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May 11, 2016 The Modern Law Library

‘Vagrant Nation’ explores the rise and fall of vagrancy laws

By Lee Rawles

From the 18th century through the beginning of the 1970s, American officials had an incredibly versatile weapon to use against anyone seen as dangerous to society or as flouting societal norms: vagrancy laws. To be charged with vagrancy did not require an illegal action; vagrancy was a status crime, says professor Risa Goluboff. You could lawfully be arrested, charged and convicted because of who police thought you were, not what you’d done.

During the post-WWII era of tumultuous social change, these laws were used against civil rights leaders, beatniks, hippies, interracial couples, suspected Communists, homosexuals, prostitutes and—above all—the poor and politically vulnerable.

In this episode of the Modern Law Library, the ABA Journal’s Lee Rawles speaks with Risa Goluboff about her new book, Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s, to find out how these laws came about; how they were used in practice; and how they were brought down.

Vagrant Nation
February 2016
List Price: $29.95

In This Podcast:

Lee Rawles
Risa Goluboff is a professor of law and of history at the University of Virginia School of Law. In July, she will become dean of the law school. She is also the author of The Lost Promise of Civil Rights.