62 UMKC L. Rev. 171 (1993-1994)
Law and Social Change

handle is hein.journals/umkc62 and id is 181 raw text is: LAW AND SOCIAL CHANGE
Martha Minow*
I cannot help but note that today is tax day, and as many of us
scramble to finish our taxes, I am reminded of the saying, there are
two kinds of people in the world: those who finish what they start, and
so forth. Actually, what I really believe is, there are two kinds of
people in the world: the kind who think there are two kinds of people
and the kind who don't.
I also think there tend to be two kinds of people when it comes to
the topic of law and social change-those who believe that law is an
important instrument of social change and those who think not. Carolyn
Heilburn once commented: Thinking about profound social change,
conservatives always expect disaster, while revolutionaries confidently an-
ticipate utopia. Both are wrong.'
When it comes to the relations between law and social change I am
not ready to announce who is wrong. There we find variations on the
two basic positions. Some people think the law basically lags behind
changes in society and gradually catches up. An example would be the
change from divorce laws requiring demonstrations that one spouse was
to blame for the break-up of the marriage to what is commonly called
no-fault divorce, available if either party just wants out. Given how
many thousands of people manufactured evidence under the blame system,
the adoption of no-fault divorce could be viewed basically as an acknow-
ledgment of actual practice.2
Some believe in contrast that law can occasionally prompt changes
in society but only occasionally, and often unintentionally. For people
with this view, Brown v. Board of Education3 stands as a remarkable and
unusual moment of judicial leadership in advance of public opinions and
practice.4 Others emphasize the unintended consequences of law reform
efforts. For them, no-fault divorce is a striking example of a reform that
unintentionally eliminated protection for women and has become associ-
ated with dramatic drops in economic well-being for women and children
* Professor of Law, Harvard University. Presented at the Law and Social Change Lectures
at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Law as a University of Kansas City Trustees
visiting professor on April 14, 15, and 16, 1993.
1. THE BEACON BOOK OF QUOTATIONS BY WOMEN 299 (Rosalie Maggio ed., 1992) (quoting
3. 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
4. A refined version of this view appears in ARYEH NEIER, ONLY JUDGMENT: THE LIMITS OF
LITIGATION IN SOCIAL CHANGE (1982), which argues that courts are sometimes appropriate and
sometimes less well-suited to pursue social change. His analysis contrasts the competence of courts
in eight different areas of public policy.

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