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Professors Jocelyn Simonson and K. Sabeel Rahman Explore Police and Economic Reform


Updated 11/23/2020

Amidst ongoing nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis and recent calls to reform policing, forthcoming articles by Professors Jocelyn Simonson and K. Sabeel Rahman have been referenced in several news stories on the topic.

In their paper, “The Institutional Design of Community Control,” 108 California Law Review, __ (forthcoming 2020), Simonson and Rahman look at current movements proposing community control of the police and of economic development, analyzing how local government might shift power and attempt to redress inequality. The authors encourage scholars “to pay closer attention to the specific levers of power over which historically disempowered groups seek control, asking not just whether shifting power downward makes sense, but also how those shifts can (or cannot) be institutionalized.”

In the end, the authors conclude, “scholarly and political hesitancy around community control may be rooted less in the supposed inability of communities to exercise effective control over complex structural dynamics, and more in an elite suspicion of, and hesitancy with, bottom-up democracy itself—what we term a problem of ‘demophobia.’”

The article was also referenced in an article in Slate that suggested Congress could use its power to transform policing and promote racial justice by, for instance, withholding federal funding from localities that do not implement measures such as the creation of civilian commissions transferring “power from the police to the communities most affected by mass incarceration,” as outlined by Simonson and Rahman.

In a commentary, “Power over Policing,” published in Boston Review, Simonson references her article with Rahman to explore the numerous approaches to police reform that have been put forward and, in some cases, implemented, in towns and cities across the nation, including Minneapolis. She urges that “it’s past time to think beyond these now standard approaches to reform. We should instead heed the calls from social movements for actual power over policing and over the state’s understandings of its obligation to keep people safe.” The commentary was based on her forthcoming paper “Police Reform Through a Power Lens,” 130 Yale Law Journal, __ (forthcoming 2021). 

The joint article and Simonson’s commentary were also featured in the Law and Political Economy blog.

In an op-ed in the New York Times, Simonson countered the backlash that recently has been aimed at community bail funds, which pay money bail in criminal and immigration cases for those who cannot afford it. Simonson and her paper, “Bail Nullification,” 115 Michigan Law Review 585 (2017), were also quoted and cited in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and numerous other outlets.

In the forthcoming article “Movement Law” 73 Stanford Law Review __ (forthcoming 2021), Simonson and her co-authors make the case for an approach to legal scholarship grounded in solidarity, accountability, and engagement with grassroots organizing and left social movements. They argue that it is essential in this moment of crisis to cogenerate ideas alongside grassroots organizing that aims to transform the political, economic, social landscape.

In another recent article, “Building a Law-and-Political-Economy Framework: Beyond the Twentieth-Century Synthesis,” 129 Yale Law Journal 1784 (2020), Rahman and his co-authors offer a framework for identifying and critiquing the “Twentieth-Century Synthesis,” which insulates “the market” from claims of justice and conceals it from analyses of power. They call for a new “law-and-political-economy approach” to legal scholarship which centers themes of power, equality, and democracy.

At the Law School, Simonson teaches courses in criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, and social change. She is co-director of the Center for Criminal Justice. Her scholarship explores ways in which the public participates in the criminal process and in the institutions of local governance that control policing and punishment. Her articles have appeared or are forthcoming in top law reviews, including Harvard Law Review, Columbia Law Review, and Georgetown Law Journal. Her work has been cited in U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Rahman is president of Demos, a public policy organization focused on ensuring equality in the American democratic process and economy. At the Law School, Rahman teaches constitutional law and administrative law. He previously served as a special advisor to New York City on economic development issues and has worked and consulted for a variety of organizations on issues of democracy reform. He is the author of Civic Power: Rebuilding American Democracy in an Era of or Crisis (Cambridge University Press, 2019) with Hollie Russon Gilman and Democracy Against Domination (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Read the articles in California Law Review, Yale Law Journal (Simonson), Yale Law Journal (Rahman), Stanford Law Reviewand Michigan Law Review 

Read the articles in Boston Review and Slate