Law as a Tool for Social Justice Winter 2019

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Class Details

The law may be deployed to achieve social justice in different ways: through the courts, legislation, and the ballot. While we will see the law work positively, we also will examine its limitations and failures due to societal, economic and human obstacles. We will read 2 books in full and 2 in part, all of which relate compelling stories. We begin with Devil in the Grove (winner, 2013 Pulitzer for non-fiction), which is about a 1949 Florida rape case involving 3 black men who are defended against the charge of raping a white woman by Thurgood Marshall, at risk to his life. While we encounter the brutal obstacles to obtaining justice in the deep South, the book also is in part a mini-biography of Marshall, and we will read about the great victories he achieved nationally in Supreme Ct. cases involving voting, housing and education. Next is Gideon’s Trumpet, a classic in the field of constitutional law by Anthony Lewis about winning the right of a pauper to be provided with a lawyer in state felony cases. The book elegantly describes the structure of our Federal system, delineating the tension between the rights reserved to the states in the area of criminal law, and the protection provided to individuals by the Bill of Rights. The third book is Winning Marriage by Marc Solomon. It narrates the incredibly successful effort by the LGBT community to win for same-sex couples the right to marry, focusing on gritty political battles at the state level, moving to landfall Supreme Ct. decisions. We will read the penultimate Obergfell decision. The last book is Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action (winner, 1996 Nat’l Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction). The issue is environmental justice and the case is a lawsuit between private litigants: Woburn MA residents who suffered leukemia and other illnesses arising out of toxic chemicals dumped by two large corporations. A David, a very small law firm, takes on Goliath, two giant companies and their huge law firms. Adjunct Instructor Bio: Richard Pollet graduated from Williams in 1969 cum laude, with Honors in Poli Sci, and thereafter obtained a law degree from Columbia Law School. He spent 40 years practicing law, the last 26 as General Counsel of J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT), retiring in 2013. Subsequently, he has done some consulting for WPP, JWT’s parent company, and last taught this Winter Study course in Jan. 2018.
The Class: Format: mornings
Limit: 8
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: 10 page paper
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: seniors first, then juniors, sophomores and first-years
Materials/Lab Fee: approximately $70 for books

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