I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about the predicament of con law scholars. He made the point that the decline in the Supreme Court’s docket has had a big impact on con law scholarship. It used to be the case, he said, that the Court was churning out enough new decisions that con law professors could keep busy working out doctrinal puzzles and fitting the new cases into their vision of the fabric of constitutional law. With fewer cases to work on, however, con law professor have to find something else to do.
It got me thinking about how the law influences legal scholarship. For example, right now I am working on a project in contract law. Here it seems to me that one of the main legal facts influencing scholarship is the sheer stability of contract doctrine. It wouldn’t do to over state this, of course. Contract law continues to evolve and new cases come out that try to fit new practices into old categories. Still, thanks I suspect to the success of the Restatements, much of contract law is fixed, and has been fairly fixed for quite some time. Hence, one of the main puzzles is working out why the particular shape that the law has might or might not be justified. There is less interest in figuring out how the Georgia Supreme Court’s latest consideration case fits into the law than in trying to figure out what the basis of consideration might be. Indeed, one of the striking things about contract is that you can read theoretical discussions of contract doctrine from the 1930s and 1940s and in many ways (although not all) the doctrinal discussion doesn’t seem especially dated. There aren’t all that many cases where you read something by Lon Fuller or Morris Cohen and think, “Well that is no longer the rule….”
If con law is characterized by a decreasing flow of cases to write about and contract is characterized by a (relatively) stable set of rules, I wonder what the doctrinal facts driving discussions in other fields might be.