Friday, September 11, 2009

Ernst on the New Zealand Arbitration Court

It occurred to me recently that an old and not widely circulated article of mine, "In Short He is a Stupid Man": The Judges and the Arbitration Court, 1891-1928, and such works as David Tanenhaus's study of mother's pensions and the Chicago juvenile court tell a related story about what attracted reformers in the common-law world to the courts and what ultimately led them to look elsewhere for institutions with which to govern certain kinds of social relations. I suppose that I ended up, more or less, where Lon Fuller did in "The Form and Limits of Adjudication," although I hope with a suitable acknowledgment of historical contingency. Here's the abstract:
In the 1890s, New Zealand legislators established the Arbitration Court as an ad hoc system for settling industrial disputes; by the mid-twentieth century the Court had become a pillar of New Zealand's welfare state. This transformation did not proceed smoothly, however, because of a mismatch between the mission and its managers. The judges who presided over the court were more interested in legal principles and forensic debate than the bargains of workers and their employers. They considered their tenure as a purgatory to be endured until they were promoted to full-time service on the New Zealand Supreme Court. This mismatch resulted because the Court evolved into an institution that differed from the founders' intent and because a dearth of other professionals left only the judiciary as a vehicle for putting the resolution of industrial disputes beyond the reach of partisan politics.
The article originally appeared in the Turnbull Library Record 29 (1996): 59-78. It appears now on the web by kind permission of the Friends of the Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The book to read on the mutual influence between American and New Zealand reformers in the early twentieth century is the late Peter J. Coleman's Progressivism and the World of Reform.

Image credit: Justice Frederick R. Chapman (Alexander Turnbull Library)

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