The Erickson Legal History Lecture Series
The Ronald A. and Kristine S. Erickson Legal History Lecture Series is named for Ronald A. Erickson ('60) and Kristine S. Erickson ('72), who have been strong philanthropic supporters of the Law School's Legal History Program.
2015-16 Erickson Legal History Lecture
March 3, 2016
"Morals, Markets and Lawyers" Watch the video.
Theorists of commercial (or what we now call capitalist market) societies since Adam Smith have supposed that the successful functioning of such societies essentially depends upon an infrastructure of moral, social, and political-institutional orders and dispositions located outside markets and usually not considered to be proper objects of commercial exchange. The most optimistic view of commercial society (doux commerce) is that it is self-sustaining, because the expansion of commerce can in and by itself serve as the civilizing influence producing the cultures and institutions necessary for its survival and growth.
But a darker thesis, elegantly summarized by Joseph Schumpeter, is that commercial societies tend over time to erode the very supporting orders and character traits upon which they depend. The operations of capitalist markets lead to inequality, extremes of luxury and poverty, and cultures of hedonistic self-seeking that ultimately crowd out, commodify and degrade republican virtue, altruism, trust and intimacy.
These arguments are very familiar, and still continuing. The relatively unfamiliar ingredient I’ll stir into this old controversy is views of how law and lawyers could help to palliate the pathologies to which commercial societies are thought to be prone. I expect this thesis will seem rather counterintuitive: people are more used to thinking of lawyers as a source of social pathologies than as a cure for them.
Law was and is central to theories of commercial society: it is itself one of the foundational orders, Justice and Legislation -- private (property-contract-tort) law, police regulations, and enforcing institutions -- without which societies would fall apart. Law in turn requires courts, legislators and administrators -- and lawyers. In the early American republic, a group of influential lawyers, responding to contemporary concerns over the self-destructive pathologies of commercial republics, proposed ambitious roles for their own profession as the cure. Lawyers, making and administering wise laws, could serve as the mainstay of the rights of property, the restrainers both of private predation and populist excess, and even as leading exemplars of the civic and personal virtues.
Yet repeatedly thereafter, the profession's subsequent experiences had furnished grounds for serious concern that law and lawyers might have worsened the very pathologies of commercial republics that they had claimed to be able to cure.
Is there a way out? And could lawyers help show the way?
2014-15 Erickson Legal History Lecture
February 5, 2015
Rebecca J. Scott
"Unlawful Powers: Discerning and Denying the Presence of Slavery"
Slavery in the 19th-century Americas rested on the recognition of property rights in persons, but what is less clear is the process by which property in a particular person came to be seen as legally and socially legitimate. How did law and society "know" a person to be a slave, and how might a person so claimed prove otherwise? In this lecture, Rebecca Scott explores the stories of three women, each of whom was held or seized as property in 19th-century Louisiana, and each of whom had a potential claim to free status. The child named Sanitte and the woman called Adélaide Métayer had come as refugees from the Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue; the grandmother named Eulalie Oliveau had been born under Spanish rule in the parish of Pointe Coupée, upriver from New Orleans. Law acted upon them, and they themselves sometimes sought recourse to law. Once they came within the realm of law, however, their fates depended crucially on fragile networks of kinship and alliance, on people who could assist them but could also betray them.
2013-14 Erickson Legal History Lecture
April 3, 2014
Cynthia Brilliant Herrup
"The Problem with Pardons"
At the end of every presidency and many governorships, Americans fuss about pardons. Was it right for Bill Clinton to pardon financier Marc Rich in 2001? Should George Ryan have used pardons to clear Illinois' Death Row in 2003? More often than not, we see pardons as signs of unfair treatment, special privilege, and even legal ineptness. It is much easier to name scandals caused by pardons than injustices righted by them. But why? Pardons are meant to do good—to evoke charity and mercy, and to provide a necessary remedy to the sometimes too harsh rationality of the law. Our critiques of pardoning usually concentrate on the specifics of who gives pardons, who gets pardons, and how and why. In this lecture, Herrup will focus on fundamentals: is the problem with pardons intrinsic to the concept of pardoning itself? By looking at the history of pardons in the tumultuous world of 17th-century England, we can rethink why we have pardons and what we can reasonably expect from them.
2012-13 Erickson Legal History Lecture
October 25, 2012
"Marriage in the Courts"
Opponents of marriage rights for couples of the same sex assert that “marriage” has always meant the same thing since time immemorial. But history shows that marriage in the United States – a civil institution regulated by the individual states – has been altered repeatedly by courts and legislatures, responding to changes in family lives and work roles. What are the stakes in making a historical case for marriage rights for same-sex couples? “Marriage in the Courts” addresses that question based on Professor Cott’s experience testifying and writing declarations, amicus briefs, and expert reports in marriage equality lawsuits in several states and constitutional cases in the federal courts, including Perry v. Schwarzenegger in California and several cases arguing the unconstitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
2011-12 Erickson Legal History Lecture
March 7, 2012
"The Trial of Arthur Hodge: Petty Despots and the Making of an Imperial Legal World"
In April, 1811, a wealthy planter named Arthur Hodge was tried, convicted, and hanged for the murder of a slave on the island of Tortola. Often appearing as a footnote in the history of abolition or treated as a minor incident in colonial criminal law, the trial and its context illuminate broader legal trends. Conflicts over the exercise of local authority were prompting calls to contain "petty despotism" in subordinate jurisdictions across the British empire. Interimperial wars were highlighting the role of prize courts within the Atlantic world and placing strains on elite access to colonial sinecures – trends that urged new interest in imperial legal hierarchies. Together such practices transformed the early nineteenth century into a distinctive legal period. The hallmark of the age was not, as some scholars have suggested, a pivot from natural to positive international law, a new kind of human rights law forged by abolitionists, or the legal consequences of a wave of anti-imperial revolutions. In responding to the Hodge trial and other similar events, diverse sets of legal actors in European capitals and remote colonies joined in elaborating a vision of imperial law as a uniquely effective framework for local, regional, and global order.
2010-11 Erickson Legal History Lecture
March 30, 2011
Since the 1870s fears about the physical and moral well-being of American children have led to recurrent campaigns to protect them. Those policies of protection began with the creation of the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1874 and continue into our time with the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children in 1984, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990, Amber Alerts and Meagan’s Laws in the 1990s, the Children's Internet Protection Act of 2000, and current clashes over sex-texting and cyber-bullying. I will argue that these wide-ranging policies of child protection are a particularly revealing way of understanding the changing place of children in American society and in the development of modern American law and social policy. By chronicling the politics of childhood since the late 19th century, I also explain why child protection became a vital way for Americans to express their most fundamental hopes and fears about their children and, through them, about the republic itself.
2009-10 Erickson Legal History Lecture
March 10, 2010
Sarah Barringer Gordon
A new constitutional world burst into American life in the mid-twentieth century. For the first time, the national constitution's religion clauses were extended by the United States Supreme Court to all state and local governments. As energized religious individuals and groups probed the new boundaries between religion and government and claimed their sacred rights in court, a complex and evolving landscape of religion and law emerged. Passionate believers turned to the law and the courts to facilitate a dazzling diversity of spiritual practice. Legal decisions revealed the exquisite difficulty of gauging where religion ends and government begins. Controversies over school prayer, public funding, religion in prison, and same-sex marriage roiled long-standing assumptions about religion in public life.
Professor Gordon's faculty profile is available at http://www.law.upenn.edu/cf/faculty/sgordon/.
2008-09 Erickson Legal History Lecture
April 20, 2009
"Individual Conscience in European Legal History, 1200-1650"
Professor Helmholz is a past president of the American Society for Legal History and an expert on the history of canon law in England. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a corresponding fellow of the British Academy.
Professor Helmholz's bio is available at http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/helmholz
2007-08 Erickson Legal History Lecture
April 18, 2008
"Statelessness in America"
Linda K. Kerber
Kerber is the May Brodbeck Professor in the Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Iowa, and is a lecturer in the College of Law, where she teaches courses in Gender and Legal History. In 2006-07, she was the Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.
Professor Kerber's bio is available at http://www.uiowa.edu/~history/People/kerber.htm