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Sawyer Law and Politics Program presents: Emily Zackin

341 Eggers Hall

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Emily Zackin, Johns Hopkins University

"Debtors and State-Driven Constitutional Development"

Those studying American constitutional history and development have heeded the call of the Law and Society movement to “decenter” the Supreme Court, and have emphasized that the Court is embedded in larger national governing regimes and ideological projects. However, most accounts of constitutional development have remained firmly centered on the national government. Using the case of emergency relief laws for the protection of debtors, this article argues that we must further decenter our view of American constitutional development to include states. It demonstrates that the landmark case Blaisdell v. Home Building and Loan Association (1934) brought about a change in judicial doctrine, but that the Constitution’s practical meaning had already changed long before this doctrinal shift. Drawing on secondary histories and legal writings from the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, it argues that Blaisdell was merely the Supreme Court’s capitulation to long-established state practices, and that these state-level practices were the driving force behind the development of the Constitution’s meaning.


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To mark our centennial in the fall of 2024, the Maxwell School will hold special events and engagement opportunities to celebrate the many ways—across disciplines and borders—our community ever strives to, as the Oath says, “transmit this city not only not less, but greater, better and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”

Throughout the year leading up to the centennial, engagement opportunities will be held for our diverse, highly accomplished community that now boasts more than 38,500 alumni across the globe.