Success Without Victory: Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America

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Winners and losers. Success and failure. Victory and defeat. American culture places an extremely high premium on success, and firmly equates it with winning. In politics, sports, business, and the courtroom, we have a passion to win and are terrified of losing.

Instead of viewing success and failure through such a rigid lens, Jules Lobel suggests that we move past the winner-take-all model and learn valuable lessons from legal and political activists who have advocated causes destined to lose in court but have had important, progressive long term effects on American society. He leads us through dramatic battles in American legal history, describing attempts by abolitionist lawyers to free fugitive slaves through the courts, Susan B. Anthony's trial for voting illegally, the post-Civil War challenges to segregation that resulted in the courts' affirmation of the separate but equal doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson, and Lobel's own challenges to United States foreign policy during the 1980s and 1990s.

Success Without Victory explores the political, social, and psychological contexts behind the cases themselves, as well as the eras from which they originated and the eras they subsequently influenced.

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Editorial Reviews

"An intriguing cultural analysis."
New York Law Journal
"Remarkable. Jules Lobel takes his rightful place alongside the line of lawyers opting for the difficult path of bringing contentious issues into the public forum."
American Historical Review
"A vivid illustration. The book makes a valuable contribution to our evolving understanding of the work of cause lawyering and the significance of test case litigation. It stands as a beacon of hope in an era dominated by pessimism about the capacity of law and lawyers to contribute to progressive social change."
"Lobel provides a lively account of several important but relatively unknown cases. The stories are fascinating and will engage litigators who love the details of brief-writing, the tension of last-minute deadlines, the strategies for oral argument, and the drama of judicial decision-making."
Federal Lawyer
"Excellent. His work is prophetic and should inspire a new generation to choose law as an alternative to war."
Law and Politics Book Review
"Success Without Victory is thoughtful and provocative, and I highly recommend it. It is highly readable, includes fascinating stories centered on powerful personalities and the sustained reflection on unilateral presidential war-making powers is timely."
Publishers Weekly
Lobel, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and leftist activist, explains his lifelong commitment to bringing all but hopeless lawsuits against what he sees as the misuse of American power abroad. Lobel specializes in cases challenging the president's making war without congressional authorization. Believing this practice both unconstitutional and dangerous, Lobel has sued to block American use of force in Central America, Iraq and Kosovo. All the author's courtroom efforts have failed. This book offers a sustained meditation on the meaning of success and failure in the context of such policy-driven litigation. In his most persuasive chapters, Lobel points out that for over a century visionaries in this country brought litigation, viewed at the time as futile, to outlaw slavery, to obtain for women the right to vote and to desegregate public institutions such as schools and railroads. Scores of such cases were filed, and almost all of them failed. Yet in the long run, often decades later, the once marginal ideas animating the cases became established as bedrock principles of American life. Lobel is similarly inclined to take the long view of his own courtroom efforts. His cases may have been dismissed, he argues, but they served to keep vital concepts and values before the public. For the author in this compelling book, success and failure are not determined by the immediate outcome of a given case; a lawsuit can be deemed successful if it arises from and gives expression to a valid principle and if it promotes a culture of rights. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“Jules Lobel looks back on a history of litigating an impressive number of lost cases on behalf of important political causes. In this brilliant book, against a moving background of spiritual heritage, family life, and such quintessentially American cultural references as baseball and Vietnam, Lobel ponders these losses. What might have been a dry documentary of cases is, instead, a living, gripping, revelation of real people, their motivations and passions. Books such as Success without Victory tell us the stories of the legally unsuccessful anti-slavery litigation, early women's suffrage cases, workers rights struggles, and challenges to illegal U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Cuba, Central America, and Kosovo, giving us the background we need to understand that, if we can build solid community, we need not despair even when faced with today's horrendous odds.”
-Margaret Randall,author of When I Look into the Mirror and See You: Women, Terror, and Resistance
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814751916
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2006
  • Series: Critical America Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 321
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jules Lobel is Professor of International and Constitutional Law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. He is also Vice President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a national civil and human rights organization. On behalf of the Center, he has been one of the foremost legal challengers of unilateral presidential war-making for the past two decades.

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Losers, Fools, and Prophets 1
2 Can Law Stop War? The Constitution and Iraq 10
3 A Tradition of Resistance: Antislavery Litigators and the Fight for Freedom 46
4 "A Fine Agitation": Women's Suffrage Goes to Court 74
5 Plessy v. Ferguson: The Fool's Last Battle 100
6 Plant-Closing Litigation: "Youngstown Sure Died Hard" 125
7 Politics versus Law: Were Travelers to Cuba Trading with the Enemy? 152
8 Challenging United States Intervention in Central America 184
9 End of an Era: Fighting U.S. Action in Kosovo 236
10 Conclusion 264
Notes 271
Index 309
Series List 317
About the Author 321
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