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Does the Law Morally Bind the Poor?

Or What Good's the Constitution When You Can't Buy a Loaf of Bread?

R. Wright

Publication Year: 1996

Consider the horror we feel when we learn of a crime such as that committed by Robert Alton Harris, who commandeered a car, killed the two teenage boys in it, and then finished what was left of their lunch. What we don't consider in our reaction to the depravity of this act is that, whether we morally blame him or not, Robert Alton Harris has led a life almost unimaginably different from our own in crucial respects.

In Does Law Morally Bind the Poor? or What Good's the Constitution When You Can't Buy a Loaf of Bread?, author R. George Wright argues that while the poor live in the same world as the rest of us, their world is crucially different. The law does not recognize this difference, however, and proves to be inconsistent by excusing the trespasses of persons fleeing unexpected storms, but not those of the involuntarily homeless. He persuasively concludes that we can reject crude environmental determinism without holding the most deprived to unreasonable standards.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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p. vii

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pp. 1-6

What are the pros and cons of living in a broken trash compactor? The advantages are actually many and substantial. The danger of electrocution, for example, is less than that of sleeping near a 600- volt electrified train rail...

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1. Does the Constitution Morally Bind the Poor?

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pp. 7-39

This chapter explores a crucial, but largely undiscussed, problem in American constitutional jurisprudence. The problem is not difficult to state: Many Americans live through remarkable deprivation and disadvantage. Their stories differ widely...

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2. The Progressive Logic of Criminal Responsibility and the Circumstances of the Most Deprived

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pp. 40-101

We know that the pull of gravity differs on the earth and on the moon. Can the pull of moral and social gravity also vary with place, even within what is nominally the same society? This chapter will argue that it...

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3. Desperation and Necessity: Les Miserables on Trial

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pp. 102-174

Let us suppose that the argument of the previous chapter was utterly mistaken. Even the most severely deprived persons could then be said to typically bear moral responsibility for their criminal acts. Of course, standard defenses...

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pp. 175-178

At the beginning of this book, we met a person who lived, disastrously, in a temporarily broken trash compactor. This book has tried to redeem some legal space for such persons. It is difficult to be entirely satisfied...


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pp. 179-183


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pp. 185-215


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pp. 217-219

E-ISBN-13: 9780814770528
E-ISBN-10: 0814770525
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814792940
Print-ISBN-10: 0814792944

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 1996

OCLC Number: 42854211
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Does the Law Morally Bind the Poor?

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Subject Headings

  • Criminal liability -- United States.
  • Public welfare -- Law and legislation -- United States.
  • Poor -- Civil rights -- United States.
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