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A Conversation with Risa Goluboff

March 4, 2016

Vagrant NationThe latest episode of The Coy Barefoot Program is now available online in our Media Projects Gallery. Join Coy for an extended conversation with Risa Goluboff, the Dean-elect of the University of Virginia Law School, exploring her new book Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s. As her publisher notes, “In 1950s America, it was remarkably easy for police to arrest almost anyone for almost any reason. The criminal justice system-and especially the age-old law of vagrancy-served not only to maintain safety and order but also to enforce conventional standards of morality and propriety. A person could be arrested for sporting a beard, making a speech, or working too little. Yet by the end of the 1960s, vagrancy laws were discredited and American society was fundamentally transformed. What happened?

“In Vagrant Nation, Risa Goluboff answers that question by showing how constitutional challenges to vagrancy laws shaped the multiple movements that made “the 1960s.” Vagrancy laws were so broad and flexible that they made it possible for the police to arrest anyone out of place: Beats and hippies; Communists and Vietnam War protestors; racial minorities and civil rights activists; gays, single women, and prostitutes. As hundreds of these “vagrants” and their lawyers challenged vagrancy laws in court, the laws became a flashpoint for debates about radically different visions of order and freedom.” This is a fascinating discussion about an historic turning point not just in American law and society, but in western civilization.