Law and Vulnerability

This seminar explores the relationship between law and vulnerability from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. The course is anchored in the understanding that fundamental to our shared humanity is our shared vulnerability, which is universal and constant and inherent in the human condition.  It will offer students an opportunity to engage with multiple perspectives on vulnerability, with an emphasis on law, justice, state policy and legislative ethics.

While vulnerability can never be eliminated, society through its institutions confers certain "assets" or resources, such as wealth, health, education, family relationships, and marketable skills on individuals and groups.  These assets give individuals "resilience" in the face of their vulnerability. This seminar will invite students to engage in law and policy discussions to explore how society is currently structured, allowing certain individuals and groups to operate from positions of entrenched advantage or privilege, while others are disadvantaged in ways that seem to be invisible to policy makers and politicians. 

From Partners to Parents: Selected Issues in Family Law

This seminar explores the trends in family law governing marriage and parenthood over the past several decades.  During the latter part of the 20th century substantial changes in behavior have occurred, reflecting attitudinal shifts about women’s equality, sex and sexuality, and the importance and permanence of the marriage bond.  Often identified as battlegrounds in the “cultural wars,” these are areas where the law has scrambled to adjust to evolving expectations and emerging notions of equity and equality.  We will look at “traditional” marriage, challenges from those excluded from marriage, the “breakdown” of marriage, and alternatives to formal marriage, such as contract and non-marital cohabitation.  Laws governing the parent-child relationship have also changed in response to or as part of the disruption of the traditional family model.  The very idea of absolute parental rights has been questioned as the child has partially emerged from the cloak of family privacy and is seen as an independent rights holder in some circumstances.  The seminar will also consider how new technologies and altered attitudes about assisted reproduction have presented unique challenges for the law in regard to who is or how one becomes a parent.   

Sexuality and Justice

This seminar aims to explore the socially constructed norms and frameworks enabling the legal regulation of human sexuality. The seminar will offer students a comparative law perspective on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and justice, while providing the critical tools required to evaluate a host of legislative and judicial responses to gender and sexuality. We will look at emerging case law from common and civil law jurisdictions around the world to analyze how certain types of sexual behavior and gender identity are regulated (including freedom of assembly, association and expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination, asylum and immigration and universality and equality), while also examining the judicial response to ‘deviant’ sexual bodies in action (including same-sex marriage, new family forms, and the decriminalization of sodomy).

A central question will be: How do we situate cultural, geographical and historical understandings of sexuality while remaining attentive to local state and individual practices? We will also pay close attention to the methodology of comparative law itself, and track the politics of comparison as we explore various judicial approaches toward sexuality and gender identity. How have histories of colonialism and imperialism shaped modern understandings of nation, gender and sexuality? How are new complexities being created across these historical entanglements? We will move beyond U.S. jurisprudence to a global setting as we seek to understand how different structural conditions produce particular legal outcomes.

International Environmental Law & Vulnerability

This seminar will examine the development of international environmental law (IEL), focusing on the major areas of global environmental protection including climate change and biodiversity. The course will trace the stages in the evolution of IEL and explore the development of the theoretical underpinnings of the regime, including sustainable development, the "polluter pays" principle, precaution, and vulnerability among others. We aim to understand the current trajectory of the development of international environmental law and discuss possible frontier approaches that can advance global cooperation for conserving and protecting Earth's environment. Overarching themes that will recur in the seminar include ecological limitations versus economic development; North-South politics; international regulation versus State sovereignty; and maintaining the status quo versus the need for reform and the implementation of solutions.

Family, the State & Vulnerability

 This seminar uses history and theory to examine the changing legal regulation of the family via both public and private family law. The seminar takes the concept of universal human vulnerability as a starting point for analysis. The family serves both as a site where human beings' experience of vulnerability and as a societal mechanism for responding to individuals' vulnerability. As the nature of American capitalism evolved over the course of the twentieth century, families and the state adapted to the ways in which a dynamic economy affected the vulnerability and resilience of families. We will evaluate the efficacy of various legal responses.

Feminist Legal Theory

The field of Feminist Legal Theory has grown from a marginalized academic pursuit by a few tenacious and brave scholars to an expected part of law school curriculum in a remarkably short thirty-odd years. While the ideas and definitions of “feminism” and its place in legal theory have been hotly contested over this period, feminist legal theory can be identified by the questions it asks of law, policy, and other academics: In what ways does this implicate gender? Does this make gender visible or invisible? How? What are possible unintended consequences for women?

This course will proceed in two parts. Following a week of introduction, the first six weeks will explore various strands of feminist legal theory, both historic and thematic. Students become familiar with what has been called “waves” or generations of feminism and their importance in legal theory, as well as various responses to feminism: including critical legal studies, masculinities, and backlash. The second portion of the course will explore areas where feminist theory has been applied to address pressing legal issues. While nearly limitless, this course will focus on six particular areas, both to provide a basis in applied feminist legal theory, and as an inspiration for course paper topics, which may cover any of these areas or another one entirely.

Law and Social Movements: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives      

This course uses history, sociology, and legal theory to investigate the relationship between law and social movements. We will examine how law shapes the political imagination of social movement actors. What are the legal frameworks that have influenced social movements’ identities and goals? How has rights consciousness functioned both to inspire and to constrain social change? Another set of questions will focus on the impact that social movements have on law. What are the processes by which social movements influence legal reform and the enforcement of law? What are the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing legal change in courts, legislatures, and administrative agencies? What role do lawyers play in social movements and social change?  We will explore these theoretical issues via case studies drawn from twentieth-century U.S. history including the labor, civil rights, feminist, gay rights, and conservative movements.