Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s

Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s (Oxford 2016).

Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2016-49

15 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2016

See all articles by Risa L. Goluboff

Risa L. Goluboff

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: August 26, 2016

Abstract

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?

Vagrant Nation 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.

In describing those challenges, Vagrant Nation offers a new, integrated history of the civil rights, peace, gay rights, welfare rights, sexual, and cultural revolutions. It also demonstrates how ordinary people, with the help of lawyers and judges, can change the meaning of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court's 1972 decision declaring vagrancy laws unconstitutional continues to shape conflicts between police power and constitutional rights, including clashes over stop-and-frisk, homelessness, sexual freedom, and public protests. Since the downfall of vagrancy law, battles over what, if anything, should replace it, like battles over the legacy of the sixties transformations themselves, are far from over.

Keywords: legal history, constitutional history, Constitution, police, policing, stop and frisk, crime, 1960s, sixties, vagrancy, civil rights movement, antiwar movement, Vietnam War, gay rights, welfare rights, sexual revolution, and cultural revolutions, LGBT, Communism, labor unions, status crimes, vice

Suggested Citation

Goluboff, Risa L., Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s (August 26, 2016). Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s (Oxford 2016).; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2016-49. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2830701

Risa L. Goluboff (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.virginia.edu/lawweb/Faculty.nsf/FHPbI/9230

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