Paul Baumgardner, *20

Department of Politics

Retrenchment Rivalries: Critical Legal Studies, Law-and-Economics, and the Legal Academy of the Long 1980s



A growing body of scholarship within political science has sought to understand the rise of the conservative legal movement and the right-leaning developments in American law and legal theory that took place from the second half of the 1970s until the end of the 1980s (“the long 1980s”). Although this law-and-ideas scholarship has focused on a myriad number of ways in which Reaganite officials sought to retrench the legal system and reform diverse areas of American politics, political scientists have not articulated the nature of retrenchment or paid close attention to the full cast of legal ideas and idea-makers that were clashing during the long 1980s. To address this oversight, this dissertation explores the role that the legal academy, law school deans, law professors, and legal scholarship played both to advance and to impede conservative retrenchers and retrenchment projects in the long 1980s. During the period, a high-profile retrenchment rivalry developed between the law-and-economics and critical legal studies movements, with each movement fighting to retrench key features of the American legal system. This rivalry profoundly shaped the direction of the legal academy, most notably by breaking the back of progressive retrenchment efforts and also helping to legitimize and expand the conservatization of American law beyond the 1980s.

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