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Social Rights, Courts and Constitutional Democracy - Poverty and Welfare Rights in the United States


William E. Forbath


University of Texas at Austin - School of Law


ON THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY, Julio Faudez, ed., London, Routledge, 2006
U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 81

Abstract:     
Social rights - to basic income, health care, education, decent work - are indispensable for constitutional democracy. Yet it is widely believed that social rights have no place in U.S. experience. That is wrong. In the 1960s and 1970s, U.S. courts collaborated with social movements and activist attorneys to pioneer judicial recognition and enforcement of social rights, and these developments quietly continue in several American state court systems. This study offers a brief history of the social, political, judicial, and intellectual adventures of the "welfare rights movement" of the 1960s and 1970s, with an eye to current debates about the possibilities and limits of courts and constitutionalism as vehicles for promoting social rights. It engages with two programmatic alternatives: the basic income idea and the idea of employment-based social citizenship, and it offers some reflections about the practical and moral promises and pitfalls of each one.

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Date posted: November 19, 2005  

Suggested Citation

Forbath, William E., Social Rights, Courts and Constitutional Democracy - Poverty and Welfare Rights in the United States. ON THE STATE OF DEMOCRACY, Julio Faudez, ed., London, Routledge, 2006; U of Texas Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 81. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=845924

Contact Information

William E. Forbath (Contact Author)
University of Texas at Austin - School of Law ( email )
727 East Dean Keeton Street
Austin, TX 78705
United States
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