Theorizing About Trial Courts: Lawyers, Policymaking, and Tobacco Litigation

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Publication Date

Summer 1-1-1998


What role do litigation and trial court decisions play in shaping policy? This article explores that question by examining recent litigation against tobacco manufacturers filed by state attorneys general, plaintiff lawyers in class actions, lawyers for cities, unions, health plans, individual smokers, and others. I suggest how this litigation contributed to agenda setting, new ways of defining the problem, of tobacco and the policy alternatives, political mobilization, new legal norms, and new political and legal resources for opponents of tobacco. Addressing theoretical debates about the power of the courts to effect change, I distinguish between causal and constitutive arguments and suggest how both can be incorporated in social analysis.

Publication Title

Law & Social Inquiry: Journal of the American Bar Foundation

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