How legal history shapes the present..

This is a nice interview of Professor Alfred L. Brophy, one of the Editors of the American Journal of Legal History.

He points to importance of knowing legal history. Much is obviously from an American angle but applies to other countries equally. Today’s ;aws are shaped by laws of the past..

Why is legal history relevant?

Legal history tells us about central questions of how we organize our society; it’s a terrific guide to all sorts of questions of morality and duty. It helps us understand and shape our government. I am always astonished at how often we hear arguments about history – particularly legal history – thrown around in public debate. And we need people to develop that knowledge and to guard against misuse of data.

If you had a time machine and could transport yourself to one point in the last 100 years which has made a huge impact on legal history, where would you go, and why?

It’s hard to pick only one moment – there are so many I’d like to see. It’s hard to beat the argument and decision of Brown v. Board of Education but maybe that’s too clichéd an answer. Karl Lewellyn is a real hero of mine and I’d like to meet him. Legal realism looms so large over basically everything we do in law in the United States. For personal and professional reasons, because the Selma to Montgomery march is so important in the US journey towards civil rights, I’d love to be there on a certain Sunday in March 1965. Those brave souls crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge to an uncertain future. And then, a few weeks later, they crossed the bridge again and went all the way to Montgomery, and the voting rights act of 1965 shortly thereafter.

Pick one or two salient points in the history of legal history that have changed the world as we know it.

There are some huge turning points in US history, for sure – I think of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Reconstruction era amendments to the Constitution, and the constellation of civil rights decisions and legislation that ran from just before Brown to the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Does it sound too jingoistic to say that the Declaration set us on the road to equality and we’ve been working out the promises of the Declaration ever since? A lot of recent writing on legal history focuses on the places where the United States has fallen short – far short – of that promise. But a lot of writing is about how we have moved towards that promise, too,

I don’t know whether legal history is important in law schools in India. I sincerely hope that legal history has not gone the way of economic history.

Economics and law go a long way and most economic outcomes have some or the other legal historical and current angle to them. This is especially important when one is studying economic evolution of say a firm, sector etc. Some aspect of legal history should be part of economics teaching as well..


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