Limits to Litigation

Gerald N. Rosenberg, an assistant professor of political science and an instructor in law at the University of Chicago, has some simple advice for activists who think a United States Supreme Court ruling is an end-all: not only are you wrong, but your money is better spent out of court than in court. In The Hollow Hope, Rosenberg takes to task the civil and women's rights movements for making the Supreme Court the battleground for social change. Looking at Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade, the most celebrated legal cases of these respective movements, Rosenberg finds that neither case provided for the substantial type of social reform activists currently credit them with producing.

Indeed, Rosenberg disagrees from the outset with the long-held litigious strategy of many in the civil rights movement, in which Brown is spoken of with awe and reverence. Rosenberg's research reveals that the Brown ruling was hardly "the most important political, social, and legal event in America's twentieth century history" or the "paradigmatic event" civil rights lawyers claim. Instead, he finds the Supreme Court to have been impatient but unable to implement Brown until the Civil Rights Act of 1964—a full decade later—owing to a lack of supportive political and public opinion.

The numbers Rosenberg presents are convincing...

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