Movement Litigation and Unilateral Disarmament: Abortion and the Right to Die

Richard S. Price, Thomas M. Keck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Detractors have long criticized the use of courts to achieve social change because judicial victories tend to provoke counterproductive political backlashes. Backlash arguments typically assert or imply that if movement litigators had relied on democratic rather than judicial politics, their policy victories would have been better insulated from opposition. We argue that these accounts wrongly assume that the unilateral decision by a group of movement advocates to eschew litigation will lead to a reduced role for courts in resolving the relevant policy and political conflicts. To the contrary, such decisions will often result in a policy field with judges every bit as active, but with the legal challenges initiated and framed by the advocates' opponents. We document this claim and explore its implications for constitutional politics via a counterfactual thought experiment rooted in historical case studies of litigation involving abortion and the right to die.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)880-907
Number of pages28
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Law


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