Tag Archives: legal mobilization

Legal Mobilization and Policy Enforcement: A Tale of Two Policies and Two Movements?

Scholars have long debated the role of social movements in changing policy outcomes – whether and how do they matter. Policies can also create political opportunities for social movements. Policies empower historically disadvantaged groups and provide them with the tools and resources to mobilize their rights. Indeed, as David Meyer put it, scholars often grapple with the “chicken-and-egg” problem of policy and mobilization; that is, which comes first? Thinking about this alleged paradox raises questions about the role of social movements following legislative “victories.”

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Direct and Indirect Challenges to the Pipeline

pipeline_protest1Over the course of the last two years, two pipeline projects – Northern Gateway and Keystone – have generated opposition from environmental groups in both the U.S. and Canada. As Rennie of the Canadian Press (June 17) notes, the pipelines have become highly political in both countries. In an article I wrote for Critical Mass, I mentioned that in the U.S., the Keystone pipeline project has posed a problem for President Obama and the Democrats given that environmentalists are against its construction while many others see it as creating jobs. There has been a tremendous push in Congress to get Obama to sign legislation that would allow for Keystone’s construction on the one hand, and Democrats hoping that Obama would veto such a bill on the other. Nonetheless, policy experts seem to believe that the Keystone project would inevitably move forward – if Canada is building a pipeline anyway, why shouldn’t Americans benefit from it? In fact, earlier polls did show that the American public thought energy security was a more important issue than greenhouse gases and a majority favored the pipeline’s construction (although the saliency of the issue among the public has likely varied greatly over the last year). Continue reading

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The tortoise and the hare: institutions, policy and social change

I have been working on a project about policy innovation in the U.S. (even though it’s often considered “reluctant” or a “laggard” especially in social policy).  The case I focus on is disability rights. The idea that the U.S. is a policy leader has become difficult to sell in light of the countless articles and media reports about the 113th Congress being the most unproductive in decades and the partisan conflicts and gridlock characterizing Congress.  Not to mention the fact that about a year ago, the Senate failed to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (see my December 2012 post “Is anyone really against persons with disabilities?”). Ironically, the language of the Convention was based on the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act – thought of by many as the most important piece of civil rights legislation enacted since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The rights language of the ADA also subsequently informed similar laws in Australia and the U.K.

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But it is not the only policy area in which the U.S. is a leader rather than a laggard. I’d like to thank Maureen Eger for pointing me to a recent New York Times article by economics professor Tyler Cowen (Dec 21, 2013). Cowen argues that despite the emphasis on congressional gridlock which either leads to policies nobody wants or no policies at all, the U.S. is better characterized as having periods of “creative ferment” followed by periods of controversy, conflict and retrenchment more akin to a lunging and lurching than political immobility or gridlock. When it comes to handling the financial crisis, environmental policy, intellectual property, and national security/defense, the U.S. has acted rather swiftly. Conflict that may prohibit effective policy implementation typically occurs after bursts of attention and initial legislative output. Continue reading

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An anti-gay marriage movement?

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), should we expect a strong backlash from opponents of gay marriage? If so, what will this backlash look like? Right now, we have heard statements from a few key opponents – from Michelle Bachmann to Mike Huckabee. But will opposition grow into a full-scale countermovement, especially as state legislatures increasingly become the site of the gay marriage conflict? I also ask this question in light of the recent French example where the legalization of gay marriage led to significant involvement of both grassroots and elite elements (albeit motivated by different grievances) converging to attack the Hollande government’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

Supporters of gay marriage celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and declined to rule on the California law Proposition 8 in Washington, D.C., U.S. on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Supporters of gay marriage celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and declined to rule on the California law Proposition 8 in Washington, D.C., U.S. on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

Countermobilization in France around the recent legalization of gay marriage raises several key issues. First, despite the fact that it was well known to activists that protests would not deter the French government from going through with the legislation, protests grew increasingly more intense and continued to do so following the legislation. Second, as I noted in a previous post, it became increasingly clear that what has people mobilized is not so much the right of gays and lesbians to marry but rather, the part of the legislation that deals with assisted procreation and surrogate motherhood for gay couples. Continue reading

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Don’t Forget Parties and Policy Legacies

By Drew Halfmann

Many of the essays in this Mobilizing Ideas dialogue examine the successes and failures of the abortion movements—arguing for example that the anti-abortion movement succeeded by co-opting discourses of “choice” and “women’s health,” organizing through churches, and pursuing incremental change, but was hurt by its violence, extremist rhetoric and attacks on contraception; while the abortion rights movement failed by focusing on “abortion rights” rather than “reproductive justice” and on defensive litigation.

Here, I’d like to highlight a few additional factors that helped determine the successes, failures, and strategic options of the abortion movements: the policy legacies of the Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decisions, the relationship of the movements to political parties, and the electoral fortunes of those parties.   Continue reading

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Standing Up for Rights: Assessing Legal Mobilization Cross-Nationally

By Raul A. Sanchez Urribarri and David G. Ortiz

The use of litigation by social movements in order to achieve social change (typically referred to as legal mobilization) has become a topic of major significance at a global scale. Whilst the lion’s share of legal mobilization has arguably taken place in Western democracies, particularly in the United States (with the best known example being the Civil Rights movement, as has been correctly pointed out by last week’s posts, recent efforts have sought to understand similar developments in the developing world across multiple scenarios, including weakly institutionalized democracies, and even in authoritarian regimes where legal mobilization is costly, but not out of the question.  As a result, there is increasing scholarly attention to these phenomena (for example, see Gauri and Brinks 2008; Gargarella et al 2006; Vanhala 2011; Yamin and Gloppen 2011; Young 2012).  Sometimes these efforts are channeled through high-profile litigation that intentionally seeks to settle “mega-political” questions that prove intractable in other venues (Hirschl 2008).  This is the most visible instance of legal contention by social movements, and the one that tends to highlight the need to understand this phenomenon.  However, legal mobilization is a much more complex, fragmented, and widespread reality, which includes smaller (even routine) trials, a range of efforts outside the courts (sometimes by actors not directly involved in the legal process), multiple (and even competing) goals, and a range of possible effects well beyond the desired policy change.  Continue reading

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Law and Social Movements: It’s More than Just Litigation and Courts

By Steven A. Boutcher

As the essays in this special symposium demonstrate, the relationship between law and social movements has become an increasingly vibrant area of focus for movement scholars, and for good reason. Focusing on legal institutions, such as the courts, raises many important questions that continue to guide movement scholarship, including the role of elites in movement processes, the difficult balance between institutional tactics and broader movement building, and the relationship between strategy and tactical choices.  However, as these essays also suggest, much of movement scholarship appears centrally concerned about the utility of litigation for advancing movement goals—fundamentally a question about outcomes, rather than one about dynamics. Continue reading

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