The Strange Career of Legal Liberalism - Kalman, Laura - Yale University Press

Political Science

The Strange Career of Legal Liberalism

  • Laura Kalman
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Legal scholarship is in a state of crisis, Laura Kalman argues in this history of the most prestigious field in law studies: constitutional theory. Since the time of the New Deal, says Kalman, most law scholars have identified themselves as liberals who believe in the power of the Supreme Court to effect progressive social change. In recent years, however, new political and interdisciplinary perspectives have undermined the tenets of legal liberalism, and liberal law professors have enlisted other disciplines in the attempt to legitimize their beliefs. Such prominent legal thinkers as Cass Sunstein, Bruce Ackerman, and Frank Michelman have incorporated the work of historians into their legal theories and arguments, turning to eighteenth-century republicanism—which stressed communal values and an active citizenry—to justify their goals.

Kalman, a historian and a lawyer, suggests that reliance on history in legal thinking makes sense at a time when the Supreme Court repeatedly declares that it will protect only those liberties rooted in history and tradition. There are pitfalls in interdisciplinary argumentation, she cautions, for historians' reactions to this use of their work have been unenthusiastic and even hostile. Yet lawyers, law professors, and historians have cooperated in some recent Supreme Court cases, and Kalman concludes with a practical examination of the ways they can work together more effectively as social activists.

Laura Kalman is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Abe Fortas: A Biography, published by Yale University Press, and Legal Realism at Yale, 1927-1960.