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Law’s History

Law’s History: How Law Understands the Past

October 19th, 2007

Law in the modern era is one of the most important of our society’s technologies for preserving memory. In helping to construct our memory in certain ways law participates in the writing of our collective history. It plays a crucial role in knitting together our past, present, and future. The purpose of this symposium is to examine law as an active participant in the process through which history is written and memory is constructed. Instead of seeing law as a “victim” of history, we want to treat law as an author of history, not just in the instrumental sense in which law can be said to make a difference in society, but in the ways that law constructs and uses history. Law looks to the past as it speaks to present needs. In the production of judicial opinions—supposedly definitive statements of what the law is—judges reconstruct law’s past, tracing out lines of legal precedent that arguably “compel” their decisions. Among the things we wish to explore are the varied ways law treats history, how history appears in legal decisions, and how the authority of history is used to authorize legal decisions.

Organized by Professor Austin Sarat, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst and Justice Hugo L. Black Visiting Senior Faculty Scholar for the 2007-2008 academic year at the University of Alabama School of Law.

Participants include:
Mary Dudziak, University of Southern California
Martin Flaherty, Fordham University Law School
Risa Goluboff, University of Virginia
Neal Katyal, Georgetown University School of Law
William Novak, University of Chicago

Welcome and Introduction

Dean Ken Randall and Professor Austin Sarat

Session I
History ‘Lite’ Revisited

Martin Flaherty, Professor of Law, Fordham Law School
Moderator: Professor William Brewbaker, The University of Alabama School of Law

Session II
Of Vagrants and Wanderers: History and Mythology in Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville

Risa Goluboff, Associate Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law
Moderator: Professor Carol Andrews, The University of Alabama School of Law

Lunch and Keynote
The Role of History in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld

Neal K. Katyal, Professor of Law, Georgetown Law Center

Session III
Law, History, and Constitutional Myth-Making

William J. Novak, Associate Professor of History, The University of Chicago
Moderator: Professor Kenneth Rosen, The University of Alabama School of Law

Session IV
Law as Public History: How Supreme Court Opinions, Like Historical Monuments, Enable Visions of the Past to Shape the Future

Mary Dudziak, Professor of Law, History and Political Science, Gould School of Law, University of Southern California
Moderator: Professor Alfred Brophy, The University of Alabama School of Law