We invite you to join us on Thursday, March 15, at 4:30 in the Rare Book Room for our first event of the spring semester of the BC Legal History Roundtable 2018-2019.
Our guest will be Jane Manners, Bernard and Irene Schwartz Fellow, New-York Historical Society. She will be presenting a paper, Individualized Lawmaking and the Problem of Legislative Discretion. The paper is available on the Roundtable website. (Instructions for accessing the paper are in the final paragraph of the website introduction.)
Private bills. Special legislation. Monopoly grants. Equitable consideration. Claims. Petitions. Memorials. All terms relate to the nineteenth century American practice of individualized lawmaking, in which lawmakers regularly heard and responded to individual appeals for legislative intervention — for favors, exceptions, special treatment. Historians and other scholars who have investigated such individuated lawmaking have done so largely as a work of recovery, emphasizing the discordance of the practice to our modern ears to unsettle our contemporary constitutional understanding. If we accept the universal applicability of legislation as fundamental to the rule of law, these scholars ask, how can we make sense of this earlier institutional arrangement? These scholars have examined in illuminating detail both the conception of the legislative role underlying the practice as well as the process by which the United States, at both the federal and state levels, gradually abandoned it, shifting the consideration of individual cases out of the legislature and into the executive and judicial branches.Jane Manners studies US legal history, with a focus on American legal institutions, legislation, federalism, and local government law. During the 2018-19 academic year she is a Bernard and Irene Schwartz Fellow at the New-York Historical Society. She received her PhD in history from Princeton in 2018 and her JD and BA from Harvard. Her work has been supported by the American Council on Learned Societies, the American Society for Legal History, the American Historical Association, and the Hurst Institute at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Between college and law school, Jane worked as a teacher, a journalist, a philanthropic grant maker, and a presidential campaign staffer.
What these scholars have paid less attention to, however, is the reason the shift occurred. Generally, treatments of nineteenth-century individuated lawmaking explain the gradual abandonment of the practice as either the natural and inevitable result of concerns for efficiency and fairness or the product of partisan politics. Generally, too, histories of the practice, whether approving or disapproving, treat its various labels as interchangeable — all references to the same forgotten legislative modus operandi. This essay seeks to complicate both assumptions. It argues that more than efficiency, fairness, and partisan politics were at stake, and that by digging into the subtle differences in meaning among the practice's terms, we find a nation still in the process of working out its theories of legislation and of government, and still struggling to balance a concern for individual rights and for individuated lawmaking with a commitment to the public good.
Refreshments are available beginning at 4:15 pm. outside the Library Conference Room.