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Weekly Roundup: March 22


On Monday, Sara Rankin explained what is at stake at the Supreme Court next month in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson. Over the past five years, the Ninth Circuit has held that cities cannot punish or sanction conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless — including through ordinances that outlaw sleeping or camping in public, if the city fails to provide any safe alternative. These extremely modest constitutional protections are now at risk. Yet, Rankin stresses, even if the Court upholds these earlier decisions (as it should), unsheltered people will still face significant threats from cities. This is because many cities have adapted to these earlier rulings not by providing additional housing, but by embracing robust involuntary commitment laws and by pursuing efforts to round up unsheltered people into congregate FEMA-style tents or mass shelters. Thus, as Rankin concludes, “no matter what the Court decides in the following months, it will do little to stem the atavistic impulse to hide homelessness. No judicial decision can. Instead, we need political coalitions that push cities to pursue more effective, nonpunitive, and supportive ways to integrate homeless individuals into the community. We need laws that focus on ending the suffering of unsheltered people, rather than merely removing them from view.”

On Tuesday, Marshall Steinbaum identified the hierarchical social theory that underlies the current hollowing out of public universities, and put forward an alternative vision based on funding, federalization, and fairness. The current crisis in higher ed, Steinbaum argues, arises from a fundamental divide about the purpose of present system. One group sees higher ed’s job as reproducing the existing hierarchy by “admitting a student body optimized for future earnings and propelling them into the associated careers and marriages.” Recognizing the existence of this view, according to Steinbaum, helps explain why issues of gender non-conformity and affirmative action loom so large, as each represents a threat to the reproduction of the existing social order. The second group sees the purpose of higher education as remaking the social order to reflect qualities and achievements of individuals during their own lifetime. Fulfilling this purpose would require tearing down the exclusionary castle walls and country-club-like admissions policies that have long prevailed in our educational system. Unfortunately, we are currently moving in precisely the opposite direction. As he writes (and backs up with data), “elite private universities have not become meaningfully more egalitarian, while public universities, which at one time really did offer opportunities for social mobility, have increasingly been transformed into country clubs for the children of the well-off.” To correct this, Steinbaum lays out a positive vision for higher education, which involves creating “homogeneous institutions with heterogeneous student bodies”—a federal university system that offers low, and crucially uniform, cost of attendance.

And on Thursday, Marc-William Palen argued that, in this moment of resurgent economic nationalism, it is worth looking back at a left-wing tradition that viewed free trade as essential for fostering democracy, prosperity, and a peaceful interdependent world order. Though a growing body of scholarship highlights how free trade’s leading late-20th-century advocates, its “neoliberal” free marketeers, were adherents to a right-wing free trade tradition that cares little about social justice or democracy, for nearly a century prior there existed a left-wing economic cosmopolitan tradition that included liberal radicals, socialist internationalists, feminists, and Christian pacifists. For these thinkers, free trade meant cheap food for the working-class folks flooding into urban industrializing centers by allowing for the importation of foodstuffs from wherever they were cheapest. Moreover, it meant weakening the economic power of the militaristic and atavistic aristocratic classes, which would, in turn, weaken their monopolistic power over foreign policymaking, limiting their ability to wage wars and to maintain expensive empires. After tracing this tradition into the middle of the twentieth century, Palen suggests that perhaps neoliberalism’s current retreat might open the way for the return of eft-wing globalists.

In LPE Land

This coming week, Harvard Empirical Legal Studies is hosting (at HLS and online) two tasty lunchtime talks. On Monday, March 25, Aziz Rana will be talking about “Empire and the Shaping of American Constitutional Law,” and three days later, on Thursday, March 28, Quinn Slobodian will be discussing “Historical Approaches to Neoliberal Legality.”

On Tuesday, March 26th (at YLS and online), Terrell “Rell” Carter, Rachel Lopez, and Kempis “Ghani” Songster will be giving a lunch talk on Participatory Law Scholarship: Reimagining Legal Academia.

Registration is open for “Heterodox Economics Meets LPE: Power for a Just Transition” — a workshop taking place on March 30th at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Speakers include Kate Aronoff, Isabel Estevez, Clara Mattei, An Li, JW Mason, Jamee Moudud, and Martha McCluskey.

On Wednesday, March 27 at NYU Law, LPE NYC and the Surveillance Resistance Lab will co-host an event shining a spotlight on NYC’s MyCity project, titled, “Digital Identity & Domination: The Mayor, NYPD, and MyCity Platform.” Featuring Mizue Azeiki, Raúl Carrillo, Vincent Southerland, and Cynthia Conti-Cook.

From Thursday, April 11th through Saturday, April 13th (at YLS and online), the YLS LPE Student Group and Aslı Ü. Bâli and Ntina Tzouvala will be hosting a panel series entitled “Money, Empire, and the Law.” Featuring Saule Omarova, Karina Patrício Ferreira Lima, Ndongo Samba Sylla, Kangle Zhan, Raúl Carrillo, Aslı Ü. Bâli, Robert Knox, Ntina Tzouvala, Akshat Agarwal and Xiaolu Fan.

Over at In These Times, Tara Raghuveer lays out how the Biden administration can take immediate steps to protect tenants and lower the rent.

In the American Prospect, David Dayen describes the recent landmark settlement that will break up the collusive arrangement among real estate agents.