Civility, Legality, and the Limits of Justice

September 27, 2013

University of Alabama School of Law
Bedsole Moot Courtroom (140)
Speaker List

Today we are in another of those eras in which political leaders and commentators periodically bemoan a “crisis” of incivility. Indeed, throughout American history, the discourse of civility has proven quite resilient and concern for a perceived lack of civility has ebbed and flowed in recognizable patterns. Somehow, we continue to find ways to talk about civility and to warn of its demise. Today, “uncivil” has become synonymous for that horribly dreaded political quality—being wholly and closed-mindedly “partisan.”

Civility is, however, a notoriously slippery concept. As one scholar noted, “[C]ivility is concerned with so many different things that it is difficult to specify the range of its applicability.” Yet, however it is defined, civility makes a normative claim, describing how we should act towards one another.  But is civility a political virtue in and of itself? Or, is it, as Michael Sandel observed,an overrated virtue”?

And, if it is any kind of political virtue, what are its claims when the pursuit of justice seems to be at odds with the demands of civility? Is Randall Kennedy right when he asserts, “if you are in an argument with a thug, there are things much more important than civility”? In all of this, what should the posture of law be toward the claims of civility in the context of hate speech, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, human rights claims, etc?


Welcome and Introduction
Austin Sarat
Justice Hugo L. Black Visiting Senior Faculty Scholar, The University of Alabama School of Law and William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science and Director of Mellon Project on Student-Faculty Research, Amherst College

Session I
Disagreement, Contempt, and the Difficult Work of Liberal Civility
Professor Teresa M. Bejan, Political Science, Columbia University and
Professor Bryan Garsten, Political Science, Yale University

Session II
Against Civility: A Feminist Perspective
Professor Linda M. G. Zerilli, Political Science, University of Chicago 

Session III
Civility and Formality
Professor Jeremy Waldron, Law, New York University

Session IV
Civility and the Alien
Professor Leti Volpp, Law, University of California, Berkeley

Session V
Overview and Commentary
Professor Heather Elliott, Law, The University of Alabama