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Legal Mobilization: The Neglected Role of the Law in the Political System

  • Frances Kahn Zemans (a1)

Abstract

This article argues thai the role of the law in the political system has been construed much too narrowly. A review of the political science literature demonstrates an interest in the law that is largely confined to the making of new laws, social change, and social control. That view implies an acceptance of the legal profession's distinction between public and private law as a reasonable guide for political scientists in the study of law.

A more interactive view of the law is presented, characterizing legal mobilization (invoking legal norms) as a form of political activity by which the citizenry uses public authority on its own behalf. Further, the legal system, structured to consider cases and controversies on an individual basis, provides access to government authority unencumbered by the limits of collective action. This form of public power, although contingent, is widely dispersed.

Consideration of the factors that influence legal mobilization is important not only to understanding who uses the law, but also as predictors to the implementation of public policy; with very few exceptions, the enforcement of the laws depends upon individual citizens to initiate the legal process. By virtue of this dependence, an aggregation of individual citizens acting largely in their own interests strongly influences the form and extent of the implementation of public policy and thereby the allocation of power and authority.

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