As dissent becomes criminalized and activity that has previously been considered legitimate dissent can land one in jail, the distinction between exercising freedom of speech and engaging in civil disobedience has sometimes blurred. At various times in history and perhaps in the contemporary setting, lawyers face particular challenges in representing clients and carrying out their commitment to promoting justice.
This three-unit course examines the legal representation of civil disobedience, exploring its philosophical foundations and legal and ethical issues. We will read the major classic and modern texts regarding intentional, ethically- or politically-motivated violation of the law. As well as legal philosophy and legal ethics, the course will look at a variety of issues that arise in civil disobedience trials, including defenses based on constitutional law, international treaties and international law, statutory interpretation and common law doctrines. In lieu of a final exam, there will be a paper and one or more in-class presentations, including the opportunity to write and present a moot closing argument suitable for a civil disobedience trial. The class examines legal doctrines from a number of course areas and should be of value to many planning to become prosecutors or defense attorneys, to students interested in public interest law or promoting social justice, and to all those interested in a broader legal and jurisprudential background in general.