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date: 29 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay argues that popular justice must be understood as an integral (and disturbing) part of the legal and constitutional history of the United States. To explore that idea, this essay examines popular justice as a process that occurs whenever people take the law into their own hands. Viewing popular justice as a process of judging and punishing tells us several key things about the concept. First, it suggests that while popular justice may be violent, it need not be; gossip may punish as effectively as tarring and feathering. Second, it implies that popular justice need not always be carried out by a collective; individuals can take the law into their own hands in defense of person or property, or to protest perceived injustice. Third, it reminds us that there is a constitutional aspect to popular justice: it is “popular” because it is carried out by non-state actors.

Keywords: rough justice, popular sovereignty, vigilantes, duels, shaming

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