ROUNDUP: Law and Humanities 05.20.15


The Spring 2015 issue of the New Mexico Law Review is devoted to the TV show Breaking Bad. Here’s a link to the issue’s intriguing contents, which includes such articles as Max Minzer’s Breaking Bad in the Classroom, Elizabeth N. Jones’ The Good and (Breaking) Bad of Deceptive Police Practices, and Jennifer W. Reynolds’ Breaking BATNAS: Negotiation Lessons From Walter White. The Wall Street Journal took note here; law and pop culture seems to have gone decidedly media mainstream.



On May 11, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg presided over the competency trial of Don Quixote at Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall. Assisting her were her colleague Justice Stephen Breyer and Chief Judge Merrick Garland and Judge Patricia Millett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  Tony Mauro of the Blog of Legal Times provides coverage here.

The Quixote case is the latest in a series of law and humanities-inspired moot courts, beginning in 1994, that the Bard Association of the Shakespeare Theatre Company has hosted.  More here.






The American Bar Association has announced the winners of the 2015 Silver Gavel Awards. Here’s the text of its press release.

WASHINGTON, May 13, 2015 — The American Bar Association announced today its selections for the 2015 Silver Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts, which recognize outstanding work in media and the arts that fosters the American public’s understanding of law and the legal system. This is the ABA’s highest honor in recognition of this purpose.

The winners are:

  • “Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison,” a book that shines a harsh light on America’s juvenile prisons and argues that state-run detention centers should be abolished
  • “The Case Against 8,” a behind-the-scenes documentary that looks at the historic federal court case to overturn Prop 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage
  • “Till Death Do Us Part,” an investigative newspaper series that examines South Carolina’s “silent epidemic” of domestic violence and proposes concrete solutions to reduce the state’s extraordinarily high rate of women killed by men
  • “Serial: Season One,” a radio podcast that probes a 2000 murder trial in Baltimore to tell a larger story of the realities of criminal prosecution

The awards ceremony will take place July 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. ABA President William Hubbard will present the Silver Gavel Awards to honorees.
The ABA will present four Silver Gavels and four honorable mentions from 168 entries received in all eligible categories: books, commentary, documentaries, drama and literature, magazines, newspapers, radio, television and other media.
Selection criteria include: how the entry addresses the Gavel Awards’ purpose and objectives; educational value of legal information; impact on, or outreach to, the public; thoroughness and accuracy in presentation of issues; creativity and originality in approach to subject matter and effectiveness of presentation; and demonstrated technical skill in the entry’s production.


“The winners of 2015 Gavel Awards for Media and the Arts are the result of a rigorous and selective review by the American Bar Association,” said Cory M. Amron, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards. “We congratulate all of the awardees for their outstanding efforts to foster the American public’s understanding of law and legal institutions.”
The association has presented these awards annually since 1958. The 18-member ABA Standing Committee on Gavel Awards makes final award decisions.

See the entire list of Silver Gavel winners and Honorable Mention awardees here.


Jeanne Gaakeer and Frans-Willem Korsten are organizing a three-day conference on Issues of Fact: the Pathologies of Fact and the Fictitious in Law and the Humanities, to be held September 24-26, 2015, at Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society. Here’s the Call for Papers.

Deadline application: a proposal of max. 300 words should be sent to before June 21st, 2015.


Truth in law is not written in stone. In all legal systems, actors submit their findings and views on what is to constitute that all-important category called “the facts”, in order to have judgment. What, then, in that process, is “fact” and what is “ficticious”, and how do we “know”? These basic questions draw the attention to both etymology and epistemology: fact as the act of “facere”, the act of giving something a recognizable form is that is in itself a also mode of fiction, a “making up”, in literary narratives as well as, historically, when it comes to postulates of science. To Giambattista Vico, for example, any scientific endeavor is equivalent to knowledge of the way in which things came into being. If we have a strong belief in, and thorough acquaintance with a factum as a man-made thing, then on this precondition and presupposition we are able to reach a verum, cognition of a truth.

So much is obvious, stating the facts in law is advancing a claim of (referential) truthfulness: “This is what happened” .This means that jurists should bear in mind the influence of their own interpretive frameworks and unconscious choices or preferences on both fact and norm. What is more, ascertaining the facts in the sense of the selection of what may be looked upon as relevant legal facts is always done literally ex post facto. That too provides a good reason for more research on how a number of facts “out there” come to be regarded as a string of causally connected events with consequences as far as imputation and accountability are concerned, and what factors are influential in the process of the construction and re-construction of (legal) reality. This is acute because the way in which the facts of a case are narrated determines to a large part the outcome of that case.The flipside of the meaning of fiction as noted above is the fictitious, as the act of pretending, and even willfully deceiving in order to produce a false belief. In the context of law, it leads to injustice, given the reciprocal relation between fact and legal norm, i.e. the always combined effort in law of the perception and assessment of the facts against the background of what the legal norm (including the academic propositions made for it) means.

From the very start of law as we know it, people have tried to meddle with the (meaning of) facts in court cases, – think of the god Apollo in Aeschylus’ Oresteia -, precisely because trials were aimed first and foremost at establishing the facts of what had happened (or what might have happened, in Aristotelian terms) and what that meant. In other words, narrative plays a role in the forensic statement of fact, the narration. Enter fiction, with the danger of the fictitious.

It appears that in the contemporary situation the questions after ‘factuality’ are acute because the powers of the so-called ‘triers of fact’ are confronted with, and perhaps lag behind with, the growing powers of those who benefit from the specific construction, deliberate deceitful fabrications included, of the facts. The problems involved have been dealt with in many forms of art: literature, theatre, film, the visual arts, participatory forms of art and so on. This conference wants to read how works of art have been dealing with the contemporary issue of factuality in the juridical domain, i.e. to place the factual-fictional distinction in a wider context than that of the original domain.

Read the rest of the call here at the conference website.






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