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Making Rights Real

Activists, Bureaucrats, and the Creation of the Legalistic State

Making Rights Real

Activists, Bureaucrats, and the Creation of the Legalistic State

It’s a common complaint: the United States is overrun by rules and procedures that shackle professional judgment, have no valid purpose, and serve only to appease courts and lawyers. Charles R. Epp argues, however, that few Americans would want to return to an era without these legalistic policies, which in the 1970s helped bring recalcitrant bureaucracies into line with a growing national commitment to civil rights and individual dignity. 

Focusing on three disparate policy areas—workplace sexual harassment, playground safety, and police brutality in both the United States and the United Kingdom—Epp explains how activists and professionals used legal liability, lawsuit-generated publicity, and innovative managerial ideas to pursue the implementation of new rights. Together, these strategies resulted in frameworks designed to make institutions accountable through intricate rules, employee training, and managerial oversight. Explaining how these practices became ubiquitous across bureaucratic organizations, Epp casts today’s legalistic state in an entirely new light.

368 pages | 17 line drawings, 4 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Chicago Series in Law and Society

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society

Political Science: Judicial Politics, Public Policy

Sociology: Formal and Complex Organizations


“Charles Epp’s carefully researched, lucidly written book shines a clear light into the heated but murky debates about litigation in the United States. Making Rights Real is the best study of the social benefits that flow from American adversarial legalism, illustrating how the conjunction of litigation and the agendas of reform-oriented professionals have improved urban policing and municipal government.”

Robert A. Kagan, University of California, Berkeley

“An elegant study that combines historical, comparative, and at times even ethnographic learning, Making Rights Real reveals how fervor for professionalism and fears of lawsuits together shaped police policies and practices in the United States and in Britain as well as responses to sexual harassment and the safety of playgrounds. It will be indispensible for scholars of the law.”

William Haltom, University of Puget Sound

“Charles Epp has produced another important book, this one documenting how courts can make effective social policy. Making Rights Real will force judicial scholars to clarify their thinking about the hollow hope of judicially induced change and the limits of adversarial legalism. Its exploration of how federal trial courts have led police departments to successfully restructure themselves is a masterpiece. Scholars in several fields—political science, public policy, law, organization theory, criminal justice—will find this a must-read book.”

Malcolm M. Feeley, University of California, Berkeley

Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Narratives

Chapter 1. “I Felt Violated”
Chapter 2. Looking Beyond the License Plate
Chapter 3. The Decision to Stop a Driver
Chapter 4. Experiences during the Stop
Chapter 5. How Investigatory Intrusions Are Deliberately Planned (and Racially Based)
Chapter 6. Evaluating the Stop: Looking Beyond Official Politeness
Chapter 7. The Broader Lessons (and Harms) of Police Stops
Chapter 8. Toward Racial Justice in Police Stops
Appendix. Methodology


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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