 2022, Fall 2023

104 Murder

Murder is the most serious offense against the legal order and is subject to its most punitive responses. It gives meaning to law by establishing the limits of law’s authority and its capacity to tame violence.  Murder is, in addition, a persistent theme in literature and popular culture where it is used to organize narratives of heroism and corruption, good and evil, fate and irrational misfortune. This course uses law, literature, and popular culture to develop their skills in reading, critical analysis of texts, and writing

We will examine the legal definition of homicide and compare that crime with other killings which law condemns (assisted suicide) as well as those it tolerates (killing in self-defense) or itself carries out (police use of lethal force and capital punishment). We will explore various types of murders (e.g. school shootings, terrorism, serial killing and genocide) and inquire into the motives of those who commit these acts. In addition, we will consider representations of murder in literature and film.  Can such representations ever adequately capture murder, the murderer, and the fear that both arouse? In addition to numerous court cases course materials will include Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, Toni Morrison, Beloved, and Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem as well as such films as Menace 2 Society, Unforgiven, and Silence of the Lambs. Throughout, we will ask what we can learn about law and culture from the way both imagine, represent, and respond to murder.

This is an intensive writing course. We will focus on the fundamentals of writing style and of helping students develop clear and persuasive writing styles. Along with regular in class writing, frequent short papers will be assigned. Students will be expected to attend regular writing consultations.

Preference to first-year students. Limited to 12 students. Spring Semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2020, Spring 2022

110 Introduction to Legal Theory

This course provides an introduction to the primary texts and central problems of modern legal theory. Through close study of the field’s founding and pivotal works, we will weigh and consider various ways to think about questions that every study, practice, and institution of law eventually encounters. These questions concern law’s very nature or essence; its relations to knowledge, morality, religion, and the passions; the status of its language and interpretations; its relation to force and the threat of force; and its place and function in the preservation and transformation of political, social and economic order.

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Professor Sitze.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2024

132 Legal Science Fiction

(Offered as LJST 132 and SWAG 132) Science fiction conjures novel social arrangements in which questions of law inevitably emerge. Is a very smart robot just property? How should space be governed? If we can predict future crimes, can we punish future “criminals”? The answers to these questions are rooted in theories of what makes “the good society” and prompt us to think about how our own laws function with, against, or under the influence of scientific inquiry. In this course, we will consider how the speculative imagination approaches topics like civil rights, criminal law, labor, reproduction, corporate regulation, privacy, and property, analyzing science fiction texts and films alongside legal cases and theories of justice. Today, we regularly encounter legal conundrums that once seemed futuristic. Genetic engineering threatens the traditional framework of equality that provides the basis of rights. Algorithms, once thought to be a way to resolve race and gender biases, instead encode these biases into our everyday lives. How we order and improve human life is always a matter of legal concern, but regulation is often seen as anathema to technological progress. Why is this the case? Can this tension be resolved?

Limited to 40 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2024

143 Law's History

This course examines the ways in which historical thinking and imagining operate in the domain of law. History and law are homologous and tightly linked. Law in various guises uses history as its backbone, as a lens through which to view and adjudicate tangled moral problems, and as a means of proof in rendering judgment. Questions of history and precedent are integral to an understanding of the way language and rhetoric operate in the very creation of legal doctrine. Moreover, law’s use of history also has a history of its own, and our present understanding of the relationship between the two is a product of Enlightenment thinking. Conceiving of history as one kind of “narrative of the real,” in this course we will explore the premises that underlie history’s centrality to law as we inquire after the histories that law demands, creates, and excludes, as well as the ways in which law understands and uses history to seek finality, and to legitimize its authority.

Limited to 40 students. Spring Semester. Professor Umphrey.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Spring 2024

208 Action, Labor, Law

This course takes the recent resurgence of the American Labor Movement as an occasion for an extended case study in the relation between law, labor, and action.  Our understanding of the relation between law and action is structured by a persistent opposition: if it is action that ushers in the new against the constraints of existing law, then it is law which is called upon to protect what is worth protecting of the existing order and to avoid the sometimes destructive character of action.  And yet this story always risks displacing another crucial set of theoretical and historical questions: how might political actors use the law to give effect to democratic transformation, to bolster rather than constrain such transformation over time?  What role might law play, beyond conservative stabilization, in allowing such changes to endure and become embedded in the shared world? We will consider these conceptual questions in relation to this history of labor jurisprudence and politics in the US. What is the legal history of labor movements, unions, and organizations, and how has pro- and anti-labor sentiment influenced American jurisprudence? How should we evaluate labor rights in relation to other legal rights? What are the relations between established unions, independent or wildcat organizing, and the State? How have economic transformations created new tensions, possibilities, and juridical forms in the relation between law and the labor movement?  Are there limits to labor as a paradigm of action? We will study these questions in their intersection with the jurisprudence of early industrial capitalism and chattel slavery, the reconfiguration of the regulatory state under Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the World Wars, the rise of neoliberal capitalism, the politics of socialism and the Cold War, and recent transformations in the care economy.

Sample reading list: Aristotle, Rosa Luxemburg, Revolutionary Hangover”; W.E.B. Du Bois, Hannah Arendt, Frantz Fanon, Martin Luther King Jr, James A. Gross, Jacques Ranciere,  David Scott; Elisabeth Wood; Saidiya Hartman; Erin Pineda; Eva von Redecker.

Limited to 30 students. Spring Semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Siegel.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023

209 The Psychic Lives of Power

The French philosopher Michel Foucault has famously argued that mental illness is a juridical question of the first order, not only because the “mad” are on the receiving end of abuses of power, but also because madness constantly makes claims back to law, throwing into question its most basic precepts.  This course will take up this claim in relation to the making of the legal subject, the formation of legal institutions, and the work of social transformation.  We will also consider how taking pathology seriously as a critical form, drawing on feminist and disability studies, might allow us to throw into question that which is often normalized through law, for example the purported solidity and desirability of the patriarchal family, or the productivity of capitalist labor.  In the last third of the course, we will take the project of decolonial psychiatry as an extended case study in the relation between psychic forms and legal and political struggles.

Thinkers include Sigmund Freud, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, François Tosquelles, Frantz Fanon, Peter Goodrich, Judge Schreber, Theodor Adorno, Bonnie Honig, Gilles Deleuze, Camille Robcis, Danielle Carr, and Kathi Weeks.  We will also draw on literary examples and scenes from film.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Siegel.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2024

214 What's So Great About (In)Equality?

(Offered as LJST 214 and EDST 214) In our world, commitment to "equality" in one sense/form or another is nearly uncontested. At the same time, the form that it should take, its normative ground, scope, limits and conditions, the ways in which it may be realized, and much else are deeply contested. It is also the case that the world in which we live is characterized by profound, enduring and intensifying inequalities and numerous exceptions to the principle. These may be justified with reference to various countervailing commitments that are accorded ethical or practical priority (desert, liberty, efficiency, political stability, ecological integrity, pluralism, etc.). This suggests that while for many "equality" may be normatively compelling, its realization may be subordinated to any number of interests and desires; or, to put it bluntly, there may be such a condition as too much equality or not enough inequality, privilege and "disadvantage." This course treats these themes as they have arisen in distinctively legal contexts, projects and arguments. It will engage a range of debates within political philosophy and legal theory as to the appropriate limits of equality. While many forms and expressions of inequality have fallen into relative disfavor, some seem virtually immune to significant amelioration. Among these are those associated with social-economic class. Following general investigations of egalitarianism and anti-egalitarianism in social thought and legal history, we will devote closer attention to the legal dimensions of class inequality in contexts such as labor law, welfare and poverty law, education and criminal justice. We will conclude with an examination of the limits of legal egalitarianism vis-à-vis international class-based inequalities under conditions of globalization and cosmopolitan humanitarianism.

Limited to 30 students. Spring Semester 2023. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Fall 2013, Spring 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2019

228 Police Power

Demands to reform, defund, or abolish the police have a long history, even as contemporary calls to curb law enforcement are hotly debated. Some worry that demands for radical changes to policing spell political doom. Others hope they toll the final bell for racism. And some think even minor cuts to police will trigger a Hobbesian “war of all against all.” What is the relationship between the police and what jurists name “police power”: the state's legal authority over public health and welfare? How did this relationship originate, and how has it changed? What does it look like outside of the US? What other social and economic factors intersect with law in debates over the redistribution and transformation of police power? Can the US continue without police as we know them? We will examine these questions using cases and statutory law, critical race and feminist scholarship, political theory, and literary and visual culture to guide our inquiry.

Limited to 36 students. Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2024

231 Social Movements and Social Change

This course examines social movements (and related phenomena) as integral elements of legal orders and as significant sources of legal transformations. Through interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and historical analyses, the course will explore the ways in which non-state actors engage formal legal institutions to shape or reform law, in order to affect the conditions of social life. Of particular interest are not merely desired changes in laws but resultant changes in the culture of law more broadly. The course will draw on a wide range of movements (historical and contemporary; “progressive” and conservative; broad-based and narrowly focused; American and non-American; local, national and global; North and South; activist and bureaucratic; from “below” and from “within”; etc.) and study two or three in closer detail. The over-arching objective is to achieve a richer understanding of both the inner workings of “the law” and the dynamic life of law outside of formal institutions.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Senior Lecturer Delaney.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2015, Spring 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2020, Fall 2022

234 America's Death Penalty

(Offered as COLQ 234 and LJST 334, Research Seminar) The United States, almost alone among constitutional democracies, retains death as a criminal punishment. It does so in the face of growing international pressure for abolition and of evidence that the system for deciding who lives and who dies is fraught with error. This seminar is designed to expose students to America's death penalty as a researchable subject. It will be organized to help students understand how research is framed in this area, analyze theories and approaches of death penalty researchers, and identify open questions and most promising lines of future research. It will focus on the following dimensions of America's death penalty: its history, current status, public support/opposition, the processing of capital cases in the criminal justice system, race and capital punishment, and its impact and efficacy. During the seminar, each student will develop a prospectus for a research project on America's death penalty. This course is part of a model of tutorials at Amherst designed to enable students to engage in substantive research with faculty in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

Open to sophomores and juniors interested in research. Limited to 6 students. Spring semester. Professor Sarat.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2024

253 Arendt's Judgments

Fearlessly independent, tenaciously unclassifiable, frequently controversial, and always thought-provoking, Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) is without question one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. Setting aside the conventional interpretation of Arendt as a political theorist, this course will focus on Arendt’s contributions to the study of law, with special attention to Arendt’s unusual inquiries into human rights, international criminal law, constitutional law, and civil disobedience. By carefully reading select writings by Arendt alongside key events in twentieth century history, we shall trace in Arendt’s texts a relation between thought, crisis, and judgment that is often occluded by the dominant reception of her thought. Along the way, we shall ask how Arendt arrived at her various judgments, what it means for thought to relate to law and to the world, and why judgment might offer a way to respond to, and live through, the crises of one’s present.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Professor Sitze.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023

255 Community and Immunity: Law, Ethics, and Biopolitics

From state security apparatuses to public health initiatives, modern legal orders are governed by the claim that law’s greatest good is to keep human communities safe and sound—unscathed by harm, secure against threats and contagions, and as immune as possible to everything that threatens life. This claim, however, owes its genesis and basis to a set of unstable philosophical and theological premises that not only precede modern legal orders but also, at times, threaten to undo those orders from within. Taken to its logical conclusion, after all, our growing contemporary demand for protections of health and safety seems to be in tension with longstanding democratic principles of equality, liberty, dignity, tolerance, and due process. Today, under conditions of democratic decline, it’s more important than ever to understand the legal and ethical dilemmas generated by this dialectic of immunity and community. That will be the purpose of this class. In it, we shall consider a range of thinkers who inquire into the way that theories and practices of biopolitical immunity at once regulate and undermine liberal democratic communities. In the process, we shall focus on two of the twenty-first century’s most acute expressions of this dialectic: (1) the relation between the jurisprudence of emergency and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; and (2) the relation between the science of public health and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.

Limited to 30 students. Spring semester. Professor Sitze.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023

260 Feminist Legal Theory

In the twentieth century, American feminist movements made significant strides in securing suffrage, formal equality under the law, reproductive justice, and the possibility of economic independence through paid labor.  And yet, the entry of (some) women into the public sphere has only intensified the urgency of a series of underlying questions: Is it desirable to demand legal transformations in the name of the identity “woman,” and if so, how should we incorporate considerations of gender and queerness, class, race, ability, and nationality? What is the relation between the formal emancipation of some women and intensified forms of domination of other women, for example, in the sphere of care work? What are the histories, logics, and political economies of these relations?  What is the family, what is its relationship to reproduction, and how should its legal attachments, obligations, and relationships be understood from a feminist perspective? How did individual choice become the privileged legal mechanism for feminist forms of freedom and what is the status of choice today? We will aim to develop our understanding of these distinct but deeply linked questions of feminist thinking and methodology, with an emphasis on American writers and their postcololonial and anti-racist critics, and to appreciate conflicting points of view and longer histories within these debates.

Thinkers include Mary Wollstonecraft, Sojourner Truth, Aleksandra Kollontai, Rosa Luxemburg, Simone de Beauvoir, Frantz Fanon, Betty Friedan, Catherine Mackinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Shulamith Firestone, Adrianne Rich, Angela Davis, Bell Hooks, Eve Sedgewick, Sylvia Federici, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Donna Haraway, Hortense Spillers, Patricia J. Williams, Judith Butler, Kim TallBear, José Muñoz, Melinda Cooper, Sophie Lewis, M.E. O’Brian, and Amia Srinivasan, as well as materials from intersectional movements and jurisprudence that demanded legal and more-than-legal transformation, including the Atlanta Washer Women Strike of 1881, the Jane Collective, Wages for Housework, the Combahee River Collective, ACT-UP, INCITE!, sex worker unions, and the #MeToo movement.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Siegel.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023

284 The Death Sentence

The political, economic, and philosophical figure of the “death sentence,” although it has archaic roots, continues to haunt the twenty-first century. Athens killed the philosopher Socrates because he was dangerous to the polis, and philosophy has enshrined this death sentence as both its mythical origin and its most modern moment. Having cut off the head of the king, French revolutionaries and their critics fiercely debated whether mercy or execution would better distance their new social order from repressive forms of monarchical sovereignty. The murder and vulnerability to premature death of Africans in the Atlantic Slave Trade and Native and indigenous peoples in the Americas underwrote and enabled the idea of the New World and its fraught and partial freedoms. Together we will inquire into the logics these stories, and their accompanying, often paradoxical, discourses (punishment, mercy; sovereignty, technique), have in common. Turning to contemporary theory, we will seek to understand the persistence of death sentences today.  Why does the state kill, and what can the persistence of such violence both as fact and idea tell us about the idea of the state? Why did “barbaric” practices not end with enlightenment, the critique of religion, scientific rationalism, legal modernization, capitalism? What is the relation between capital punishment and other death sentences meted out in and through prisons, policing, or pandemics?  In distinction from a course that debates American capital punishment primarily from a policy perspective, we will inquire into capital punishment as a problem for the history and writing of legal thought, inquiring after its persistence in philosophic terms and reconsidering the possible bases for abolitionist critique.

Limited to 30 students. Fall Semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Siegel.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

321 Law and Waste 

[Analytic Seminar] “Waste" is so widely used in common parlance that it hardly seems necessary to reconsider its meaning. Yet, it is not always apparent what principles determine what is use and what is waste, why, whom that determination affects, and how. This seminar will examine how different concepts of waste relate to law and authority. “Waste” in the common law is historically linked to land possession. But the law that determines whether an act, a thing, or even a person is “waste” has implications not solely for private property, but for due process, the environment, labor, finance, and the long history of colonization. Descriptions of bodies, cultures, and lands in terms of waste have legally justified exploitation and violence by states and powerful non-state actors, and have thus shaped our world. How do we reconcile the familiar imperative to avoid waste with modern demands for order and justice? We will look closely at this question as we explore the social and legal construction of waste. 

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023

346 Law's Classifications (Research Seminar)

(Research Seminar)  When courts decide cases, they engage in knowledge production, and so must use logical, enforceable classifications to distinguish among persons, things, and rights. Legal doctrines that enshrine these classifications may conflict with broader commitments to equality or tradition, even as they help remedy past injuries, protect existing rights, or create durable guidelines for the future. Such conflicts come into full view when these doctrines leave the courtroom and collide with other social forces and frameworks, like market rationality, medical science, political movements, or religious beliefs. How does law create its classifications? How do race, gender, class and other social identities intersect with them? What external taxonomies are invoked in their making, and to what ends? By attending to the ways law’s classifications are developed, used, resisted or changed, we will come to see the law’s internal tensions, its civic limits, and its social power.

Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Visiting Assistant Professor Brangan.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023

349 Law and Love

[Analytic Seminar] (Offered as LJST 349 and SWAGS 349) At first glance, law and love seem to tend in opposing directions: where law is constituted in rules and regularity, love emerges in contingent, surprising, and ungovernable ways; where law speaks in the language of reason, love’s language is of sentiment and affect; where law regulates society through threats of violence, love binds with a magical magnetism. In this seminar, placing materials in law and legal theory alongside theoretical and imaginative work on the subject of love, we invert that premise of opposition in order to look for love’s place in law and law’s in love. First we will inquire into the ways in which laws regulate love, asking how is love constituted and arranged by those regulations, and on what grounds it escapes them. In that regard we will explore, among other areas, the problematics of passion in criminal law and laws regulating sexuality, marriage, and family. Second we will ask, how does love in its various guises (as philia, eros, or agape) manifest itself in law and legal theory, and indeed partly constitute law itself? Here we will explore, for example, sovereign exercises of mercy, the role of equity in legal adjudication, and the means that bind legal subjects together in social contract theory. Finally, we will explore an analogy drawn by W. H. Auden, asking how law is like love, and by extension love like law. How does attending to love’s role in law, and law’s in love, shift our imaginings of both?

 Open to juniors and seniors. Limited to 15 students. Fall semester.  Professor Umphrey.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2017, Spring 2021, Fall 2022

356 Judging Genocide

(Research Seminar) This seminar will address some of the foundational questions posed by radical evil to the legal imagination. How have jurists attempted to understand the causes and logic of genocide, and the motives of its perpetrators? Is it possible to “do justice” to such extreme crimes? Is it possible to grasp the complexities of history in the context of criminal trial? What are the special challenges and responsibilities facing those who struggle to submit traumatic history to legal judgment? We will consider these questions by focusing specifically on a range of legal responses to the crimes of the Holocaust. Our examination will be broadly interdisciplinary, as we compare the efforts of jurists to master the problems of representation and judgment posed by extreme crimes with those of historians, social theorists, and artists. Readings will include original material from the Nuremberg, Eichmann, and Irving trials, and works by, among others, Hannah Arendt, Zygmunt Bauman, Christopher Browning, Primo Levi, and Art Spiegelman.

Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Douglas.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023

374 Rights

(Offered as POSC 374, LJST 374, and EDST 374) This seminar explores the role of rights in addressing inequality, discrimination, and violence. This course will trace the evolution of rights focused legal strategies aimed at addressing injustice coupled with race, gender, disability, and citizenship status. We will evaluate how rights-based activism often creates a gap between expectation and realization. This evaluation will consider when and how rights are most efficacious in producing social change and the possibility of unintended consequences.

This course fulfills a requirement for the Five College Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice (RHRJ) certificate.

Requisite: Requisite: At least one POSC course (200 level or above). Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Bumiller.

2022-23: Offered in Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014

490 Special Topics

Independent reading course. Reading in an area selected by the student and approved in advance.

Fall and spring semesters. The Department.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022, Spring 2023
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Spring 2014, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Fall 2017, Spring 2018, Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020, Spring 2021, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Spring 2024

498, 499 Senior Departmental Honors

Independent work under the guidance of a tutor assigned by the Department. Open to senior LJST majors who wish to pursue a self-defined project in reading and writing and to work under the close supervision of a faculty member.

Admission with consent of the instructor. Fall semester. The Department.

2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Fall 2011, Fall 2012, Fall 2013, Fall 2014, Fall 2015, Fall 2016, Fall 2017, Fall 2018, Fall 2019, Fall 2020, Fall 2021, Spring 2022, Fall 2022, Fall 2023

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