Skip to content

Laura Weinrib, The Vagrancy Law Challenge and the Vagaries of Legal Change, 43 Law & Soc. Inquiry 1669 (2018) (reviewing Risa Goluboff, Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960’s (2016)).

Abstract: This essay reflects on the relationship between the diffuse legal struggle to dismantle vagrancy laws during the 1960s and the larger history of twentieth-century social movement advocacy. In Vagrant Nation, Risa Goluboff persuasively links the demise of vagrancy laws to the cultural and constitutional turmoil of the 1960s. It is possible, however, to interpret that decade's upheaval, which rendered explicit social stratification increasingly vulnerable, as an impediment to a budding anti-vagrancy law consensus instead of a prerequisite for legal change. On this alternative reading, the uncoordinated legal efforts to overturn vagrancy laws in a decade dominated by more contentious litigation campaigns may have contributed to a tepid decision by the Supreme Court, which ultimately invalidated vagrancy laws on narrow legalistic grounds. Indeed, the relatively protracted dismantlement of the vagrancy law regime raises the question whether bottom-up constitutionalism lacks potency in the absence of an intermediary organization with a well-defined litigation strategy.