Neglected Policies

Constitutional Law and Legal Commentary as Civic Education

Neglected Policies

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: Published: September 2002

Author: Ira L. Strauber

Law > Legal Theory, Politics > Political Theory

In Neglected Policies, Ira L. Strauber challenges scholars and critics of constitutional jurisprudence to think differently about the Constitution and its interpretation. He argues that important aspects of law, policies, and politics are neglected because legal formalisms, philosophical theories, the reasoning of litigators and judges, and even the role of the courts are too often taken for granted. Strauber advocates an alternative approach to thinking about the legal and moral abstractions ordinarily used in constitutional decision making. His approach, which he calls “agnostic skepticism,” interrogates all received jurisprudential notions, abandoning the search for “right answers” to legal questions. It demands that attention be paid to the context-specific, circumstantial social facts relevant to given controversies and requires a habit of mind at home with relativism.

Strauber situates agnostic skepticism within contemporary legal thought, explaining how it draws upon sociological jurisprudence, legal realism, and critical legal studies. Through studies of cases involving pornography, adoption custody battles, flag burning, federalism, and environmental politics, he demonstrates how agnostic skepticism applies to constitutional issues. Strauber contends that training in skeptical critique will enable a new kind of civic education and culture—one in which citizens are increasingly tolerant of the ambiguities and contradictions inherent in the law and politics of a pluralistic society.

Using insights from the social sciences to examine the ways constitutional cases are studied and taught, Neglected Policies will interest scholars of jurisprudence, political science, and the sociology of law.


"Neglected Policies demonstrates the truth of the old academic adage that teaching and scholarship complement each other. The author's fresh approach to the study of public law unites case analysis with judicial process without burying the reader in numbers." — Judith Baer , Justice System Journal

"[A] valuable contribution to scholars in public law, policy, and politics, interested in constitutional interpretation and related questions of law and society. Faculty teaching graduate and upper-level undergraduate seminars in public law and policy broadly defined will find this book suitable as an additional text for their course."
— Marc Georges Pufong , Law and Politics Book Review

"[O]ffers a rich trove of materials relevant to its main contentions; among these, Strauber's view on contentious issues and cases related to elections, expressions, and other matters. . . . [A]n enlightened and informing work that would be well placed in any college or university library. . . . Recommended."

— J. D. Gillespie , Choice

"[T]he virtue of much of Strauber's analysis lies in his nuanced discussion of specific cases. . . . [T]hought-provoking. . . ." — George Thomas , Journal of Politics

"Strauber has one of those rare, comprehensive minds. . . . [He] approaches his subject with an unusually open mind. His critical skills are impressive, as is his ability to discern his own predilections. . . . I highly recommend the book. It provides a telling critique of contemporary interpretive theory. . . . [A]dmirable. . . . [B]uy Neglected Policies; it is that good."

— William Gangi , Perspectives on Political Science

"Strauber['s] book is an interesting contribution to constitutional jurisprudence." — Jon B. Gould , Perspectives on Politics

“Skillfully crossing the most jealously guarded of all the borders between law and other disciplines, Strauber offers a refreshing and incisive critique of the political goals of legal scholars. His urbane skepticism as to the merits of legal formalism, his sage evaluation of the case method of legal education, and his hard-headed tolerance for critique in law are high points in a study that is uniformly open-minded and accessible.” — Peter Goodrich, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

“Strauber takes on the academic abyss of conventional constitutional interpretation with current examples from the interpretive front. This book is part of an exciting new constitutionalism bridging law, the social sciences, and the humanities.” — John Brigham, University of Massachusetts, Amherst


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Ira L. Strauber is Professor of Political Science at Grinnell College.

Table of Contents Back to Top


Part I

1. The Purposes of an Interpretive Community

2. Formalisms: An Efficacious Enemy of Politically Sufficient Commentary

3. Skepticism and Neglected Politics

Part II

4. Formalisms: Facets of Political Power and Neglected Policies

5. The Internet: Distorted Ideals and Practices

6. Agnostic Skepticism about Radical Rejectionism

7. Agnosticism, Federalism, and Constitutionalism

8. A Middle Course on Reform

9. Ordered Liberty and Political Morality

Part III

10. Deeper Skepticism

11. Qualified Solace in the Law’s Formalisms

12. Qualified Solace in Agnosticism



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Winner, C. Herman Pritchett Award, American Political Science Association Law & Courts Section

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3041-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2945-9
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