Empirical Studies of Law and Social Change: What is the Field? What are the Questions?

By: Scott L. Cummings. Published by: Wisconsin Law Review. Published on: March 3, 2013

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In his discussion of empirical research, Scott Cummings describes litigation as just one tool in the the law’s arsenal of social activism. Through a comprehensive literature review, he cites three other ways in which the law can be mobilized in the pursuit of social change:

  • Negotiating resolution to disputes;
  • Structuring deals beyond state-granted rights, contributing to growth through a flow of resources to disadvantaged communities; and
  • Providing counsel to clients/constituents by advising of opportunities to influence policy, shaping progressive messages in accordance with precedent standards, & making officials feel more comfortable with the suggested change.

He alsoexplores the relationship between the law and social change by reviewing various empirical evaluations of civil rights cases such as Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education, as well as the the Obama administration’s argument against the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 from 2008. Ultimately, Cummings suggests that more data is required to better understand the role that legal action plays in policy reform. His commentary concludes with an emphasis on the the importance of research that explores the factors underlying authentic social change in the modern world.

Categories: Researchers and Academics

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