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Adam Smith in the Courts of the United States

Robin Paul Malloy

Syracuse University College of Law

May 1, 2010

Loyola Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 3, p. 33, 2010

Be it on topics of property, contract, commerce, trade, tax, legal history, or other matters, jurisprudence in the United States often invokes economic thinking in providing a rationale for legal outcomes. Consequently, I wondered how often the appeal to economic thinking in the courts included a reference to Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics. This essay traces the citations to Adam Smith in the judicial opinions of the Federal Courts starting with the first two cases to cite Smith in 1796; 214 years ago. The essay provides a brief contextual discussion about Smith and the way in which he has been cited over the years. This is followed by a report on the full set of citations to Adam Smith in the case opinions of the Federal Courts and in the legal briefs filed in those cases.

Between the years 1796 and 2009, Adam Smith is directly referenced in 162 cases, and in legal briefs filed in 213 cases. Over time Smith is cited for different purposes. He is cited in case opinions dealing with a range of topics including: tax, trade, commerce, labor, antitrust, and private property. The way in which Smith is referenced over time also changes. In general, references to Smith shift over time as he goes from being an authoritative reference on matters of taxation to being a mere iconic punctuation point in the arguments of those seeking to promote free markets and laissez-faire.

The article offers quotations from case opinions and establishes a record of Adam Smith’s appearances in the Courts of the United States. Interestingly, 70% of the citations to Smith occur since 1970. Hopefully, the article will be a fun piece to read no matter what one’s specialized research or teaching area may be.

Keywords: Adam Smith, Jurisprudence, Legal History, Economics, Property, Contracts, Commerce

JEL Classification: A10, A20, B00, B10, B12, B20, B30, B31

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Date posted: September 21, 2010  

Suggested Citation

Malloy, Robin Paul, Adam Smith in the Courts of the United States (May 1, 2010). Loyola Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 3, p. 33, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1660574

Contact Information

Robin Paul Malloy (Contact Author)
Syracuse University College of Law ( email )
Syracuse, NY 13244-1030
United States
315-443-3559 (Phone)
315-443-4141 (Fax)
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