This article uses the well-known case of Robert Bell, who was convicted of trespass in one of the important sit-in cases of the 1960s and ended his career as Chief Justice of the Maryland Court of Appeals, to offer some thoughts about the state action doctrine, conflicts between law and morality, and outsider claims on the legal system. It critiques three conventional readings of Bell’s case, and his seemingly unlikely subsequent career.
Employing a historical analysis of the state action doctrine, which was the central issue when Bell’s case reached the Supreme Court, it argues that the case that supposedly originated the doctrine – the Civil Rights Cases decision of 1883 – did no such thing.
In addition, this article questions the view of cases like Bell’s as presenting a sharp conflict between law and morality, arguing that it is not even clear that Bell was violating Maryland’s trespass law.
Finally, the article questions a now-common way of making sense of the arc of Bell’s career – one which would see his rise to the Chief Justiceship as an example of “agency,” in which outsider views of law become, over time, accepted by the legal system. Bell’s case, it will be argued here, has a far more complicated set of lessons to teach, if we discard some conventional ways of reading it.
Friday, March 27, 2015
Mack on Robert Bell and His Case
Kenneth W. Mack, Harvard Law School, has posted Harvard Law School, Civil Disobedience, State Action, and Lawmaking Outside the Courts: Robert Bell’s Encounter with American Law. It is derived from Professor Mack’s Leon Silverman Lecture at the U.S. Supreme Court and appeared in the Journal of Supreme Court History 39 (November 2014): 347-71. Here it the abstract: