• Archive for January, 2015

    Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Law

    by  • January 16, 2015 • Faculty Commentary, Featured Posts • 0 Comments

    Martin Luther King, Jr. Lincoln Memorial

    Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963 | Wikimedia Commons

    Schmidt_Chris thumb By Christopher Schmidt


    Among the most important of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s contributions to American history were his commentaries on the relationship between the law and social justice.

    King’s views toward the law can be divided into two categories: law as obstacle and law as opportunity.

    Law as an Obstacle to Racial Justice

    Much of the civil rights movement was a struggle against law: against racially discriminatory laws or racially neutral laws that segregationists used to attack civil rights activism.

    Southern police arrested civil rights protesters—including, on multiple occasions, King—for violating practically every criminal code provision: disturbing the peace, marching without a permit, violating picketing or boycott laws, trespassing, engaging in criminal libel and conspiracy. The NAACP was prosecuted in Alabama and elsewhere for refusing to disclose its membership rolls as required by state law. Several southern states went after civil rights attorneys for legal ethics violations. Montgomery used minor traffic ordinance violations as a way to undermine the carpools used during the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. Alabama prosecuted King on charges of tax evasion.

    King often struggled to explain why he believed civil rights activists were justified in breaking certain laws—even some laws that on their face said nothing about race—while also condemning segregationists for their defiance of Brown and other federal civil rights requirements. He famously tackled this question in his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, where he differentiated just and unjust laws. “A just law,” he wrote, “is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” Since segregation laws fall squarely in the later category, “I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court because it is morally right, and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances because they are morally wrong.”

    A more challenging situation, King continued, involves a law that “is just on its face and unjust in its application.” It was this kind of law that landed King in his Birmingham jail cell, since he had been arrested for parading without a permit. “Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade,” he explained, “but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.”
    (more…)

    Buccafusco Coauthors New Book on Happiness

    by  • January 12, 2015 • Faculty Scholarship • 0 Comments

    Happiness and the Law, a new book by Professor Christopher Buccafusco and colleagues John Bronsteen (Loyola University Chicago) and Jonathan Masur (University of Chicago), was published by the University of Chicago Press in December. Below, read an excerpt from Jack Silverstein’s Chicago Daily Law Bulletin profile on the authors and the project (“The pursuit of (studying) happiness”):

    You are a criminal defense attorney with a client weighing two options: Accept a plea deal and an automatic five years in prison or go to trial and risk receiving a sentence of 20 years. Your client decides to go to trial.

    Is the client wrong? According to three Illinois law professors and coauthors of a new book examining the impact of laws on happiness, the answer is no.

    “Our research shows that 20 years in prison is not nearly four times as bad as five years,” said Jonathan Masur, a professor at University of Chicago Law School.

    That is among the conclusions in the new book “Happiness and the Law,” written by Masur, John Bronsteen of Loyola University Chicago School of Law and Christopher J. Buccafusco of IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

    The book … is the result of six years of work between the three professors as they set out to create metrics for evaluating laws based on happiness.

    “If you think about why we have law, at all, the basic core reason is to make people’s lives better,” Bronsteen said. “If you want to think about how law affects people and how to make law better, you need to think about what it means to improve people’s lives.”

    To study happiness, the professors combed pre-existing research such as the General Social Survey, a survey founded in 1972 that tracks people’s happiness and quality of life over many years by asking them to respond to questions about themselves.

    “Our contribution in the book, then, is basically to take these findings and use them to challenge and update more traditional ways of thinking about legal problems—economically and philosophically,” Buccafusco said.

    The survey is an example of hedonic psychology, the attempt to quantify happiness.

    “It’s the notion that we can detect and discover what we would call ‘subjective well-being,’” he said.

    Read the full profile here.