You are here

“Situating the Role of Public Opinion and the Media in the Decision of Cause Lawyers to Act”

Event Date: 
Wednesday, November 6, 2013

“Situating the Role of Public Opinion and the Media in the Decision of Cause Lawyers to Act”

Professor Scott Barclay, Professor of History & Politics, Drexel University & Senior Scholar of Public Policy, The UCLA Williams Institute

4:00-5:30 p.m. SBSG 5105

ABSTRACT: This talk explores the deceptively simple question: How do cause lawyers judge when and where to litigate on behalf of their cause? The traditional answer, relying on theories related to legal opportunity structure, have focused on identifying a suitable legal environment. It presumed that when the legal opportunities were present, cause lawyers would act. The theory has the value of highlighting an aspect - determination of a suitable legal environment - that speaks directly to the skill sets shared by all cause lawyers, their formal legal training.

Yet, the realities are often more complex. Borrowing from the example of the early same sex marriage movement, if cause lawyers in selecting suitable legal environments though December 2004 eschewed both a) locations with state constitutional restrictions to same sex marriage passed by December 2004, and b) locations where proscriptions on consensual sodomy amongst adults were removed by the US Supreme Court in June 2003 rather than via earlier action by the state itself, these cause lawyers would still be left with 26 states that apparently meet the criteria of a suitable legal environment.  As it happened, cause lawyers would initiate litigation in only one-half of those locations: 13 of these 26 states. And, there were obvious incongruities in selecting location and timing. For example, cause lawyers would litigate in Vermont and Massachusetts, but not in neighboring New Hampshire or Rhode Island; both states that would go on to legislatively introduce civil unions and then marriage equality.  In this talk, I begin to situate the role of public opinion, local print media support, and government action in the determination of a suitable location and timing for action by cause lawyers.