University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Public Law

PUBLIC LAW is the study of the relationship between law, politics, and society.

  • At UMass Amherst, we are interdisciplinary. In addition to gaining knowledge of the key debates in the field from a political science perspective, our faculty incorporate a wide range of approaches into their research and teaching, including those from anthropology, computational social science, criminology, economics, gender studies, history, law, linguistics, sociology, and technology.
  • We are both domestic and global in scope. Faculty study core questions at the local, state, national, and international levels. This includes addressing questions central to the role of courts in American democracy, how formal and informal legal systems operate throughout the world, and the role that law plays on the international stage.
  • And we are methodologically pluralistic, with faculty whose work embraces qualitative and quantitative approaches, including case studies, content analysis, ethnography, experimental survey methods, field research, interpretive research, network analysis, quantitative modeling, and textual analysis. Several of us are faculty affiliates with the Computational Social Science Institute.
     

SUBFIELD STRENGTHS: Public Law faculty have national and international reputations in a range of topics central to understanding the relationship between law, politics, and society.

  • Judicial Selection
  • Dispute Resolution and Judicial Decision Making
  • Comparative and International Law and Society
  • Legal Policymaking and Implementation
     

CROSS-FIELD STREAMS: In addition to the strengths in the Public Law subfields discussed above, our research and teaching centers around several cross-cutting themes that connect these subfields both to one another and to faculty in other fields and in the Five Colleges System, where students can attend workshops and take additional courses.

  • Conflict, Violence, and Security. This is the study of conflict and conflict processes, violence (and efforts to counter it, including non-violent approaches to conflict), and security, broadly defined to include human security initiatives as well as the security-seeking practices of political actors from the local to the global. Co-organized by scholars from Public Law and International Relations, this workshop also brings together faculty and graduate students in Comparative Politics and Political Theory.
  • Law and Social Movements. This is the study of how legal and political actors attempt to influence legal outcomes through both formal and informal mechanisms, including lawmaking, litigation, mobilization, and changing how we interpret the law. These interests connect Public Law faculty to scholars in American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory.
     
  • Politics of International Law. This is the study of law and law-like processes at the global level. It can include formal public international law (such as international treaties) and also the study of soft law, customary law, and the politics of international legal regimes. These interests connect Public Law faculty interested in refugee law, immigration law, international criminal law, international dispute resolution, and national security law to International Relations faculty interested in law, norms and political behavior.
  • Politics of Migration. This is the study of how law and politics shape policies relating to migration and citizenship and how individuals experience these policies. Public Law faculty examine this topic in both domestic and foreign settings. These interests connect Public Law faculty to faculty in American Politics, Comparative Politics and International Relations.

Features: UMass is very proud to be the home of numerous institutions that allow graduate students to connect with scholars from across campus and the world. These include:

  • Legal Studies Program, the nation’s oldest undergraduate law and society program. Graduate students have the opportunity to serve as teaching assistants and teach their own courses in Legal Studies.   
  • Five College Legal Studies Seminar, which brings together faculty and students from across the Five Colleges and the world in a series of monthly talks. Past presenters have included Jennifer Carlson (University of Arizona), Matthew C. Ingram (University at Albany), Hannah Lerner (Tel Aviv University), and Keramet Reiter (University of California, Irvine), in addition to faculty from Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and UMass. Paul Collins is the Chair of this seminar series, which is sponsored by the Five College Consortium.
     
  • The National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution, an international organization focused on the use of information technology to better understand and manage conflict resolution. Leah Wing is the Co-Director of the NCTDR.


GRADUATE COURSEWORK: Doctoral students in Public Law traditionally take a Public Law Proseminar and other graduate-level coursework, such as courses in Comparative Judicial Politics, Constitutional Law, Law and American Democracy, Law in Society, and Transitional Justice. Ph.D. students in Public Law must also pass a comprehensive exam with mastery in three areas of Public Law:

  • Judicial Process and Politics
  • Jurisprudence and Judicial Behavior
  • Constitutional Law
     

RECENT STUDENT/FACULTY COLLABORATIONS:

Ben-Aaron, James, Paul M. Collins, Jr., and Lori A. Ringhand. 2017. “The Selection of U.S. Supreme Court Justices.” In The Routledge Handbook of Judicial Behavior, eds. Robert M. Howard and Kirk A. Randazzo. New York, NY: Routledge.

Boyd, Christina L., Paul M. Collins, Jr., Bryce McManus, and Lori A. Ringhand. 2017. “The Role of Nominee Gender and Race at Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings.” Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans, Louisiana.