The role of law in social change is of more than theoretical interest. In many areas of social life, such as education, race relations, housing, transportation, the protection of the environment, and crime prevention the law and litigation are important for change. The law has been used as a principal factor for improving the political and social position of blacks. The courts have dismantled a racial caste system in law and in practice for generation after generation.
The old way of thinking has been changed by legislation, including the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Acts as well as social welfare programs. These policies have shown very good results. But this has not filtered into other avenues of Civil Rights. I believe that law plays a direct and indirect way for social change and shapes some of the institutions that are important to social change. Mandatory school attendance changed the degree of the labor force, which could be seen in contributing to an increased rate of industrialization and modernization.
I see a direct interaction with law and the basic social institutions for example laws prohibiting racial discrimination in education have a direct influence on social change by enabling previously excluded groups to be able to attend schools of their choice. I see it as redefining the normative order that society has used. In my opinion the Supreme Court should be more judicially active in the area of Civil Rights protection, because of law defining the normative in social order. In our society today we rely heavily on what we are told to do.
We use the law to dictate social attitudes too. Take for example George W. Bush’s stand on homosexuality, if you were to ask people the question whether gay marriage is correct or incorrect most would tell you incorrect and if asked why the majority would say because it’s against the law. The same holds true for say marijuana. The reason why individuals do not use the drug is simply for the reason of legality. Whether it is right or wrong is for the debates, but as an example it shows how most American’s view right and wrong is through legal legislation.
Social change is a product of a multitude of factors and the relationship they have towards each other. Law and legal cultures are just two and some others might be technology, ideology, conflict, political and economic reasons. Admittedly it is always tempting to try and single out one factor, one cause or one explanation and apply it evenly to some problems but we should be very careful not to assign blame for social problems on one factor. We should take into consideration all factors that surround the problem.
Technical changes that lead to social changes are a good example of how social change works with the introduction of the automobile laws they were introduced to make it illegal to drive drunk or under the influence or driving with your seat belt for safety. These laws cause a voluntary shift in community values and attitudes. The same can be held for Civil Rights. I would like to address some laws that I believe overstep the boundaries of what should be law and what should not. Health care should not be under legal jurisdiction.
Health care is an individual choice and should only be decided between the doctor and the patient. I believe that health care should be made assessable to every individual and is a civil right of every person on this earth. I think that yes it should be for everyone, but decisions on what doctors you should see or treatment you receive should be on the individual level and not a legal decision. I believe that yes, there should be laws against drinking and driving, but that laws should not go as far as what you do in your home.
I also believe that in today’s time perhaps that laws have gone too far and we should step back to see if maybe using laws to stop all of our social woes is really necessary. I have a serious problem accepting our penal and legal system as a use for social problems such as drug and alcohol use. To me it should be handled more and better on the social level. Laws should only be used as a broad holder of meaning to apply to problems in society.
Yes, if someone drives down the street the wrong way and kills someone then yes there should be a law that would hold him accountable for his own actions, but putting a drug addict away because they use drugs and only hurting themselves is a totally different point. The article by Ronald Dworkin “Review of Taking Rights Seriously” didn’t have any substance to it. To me it was too outdated and was not anything that really made me say, “Yea, that’s exactly how I feel”. I don’t believe it really addressed the question the class posed.
The Constitution should only be used as a starting point and not as liberal when concerned with Civil Rights because of the morality of Civil Rights. We have all come to realize how frail morality is in society. What once might be illegal in society might become legal and vice versa. So using the Constitution as a basis for legal rights is good it just shouldn’t be the only thing to consider when looking for the legality of something.
Dworkin, R. (1977) Review of Taking Rights Seriously. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.