It is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It seems wrong to wish someone a “happy” MLK day, so I seek a greeting that encourages you to perform one act today (or one more than usual) that promotes peace and justice. Maybe something like I wish you an “active” MLK Day.
One thing I will do is to try to create peace. I have learned this can only come from inner peace. As my spirtual teacher Robert Thompson says, “if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself.” So work on that inner peace today, create peace in your family through patience, do something kind.
But what does this have to do with legal studies?
I’m glad you asked.
It is easy (especially now with the rise of certain scientistic approaches to the empirical study of law) to think of “law and social science” as removed from concerns of substantive justice. Martin Luther King Jr. day should remind us of many things — of the possibility of a world without racism, of the power of non-violence, and of the power of a charismatic leader for an entire movement (I often wonder how come Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Cesar Chavez, and others don’t have their day too). Perhaps most important to remember, however, is that law can be a weapon for the weak against unjust power.
Yes, law often works to reinscribe power relationships. Yes, law often was part of creating the conditions of inequality that we are working against. But law embodies transformative possibility. While there may be little career advancement for spending a day working on an amicus brief (pdf) about employment discrimination instead of a paper for a journal, we should do it anyway. Or whatever it is in your area of scholarship that can promote justice.
That’s it — kinda corny, you can rib me about it, but it is why I got into this gig and why I think a lot of you did too.