Situating the Role of Democracy in LPE

Katharine Jackson–

One of LPE’s foundational commitments, as Sanjukta Paul reminds us, is that law constitutes markets – and that, as a result, we are free to constitute them differently. But this simply begs the question: how ought we constitute them? This is where political theory can be useful.

As Sam Bagg points out, many LPE scholars already understand that democracy must have something to do with it. We object to many of our laws because they are undemocratic, reflecting instead the power of entrenched elites. But what would count as democratic is a genus populated by a wide variety of species, from proceduralpopulist (leftright, and ideologically empty), republican (neo– and classical), epistemicagonisticdiscursiverepresentative, and participatory. Each implies different legal and institutional reforms and prioritizes different values. Moreover, if we are committed to some form of constitutionalism, we have to admit that democratic publics cannot shape the law any which way they please.

To find a way though this thicket, it is helpful to note that many of these conceptions of democracy tend to fall into two categories. Each posits a different relationship between democracy, law and justice. For some, law, if it is the outcome of democratic procedures, is inherently just or legitimate. Others value democracy instrumentally, useful as a reliable means to achieve otherwise desirable ends. Sometimes those ends include just laws. Sometimes they are more modest but no less important: anti-oligarchystability, peace.

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The “New Normal” Privatization of the Workplace

Ivana Isailović–

As the COVID-19 crisis rages on, individuals around the world are now thrown into a work-from-home, digitally-enabled “new normal” of the workplace. For most white-collar workers, homes have become offices, and boundaries between work and domestic life are being reshuffled.

This shift, however, is just an acceleration of prior developments well under way since the beginning of this new millennium. Before the pandemic, workers with some higher education more were already more likely to work from home. In part this shift resulted from demands for better “work-life balance” prompting employers to accommodate workers with caring responsibilities by introducing remote work and flexibility. More importantly, though, digital technology makes it easier for firms to outsource costs and flexibility onto workers, accelerating the rise of the gig-economy globally. Platforms like Upwork, firms can be assembled with labor from around the world, further privatizing and extending the traditional notion of the workplace.

For many, the current situation has made evident the conflicts between work and family responsibilities, something that feminist scholars have repeatedly put forward.

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Weekly Roundup: July 17, 2020 (Featuring New Editors!)

This week at the Blog…

we continued our symposium on the legal representation of poor people.

On Monday, Gregory Louis argued that critical legal practice requires a critical realist approach to law: looking everywhere, not just courts, to interfere in the political contests that structure and restructure governance regimes.

On Tuesday, Sam Allison-Natale engaged with two influential articles on the ethos of public interest lawyering, using them to launch his argument that radical lawyering must draw from an ethos of solidarity, not altruism.

On Wednesday, Jamila Michener shared some early results of her research on housing courts, reporting a surprising result that people who are repeatedly screwed by the system often find that experience motivating rather than just disempowering, and having legal assistance and, especially, organizing can turn that motivation into mobilization.

(and don’t forget the LPE Project is looking to hire a Deputy Director! and the LPE summer series continues next week!)


We also added two new editors!

Ure Obioma is a rising 3L at the University of California, Davis School of Law, where she is a member of the Black Law Students’ Association, and the Business Law Journal. She will be covering topics related to health outcomes and the criminal justice system. As a student at Cornell, she volunteered in the Ithaca Court System. After her first year of law school, she worked as a Summer Legal Associate at Morrison Mahoney in Boston, Massachusetts, where she learned the art of litigation. However, after taking a negotiations course in law school she developed a passion for drafting contracts and negotiations. Her passion is rooted in the belief that true negotiations bring two parties together. This summer she is interning at the Office of the California Governor Gavin Newsom as a Legal Fellow to the Tribal Negotiations Advisor.

Tariq El-Gabalawy (@telgabal) is a rising 3L at UC Davis School of Law, where he is a member of the Middle East North African and South Asian Law Students Association, the Black Law Students Association, and the student run Workers Rights Clinic. During law school, he has been an RA for the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies, clerked with the E.D. of CA Federal Defender’s Office, externed with the Adolescent Defense Team at Yolo County Public Defender’s Office, and currently works with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s. Tariq is interested in ending carceral violence and has studied the racialized nature of state violence, specifically the politically motivated targeting of Muslim communities in the wake of 9/11.


And here’s our guided tour of the internet

Tariq El-GabalawyAs activists and communities across the country call for defunding the police, the tragic case of Sean Worsley highlights the need to reform the entire criminal justice system. As reported by the Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Worsley, a disabled veteran of the Iraq war, was arrested for possession of marijuana while playing air guitar at an Alabama gas station, a charge which eventually left him homeless and sentenced to five years in prison. His story shows how onerous fines, fees, and probation requirements tend to punish poor people of color for being poor, and raises the question of when someone should be sent to prison for “crimes” that harmed no one.

This week Asheville North Carolina made a splash with the passage of a resolution to provide reparations to the city’s black residents. Although what reparations should look like is a topic of debate, the resolution passed by the Asheville city counsel is aimed at “increasing minority home ownership and access to other affordable housing, increasing minority business ownership and career opportunities, strategies to qrow equity and generational wealth, closing the gaps in health care, education, employment and pay, neighborhood safety and fairness within criminal justice.” Beyond these overarching goals, the city hasn’t offered many specific details so it remains to be seen how effective this resolution will be in bringing about economic justice for its black residents. 

Finally, a deeply troubling story has come out of Louisville Kentucky, where protests demanding justice for Breonna Taylor continue. A protest staged on the front lawn of Kentucky’s Attorney General Daniel Cameron led to the arrest of 87 protesters. All 87 people arrested were charged with felony “intimidation of a participant in the legal process” on the basis that chants used by the protesters constituted a threat of violence. A law meant to protect witnesses is now being weaponized to insulate an elected official from public scrutiny and those arrested face one to five years in prison despite the fact the protest was peaceful.  This blatant attempt to chill free speech is the latest use of criminal law to intimidate Black Lives Matter protesters.

Luke Herrine: As the Blog considers revisiting our 1LPE series, I have been trying to keep track of the wave of meditations on how to incorporate a racial lens into the law school curriculum that have come as a sort of aftershock to the earth-moving protests this summer. The Civil Procedure Workshop is holding an event on July 22 on teaching civil procedure with race in mind. The Contracts Blog is hosting a series of posts on critical race analysis in the contract curriculum. Just Security is hosting a “racing national security” series. Let me know if you see others!

Over at the New Inquiry, Tamara Nopper took on the trope that the suburbs are a good image of what police abolition looks like, but her account is not just a critique: it is a deep reconsideration of how we think about the relationship between police, budgets, and racial capitalism. She brings together critical geography, black radicalism, and Modern Monetary Theory to force reconsideration of the very way we understand how the social construction of disadvantage operates. Somehow she does all this in only a few hundred words!

Relatedly, Nathan Tankus’s substack–which has become a publication with a paid editor, guest contributors, and over 40k subscribers since I first mentioned it here (coincidence??)–has an amazing post from Phillip Rocco on the relationship between federal budgets and state/local budgets. It’s got history, legal analysis, institutional economics, sociology, macro-informed accounts of budgeting, and SO MUCH MORE.

At Democracy Journal, Sandeep Vaheesan takes critical analysis of Amazon took the next level by outlining a schematic for restructuring it in the public interest. The post is a masterclass in thinking through the interrelation between antitrust, public utilities, and other forms of regulation (even if you don’t agree with his ultimate solution!). And as has become his habit (perhaps it should be all of ours), Vaheesan begins his analysis by re-emphasizing the fact that law, the state, and political power are always involved in constructing the sort of “private” power that Amazon has.

Bonus: I just discovered that the Kool-Aid Man and Punchy (from Hawaiian Punch) were created when RJR Reynolds and Phillip Morris (i.e. two tobacco companies) bought up food companies when they thought their profits would be threatened by anti-smoking regulation. Apparently, tobacco executives only know how to make money by slowly killing people?

Anna Wherry: Jason DeParle’s piece in the New York Review of Books offers a fascinating look into the history of measuring “child poverty” and on child allowances as a promising policy intervention. The entire article is worth a read, but particularly interesting was his account of the politics of measuring child poverty. Since the 1960s, the Census Bureau’s “Official Poverty Measure.” has used a family’s cash income before taxes to measure levels of poverty. This way of measuring poverty, however, fails to capture the aid that poor families receive in the form of non-cash aid in the form of Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance, and cash aid that is distributed via the tax code. As DeParle explains, “by official standards, a family that gets $10,000 a year from food stamps and tax credits is just as poor as if it had received nothing. If hundreds of billions in anti-poverty spending doesn’t appear to be reducing poverty, that’s because the statisticians don’t count it.” This government’s blunt statistical tool, in turn, easily bolsters claims on the right that government aid doesn’t reduce poverty and, in the words of Reagan, “we fought poverty and poverty won.” 

This piece, by Cristina Nova, on how childcare disruptions hurt parents of color. Childcare was in short supply and expensive for families of color even before the pandemic. As Nova explains, “A thinner financial cushion means full-time work—and affordable child care to support parent employment—is a more urgent necessity for many families of color than it is for non-Hispanic white families. However, despite being more dependent on full-time work and child care, parents of color are more likely to experience job disruptions that affect their bottom lines in both the short and long term—a fact that makes recovering from the economic impacts of a pandemic especially challenging.” As a first step toward addressing this problem, Nova endorses the Child Care is Essential Act which would apportion $50 billion to provide grants to child care providers during the COVID-19 crisis. 

When I have a moment this weekend, I’m looking forward to listening to this recorded conversation between Maya Schenwar, Victoria Law and Mariame Kaba, on Schenwar and Law’s new book Prison by Another Name. Their book looks at how “alternatives” to jail and prisons, such as drug treatment, electronic monitoring, mandated psychiatric treatment, “actually widen the net, weaving in new strands of punishment and control, and bringing new populations, who would not otherwise have been subject to imprisonment, under physical control by the state.”

And, finally, this fantastic piece in the Boston Review on global health austerity.

Isabel Echarte: Today I’m taking you on a deep dive into everyone’s favorite subject–tax law! (Okay okay, I’ll admit, only tax nerds like me love tax law but boy do we really love it). But I can say that you’ll be interested to hear about some developments in government efforts to close international tax loopholes. 

This week, the EU general court annulled the European Commission’s case against Apple and Ireland for unpaid taxes resulting from Ireland’s “sweetheart” deals for Apple subsidiaries. “[T]he commission had calculated Apple’s outstanding tax bill on the basis of all of the company’s sales outside North and South America, including the value of its intellectual property. The judges said the commission should have shown the income represented the value of the activities carried out by the Irish subsidiaries as opposed to that relating to decisions taken and implemented elsewhere.” The case underscores how challenging it will be for countries to reign in these practices. It’s a big deal because the scale is enormous. These schemes have significantly eroded the U.S.’s ability to collect taxes from these entities: Gabriel Zucman stated “40% of multinational profits are shifted to tax havens each year globally and the United States loses about 15% of its corporate income tax revenue because of this shifting.”

The FT article (linked to above) discussing the EU case argues that the answer to this problem can be found in the OECD’s efforts to combat these practices–termed the “base erosion and profit shifting” (BEPS) project. But some scholars have questioned more than just the practices of firms and countries like Ireland. Steven Dean, for example, has pointed to the “international tax constitution” as the source of these dynamics, arguing for more than just tweaking the corners of international taxation, as BEPS seeks to do: the international tax constitution “just says we are not going to double tax. That unwritten constitution grew out of the post-World War I concerns . . . . [T]here was broad consensus among experts that . . . double taxation posed a threat to cross border ties, and in the wake of World War I, such a threat was not to be taken lightly.” That means, the tax system today favors consistently undertaking companies than risking any chance of over taxing them. 

I promise I spared you a lot of detail there. But now you know just enough to be annoyed at the EU court! And something enjoyable to reward that effort: Avatar: The Last Airbender is back on Netflix! Read the New Yorker’s take here.

Caroline Parker: In the 1990s, Steven Donziger helped direct a groundbreaking class action against Chevron on behalf of indigenous villages near the Lago Agrio oil fields in Ecuador.  This story about the legal counterattack against him is dystopian. When federal prosecutors chose not to pursue criminal contempt charges against Donzinger, a judge appointed a private law firm with deep ties to oil & gas to lead the prosecution. Law school has not yet taught me why or how that is possible…

A GAO report released Tuesday found that the Trump administration has systematically undervalued the “costs” of climate change in its “social cost of carbon” formula. If any blog readers happen to believe that federal CBAs reflect a stable scientific objectivity, surprise! 

This piece from Politico explores whether the Federal Reserve has a role in climate policy. If the Fed is really about stability, the answer has to be yes.

You have read headlines about the 15 y.o. who was sent to [in-person] juvenile detention in Michigan last in May for failing to attend online school. “Cyber truancy,” they’re calling it. This ProPublica investigation describes all the details of the Michigan case. I think this story should remind us that social workers are often a part of–not an alternative to–the carceral state.

You Planted a Seed: Legal Problems as Power Building Possibilities

This is part of our symposium on the legal representation of poor people.

Jamila Michener–

In January 2020, I sat in a courtroom in Atlanta observing as people with various housing problems went before a judge. The case that stood out most that day involved a Black man in his late 30s whom I’ve since given the pseudonym Ray. Ray was being evicted by his landlord, a man I’ll call Mr. Young.

All parties agreed that Ray had been paying his rent. The rent was once partially covered by the housing choice voucher program (colloquially known as Section 8) and Ray had reliably paid the remaining portion. In fact, Ray paid extra as part of an off-the-books rent-to-own agreement. Ray hoped to one day buy the home he rented and Mr. Young led him to believe that would be possible if he agreed to pay a sum over and above what HUD allowed. Nonetheless, by the time I observed them in court, Mr. Young wanted Ray out. The neighborhood where Ray’s rental home was located had begun to gentrify, demand was on the uptick, and Mr. Young saw a chance to maximize his profits. Claiming that Ray was on a month-to-month lease (a fact that Ray disputed but could not disprove), Mr. Young’s lawyer made the case that his client could evict at any time. It did not matter that Ray had paid his rent. It did not matter that Mr. Young had defrauded Ray with a false promise of selling him the home. Nor did it matter that Mr. Young had neglected home repairs, sent men to Ray’s residence to intimidate him, or put Ray’s family through enough prolonged stress that his daughter needed counseling.

All of those facts emerged in court. None affected the outcome. Mr. Young retained experienced legal counsel. Ray represented himself. Ray was passionate, organized and smart. But he did not know the law. He struggled to make his way through the formal courtroom proceedings. When all was said and done, the judge expressed sympathy for Ray but insisted that he had to vacate the home within 7 days. She firmly assured him that one week was “all the law allowed.”

When the trial ended, Ray’s landlord laughed with his lawyer about how annoying Ray had been. Ray held his head high and swiftly walked past Mr. Young. I followed him. When I caught up, I explained that I was a researcher seeking to learn more about his experiences. He seemed eager to commiserate with someone who had been in the room to witness what happened. We talked for an hour. I mostly listened. Ray told me too much to recount here. Most of it reflected his profound sense of injustice (“I didn’t have a chance for a fair trial today…They want you homeless, they want us on the street, they want us desolate”).

Ray now had seven days to move his wife and four children out of the home they had lived in for seven years. He was frazzled and frustrated. What stood out most, however, was that he was resolute and clear minded about the politics of what he was going through. He confidently told me that, “the judge represents the bankers” then almost immediately declared of her and her ilk: “y’all thought you’ll put me in the ground, ya’ll didn’t bury me you planted a seed.” Ray went on to talk through his plan for “fighting this”— a path he was intent on whether he lost his home or not. Among other things, he mentioned “going public” and getting the media involved to expose “what they do to us [Black people]” in housing.

Ray’s experiences with his landlord, the public housing authority, and the civil court system had been almost entirely negative. Yet, instead of being demobilized, he was activated. This is not what theories of political participation would lead us to expect.

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From Altruism to Solidarity: A New (or Perhaps Old) Model for Public Service

This is part of our symposium on the legal representation of poor people.

Sam Allison-Natale–

To put the matter crudely: if one relegates a certain social space simply to the selfish acquisition of material things, it is almost inevitable that soon someone else will come to set aside another domain in which to preach that, from the perspective of ultimate values, material things are unimportant; that selfishness-or even the self-are illusory, and that to give is better than to receive.. . .. Pure greed and pure generosity are complementary concepts; neither could really be imagined without the other; both could only arise in institutional contexts that insisted on such pure and single-minded behavior; and both seem to have appeared together wherever impersonal, physical, cash money also appeared on the scene.”  David Graeber, Debt: The First 5000 Years.

In their call to young lawyers entering public interest, Hershkoff and Loffredo remark that students entering public interest work are often held up by the sense that they are “losing out” by entering public service – in status, first and foremost. They work to dispel that selfish notion of individualistic altruism, and as the quote above illustrates, the individualistic altruism view is nothing more than a reverse manifestation of the individualistic greed that motivates much of the profession. The ideology underpinning individualistic altruism infects many of those who do enter public service law and this view glorifies powerlessness, when power is precisely what we need if we are to end injustice.

Public interest attorneys must conceptualize the work as in the holistic interests of both themselves and their clients and not as merely selfless altruism. Downwardly-mobile attorneys are badly saddled by school debt, and high rent. For lawyers of marginalized identities, all of this compounds on top of oppressions rarely ameliorated by simply occupying a “professional” occupation. In other words, public interest attorneys share interests with our clients in ending racial, gender, and economic injustice. The martyrdom culture of “heroic” public interest attorneys must be replaced with a sense of solidarity.

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The Clean Sea Breeze of Bad Men

This is part of our symposium on the legal representation of poor people.

Gregory Louis–

In Professor Hershkoff and Loffredo’s post contextualizing their comprehensive handbook within the LPE movement, we can detect a certain irony. As they acknowledge, many lawyers, particularly those trained at elite institutions, eschew the representation of low-income communities for a host of reasons amounting to “a bad fit.” My colleague Julia Hernandez emphasizes this point, but from the perspective of clients. Lawyers not grounded in LPE had better not undertake this representation; it is not for those approaching it with some detached attitude of noblesse oblige. I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Hernandez, but lament that anyone might regard representing low-income communities as a “waste” of a Harvard Law grad, or any other product of prestige. On the contrary, it is those lawyers’ loss – for through poverty LPE work they might become a real lawyer.

One of my mentors Marty Needelman, a civil legal services lifer hailing from the revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s, often repeats that ‘the law is what you can get away with.’ Many people who’ve heard him say this overlook that the apparent cliché actually serves to encapsulate the legal philosophy animating legal practice. A Harvard Law grad – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. – formulated a theory of law meant to restrain the “bad man”, or the social actor looking to what and how much he can get away with. The bad man’s perspective on law is the foundation of LPE lawyering, and it is what those representing low-income communities intuitively grasp. I suspect that it’s folks regarding legal services work as a “waste” of a Harvard Law degree who are shocked by the boundless cynicism and anomie of the Trump administration. They suffer of this precisely because they regarded “the law” as some pristine omnipotence, loftily residing in the ether untouched.

But for those of us who have represented immigrant and working poor communities in gentrification vortexes like Brooklyn and Queens (like the community lawyering and organizing office that I co-founded before becoming a professor), we have learned otherwise.

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Weekly Roundup: July, 2020

This week at the blog…

we began a symposium on the legal representation of poor people, part of our ongoing conversations of LPE praxis.

Helen Hershkoff and Stephen Loffredo kicked off the symposium by explaining why they wrote their manual for providing legal services for people with low incomes and how they understand the sort of legal practice a manual ought to call forth.

John Whitlow reflected on the vital role of attorneys for low-income people but the contradictions that come with the role service provision within an oppressive system.

Julia Hernandez argued for the necessity of radical self-education, humility, and willingness to be a thorn in the side of non-profit organizations that serve to reproduce oppression.

The discussion will continue next week, so stay tuned!


And here’s the treasure we’ve dug from elsewhere on the internet:

Sarang Shah:

It looks like postal banking is once again in the news this week. A fine idea that! Friend of LPE, and featured speaker at this week’s LPE summer series (register at the link!), Mehrsa Baradaran takes us through the virtues of postal banking, including redressing racial and income inequality, in this essay at the Harvard Law Review Forum.

Relatedly, why not just institute accounts at the Federal Reserve? Lev Menand, John Crawford, and Morgan Ricks have written a brief, persuasive argument for why Fed Accounts are easy, just, and dare I say, even fun.

Did you know that the US federal government regularly assesses prices and competitive injuries? I certainly didn’t! (h/t Sandeep Vaheesan) As just one example, the US International Trade Commission maintains this database of import injury determinations that makes for an endless supply of evening readings to go alongside your nightcap, plush reading chair, and cozy fireplace. I’ve been trying to develop a heuristic framework for how one can determine whether a practice ought to be fair or unfair given the founding principles of antitrust law. If, as Duncan Kennedy once put it, “competition is legalized injury,” I have a feeling this database will help with thinking through such a tort law-like heuristic.

Finally, Ron Knox of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance has written a great piece in Slate about consolidation in the beer industry, the use of anticompetitive exclusive dealing arrangements among the two duopolistic distributors, and how it harms independent craft brewers, consumers, and even American democracy.

Anna Wherry:

It’s baffling how, during a pandemic, hospitals are finding themselves in the red and laying off workers. Adam Gaffney’s article in the Baffler explains why. The article provides a brief history of hospital financing and capitalism in the United States (tldr: we went from something called “per diem” rates to diagnostic related groups, or DRGs–a concept invented by Yale researchers–in the 80s to try to increase competition, cut the length of hospital stays, and keep down costs.) But–*surprise*–hospitals operating under a logic of neoliberal capitalism exploited DRGs to maximize profit. DRGs also meant that patients who choose elective procedures are profitable for hospitals while those who need drug treatment or primary care are not. This system of financing leaves hospitals in the lurch when elective procedures are eliminated during a pandemic. It also creates inequalities between hospitals. These inequalities are, in turn, impacting COVID outcomes, as this recent article in the NYTimes reveals. Gaffney, who is the president of Physicians for a National Health Program, offers a solution: “we must move forward to full public financing of hospitals, not as commodity-producing factories, but as social institutions, with guaranteed annual global budgets that could be used for the care of hospitalized patients and the provision of community care services alike.” 

In North Carolina, one of thirteen states that refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, organizers with Down Home are making headway in their campaign to reverse this decision. Organizers attribute their success in part to how the pandemic has opened people’s eyes to the need for insurance not attached to employers as many residents in the state have lost jobs. 

Not on my beat (I can’t help myself), but this podcast episode on a popular diversion program in San Francisco caught my attention. I worked for a summer at a federal defenders office and had the chance to observe a diversion program for young defendants. Although the programs are undeniably better than incarceration–people aren’t, at the very least, locked in cages and separated from their networks of support–the programs often stretch on for years, make questionable demands of their participants, and deny procedural rights and guarantees in the name of “non-punitive” justice. This podcast implies that as we continue conversations on defunding the police we should continue to be aware of other institutions that have policing functions.

Caroline Parker:

On Monday, a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access Pipeline shut down for good, ending a legal and political battle that began more than four years ago. The DAPL story is a case study in the relationship between law and organizing in the era of climate change. In this article/post following the 2016 resolution of the Keystone XL case, Ted Hamilton (of Climate Defense Project) discusses what that seven-year battle revealed about the role of litigation in the climate movement. The two pipeline cases aren’t identical, but his reflections on tactical delay and politics resonate today.

I was delighted to encounter this piece from Astra and Sunaura Taylor asking why leftists haven’t organized in opposition to the meat industry. Like oil&gas, industrial animal agriculture is so terrible for workers, animals, human health, and the climate–it seems obvious that the left should be unified in opposition.  If you’re as into this argument as I am, you can hear more on Astra’s interview with the Hot & Bothered podcast in April.

Luke Herrine:

Maybe you saw the video of the “Trader Joe’s Woman” freaking out for being told to wear a mask (one of many such circulating the Twitterdome)? You didn’t? Well, then you’re like me. I didn’t watch it because I thought I knew everything I needed to know about it from the description. Turns out not. Tressie McMillan Cottom wrote a deft essay on how that video illustrates the way the anxiety that comes with constant lockdown, heightened saliency of death, and ongoing institutional failure interacts with the anxiety of downward mobility and how *that* interacts with the racial character of class mobility in the United States. Her analysis of the importance of consumption-based status clinging to this dynamic is especially profound.

Another great essay that ties many things together (like that transition??) is this recent scholarly article by Erin Lockwood on the “International Political Economy of Global Inequality.” Given the title, readers of this blog are contractually obligated to click and read, of course.

Work for LPE! Deputy Director Needed

The LPE Project is looking to hire a Deputy Director!

The Deputy Director will receive an appointment as a Research Scholar at Yale Law School, and ideally will be at the early stages of a career in legal scholarship, advocacy, or policy and will have a developed and independent set of related interests. On average over the course of the year, the Deputy Director will spend approximately 50% of their time on their own scholarly or scholarly-adjacent research and writing.

See more details here.

LPE Praxis for Intergenerational Joy

This is part of our symposium on the legal representation of poor people.

Julia Hernandez–

The question of how to put LPE into practice in legal services work naturally raises questions around methodology: who should elucidate and fulfill an agenda for life-affirming social change, and how should we go about it? More specific to lawyering, who should occupy the role of a lawyer fighting alongside her clients for racial and economic justice? These questions run together with epistemological questions about the origins of positions lawyers take on behalf of politically marginalized people, and they are central to today’s powerful movements, including movements building family power.

In reimagining the state- a central concern of LPE praxis- our anchor is always the people who know its brutality best. In other words, the law means what it means to those subject to it. A direct service lawyer’s proximity to these individuals and communities is an important social location, positioning them to illuminate practices on the ground. The value of this position depends on its relation to surrounding organizations. When part of a larger movement for social change, direct service lawyering can inform a movement’s agenda and serve as a pipeline to organizing for impacted people not already involved. When confined in the nonprofit industrial complex, or NPIC, the direct services lawyer can become isolated, depoliticized and demoralized.

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Politics and Poverty Law

This is part of our symposium on the legal representation of poor people.

John Whitlow–

This past February, I was asked, along with several of my colleagues at CUNY School of Law, to remark on Helen Hershkoff and Stephen Loffredo’s forthcoming book, Getting By. This was a supreme honor, given my admiration for Helen and Stephen’s work and the fact that Stephen was my professor and continues to be a mentor. Although I was asked to focus my talk on a particular section of the book, I took some liberties and emphasized its philosophical orientation to the practice of law on behalf of people with low income, particularly the relation of this orientation to the project of law and organizing. Below is a modified version of my remarks.

Just a few pages into reading Getting By, I was struck by its resonance with the admonition popularized by the dissident Italian political philosopher Antonio Gramsci – that when analyzing and intervening in a particular political moment, we must combine a pessimism of the intellect with an optimism of the will. The pessimism allows us to take a sober accounting of the forces and events that led us to our current conjuncture; the optimism gives us the capacity to hope for – and work toward – a better future. The tension that inheres in this dialectic can be debilitating, with some of us veering into inactive nihilism, and others careening toward faith-based pollyannaism. Helen and Stephen navigate this tension deftly, with rigor and humility, in a way that is firmly grounded in the lived realities – and legal necessities – of poor and subordinated people.

In the framing of Getting By, we find ourselves situated in a society shot through with race and class inequality, brought about by decades of neoliberal policies that have favored capital and depleted the welfare state of the New Deal and Great Society. There is an acknowledgement that this reality can only be changed by a multi-racial mobilization of working-class and poor people that takes aim at the political economic and legal status quo. There is also a recognition that these same people – the victims of racialized neoliberalism – need all the help they can get just to survive in this world, and that public interest attorneys can play a vital role in assisting them.

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