An examination of the relation between legal decision and larger event in major trials that capture the communal imagination. The emphasis will be on the tensions between levels of discourse from indictment to court transcript to judicial decision and on to newspaper report, editorial comment, blog, journal description, and fictional or dramatic account. At issue will be the way courtroom events reflect communal anxieties while also gauging and sometimes changing ideological aspirations in a culture. We will also explore a variety of advocacy issues as well as the way lawyers handle or fail to handle the pressure of a major courtroom event.
Readings in the seminar will include the trials of John Scopes, Oscar Wilde and Adolf Eichmann, as well as a series of seduction-murder cases, an important custody battle, a court-martial hearing and an environmental pollution case — all with related texts.