Matthew Liebman, ‘Litigation and Liberation’

Can litigation liberate oppressed individuals and their communities? Or is litigation antithetical to social movements seeking liberation? Social movement scholars have raised important critiques of litigation’s efficacy as a tool for social change, questioning litigation’s ability to deliver significant social reform and condemning the compromising effects that litigation may have on social movements. According to these critics, litigation is incapable of dismantling deep-seated social injustices and may deradicalize and professionalize social movements in ways that undermine their ultimate vision of a just world. Drawing upon an in-depth case study, this Article is the first to explore these critiques in the context of the animal liberation movement, to which scholars of law and social change have paid little attention. The case study centers on an extensive litigation campaign to liberate animals from the Cricket Hollow Zoo, an unaccredited Iowa zoo that confined hundreds of animals in inhumane and filthy conditions. This campaign offers important lessons for understanding the relationship between litigation and social movements generally and for understanding the role of litigation in furtherance of animal liberation more specifically.

Although litigation alone cannot fully realize social movement goals, critics have under-valued litigation’s capacity to materially benefit exploited populations. The Cricket Hollow Zoo campaign demonstrates how litigation can have important benefits for movements and the communities they serve, both juridically (through court orders that change material conditions for exploited individuals) and extra-juridically (through public outreach that facilitates broader changes in social norms). I use the litigation campaign against the Cricket Hollow Zoo to explore questions about litigation and social movements, extending the existing literature to the underexplored context of animal protection and drawing lessons that can inform other social movements’ uses of litigation towards liberatory ends.

Liebman, Matthew, Litigation and Liberation (May 16, 2022). Ecology Law Quarterly, Forthcoming, University of San Francisco Law Research Paper.

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