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Michael McCann: “Criminalizing Big Tobacco: Legal Mobilization and the Politics of Responsibility in the U.S."

Event Date: 
Thursday, February 10, 2011

Michael McCann: “Criminalizing Big Tobacco: Legal Mobilization and the Politics of Responsibility in the U.S."
3:00 to 4:30 PM, SBSG 5105

Michael McCann (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1983) is Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship at the University of Washington. A former chair of the Political Science Department and Adjunct Professor in the Law School, he is the founding director of both the interdisciplinary Comparative Law and Society Studies (CLASS) Center and the undergraduate Law, Societies, and Justice program. McCann is the author of Taking Reform Seriously: Perspectives on Public Interest Liberalism (Cornell, 1986), Rights at Work: Pay Equity Reform and the Politics of Legal Mobilization (Chicago, 1994), and (with William Haltom) Distorting the Law: Politics, Media, and the Litigation Crisis (Chicago, 2004).

Abundant scholarly literature on the legacy of litigation against Big Tobacco in the United States rightly credits the lawsuits by state Attorneys-General during the mid-1990s as a major turning point in the political contest.  This talk is part of a paper, co-authored with William Haltom and Shauna Fisher, and reinterprets the discursive terms and cultural meanings that constructed that pivotal turn among legal elites, among political elites, and in popular culture.  We underline the palpable shift from a tort-based logic of challenge, which most analysts emphasize,  to one incorporating features of criminal law; these are manifest in the “crim-tort” model of litigation and negotiated settlement as well as in the broader media attention to revelations supporting charges of criminal intent to mislead, deceive, and cover-up by the industry.  The study builds on legal mobilization theory and combines narrative history of events with systematic analysis of media coverage over a twenty year period.  Our analysis holds important implications for discerning the future of tobacco regulation as well as the limited potential of litigation against corporate producers of other harmful products in the U.S.This event will be preceded by a graduate student meet-and-greet with Prof. McCann at 1:30 PM in SBSG 5105. A flyer for this event can be found here.