Enlund lecture takes a look at law and emotion

2016 Enlund-Scholar-in-Residence: Robin L. West

At the 2016 Enlund Lecture, Professor Robin West focused on a relationship between law and emotion that she believes has been relatively neglected in jurisprudence: the emotions that law and jurisprudence produce.

“I would like to suggest a critical stance rather than a celebratory mode,” Professor West opened, examining four areas in which she believes U.S. law produces unhealthy emotions in subjects. First, she cited outsized feelings of reverence and authoritarian submissiveness for the United States Constitution induced by various interpretive traditions in constitutional law.

Second, West described feelings of what she termed dysphoria produced by the valorization of consensual transactions, both commercial and sexual, produced by family law. “There’s an over-reliance on law to generate moral and social norms,” West said.

Third, West covered the feelings of meritocratic desert produced by civil rights traditions and civil rights law. She criticized civil rights laws for being less about equality or inclusion and instead focusing on “getting everyone to the starting line in the same way.” Inclusion has come to be about treating individuals fairly, she said, asking, “Is the ideal of equal opportunity society one to embrace?”

Finally, West described feelings of fear and insecurity that are generated by various aspects of criminal law and poverty law.

West is the Frederick J. Haas Professor of Law and Philosophy at Georgetown University Law Center.

Established in 1988, thanks to a gift from the late E. Stanley Enlund (’42), the Enlund Scholar-in-Residence Program attracts the nation’s foremost legal minds. Enlund scholars provide the College of Law community of students, faculty, alumni and friends with differing perspectives on law, lawyers and social justice.​