The Anti-Case Method: Herbert Wechsler and the Political History of the Criminal Law Course
33 Pages Posted: 21 Sep 2008 Last revised: 11 Dec 2012
Date Written: March 9, 2012
This article is the first to recover the dramatic transformation in criminal law teaching away from the case method and towards a more open-ended philosophical approach in the 1930s. It makes three contributions. One, it shows how Columbia Law Professor Herbert Wechsler revolutionized the teaching of criminal law by de-emphasizing cases and including a variety of non-case related material in his 1940 text Criminal Law and Its Administration. Two, it reveals that at least part of Wechsler's intention behind transforming criminal law teaching was to undermine Langdell's case method, which he blamed for producing a "closed-system" view of the law that contributed to the destruction of the first half of the New Deal. Three, it shows that Wechsler's text inspired an entire generation of law teachers who believed that criminal law should be taught as a "liberal arts" course, precisely so that law students would not become criminal lawyers. The legal academy's disdain for criminal practice, this article concludes, allowed scholars like Wechsler to introduce innovations in criminal law teaching that became a subsequent model for law teaching generally in the United States during the latter half of the Twentieth Century.
Keywords: criminal law, Herbert Wechsler, legal education, new deal, pedagogy, casebook
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