Vagrant nation : police power, constitutional change, and the making of the 1960s

Goluboff, Risa Lauren, 1971- author

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  • Creator Risa Goluboff
  • Format Books
  • Publication New York, NY : Oxford University Press, [2016]
  • Physical Details
    • viii, 471 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
  • ISBNs 9780199768448, 0199768447
  • OCLC ocn907339968


  • "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-played a key role not only in maintaining safety and order but also in enforcing 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? In Vagrant Nation, Risa Goluboff provides a truly groundbreaking account of this transformation. By reading the history of the 1960s through the lens of vagrancy laws, Goluboff shows how constitutional challenges to long-standing police practices were at the center of the multiple movements that made "the 1960s." Vagrancy laws were not just about poor people. They were so broad and flexible-criminalizing everything from immorality to wandering about-that they made it possible for the police to arrest anyone out of place in any way: Beats and hippies; Communists and Vietnam War protesters; racial minorities, civil rights activists, and interracial couples; prostitutes, single women, and gay men, lesbians, and other sexual minorities. As hundreds of these "vagrants" and their lawyers claimed that vagrancy laws were unconstitutional, the laws became a flashpoint for debates about radically different visions of order and freedom. In Goluboff's compelling portrayal, the legal campaign against vagrancy laws becomes a sweeping legal and social history of the 1960s. It touches on movements advocating everything from civil rights to peace to gay rights to welfare rights to cultural revolution. As Goluboff links the human stories of those arrested to the great controversies of the time, she makes coherent an era that often seems chaotic. She also powerfully demonstrates how ordinary people, with the help of lawyers and judges, can change the meaning of the Constitution. By 1972, the Supreme Court announced that vagrancy laws that had been a law enforcement staple for four hundred years were no longer constitutional. That decision, as well as the social movements and legal arguments that prompted it, has had major consequences for current debates about police power and constitutional rights. Clashes over everything from stop and frisk to homelessness to public protests echo the same tension between order and freedom that vagrancy cases tried to resolve. Since the early 1970s, courts, policymakers, activists, and ordinary citizens have had to contend with the massive legal vacuum left by vagrancy law's downfall. Battles over what, if anything, should replace vagrancy laws, like battles over the legacy of the sixties transformations themselves, are far from over"--
  • "People out of Place reshapes our understanding of the 1960s by telling a previously unknown story about often overlooked criminal laws prohibiting vagrancy. As Beats, hippies, war protesters, Communists, racial minorities, civil rights activists, prostitutes, single women, poor people, and sexual minorities challenged vagrancy laws, the laws became a shared constitutional target for clashes over radically different visions of the nation's future"--


  • Includes bibliographical references and index.


  • 1. From the soapbox to the courthouse -- Workers, wobblies, and radicals -- Civil liberties lawyers, civil liberties law -- A radical in court in the early cold war -- 2. The vagrancy law education of Ernest Besig -- The many faces of vagrancy law in 1950s San Francisco -- Constructing the vagrancy law problem -- Solving the vagrancy law problem -- 3. Shuffling Sam Thompson and the Liberty End Cafe -- The police as peacekeeper -- A federal case at the Louisville Police Court, Winter 1959 -- Louis Lusky's litigation strategy -- 4. "For integration? : you're a vagrant" -- Vagrancy regulation as racial regulation -- An accidental army of vagrancy lawyers in the 1960s South -- Lessons from the loitering case of a "notorious" civil rights leader -- 5. "Morals are flexible from one generation ... to another" -- The female vagrant -- "Vag lewd" and the policing of homosexuality (continued) -- The criminalization of idle poverty -- 6. "The most significant criminal case of the year" -- Law student, murder suspect, vagrant -- Vagrancy law, Stop & Frisk, and the relationship between them -- Crime control at the Supreme Court, Fall 1967-Spring 1968 -- 7. Hippies, hippie lawyers, and the challenge of nonconformity -- Flashback, 1963 : a "spontaneous hootenanny" in Dupont Circle -- The threat of a new counterculture -- The constitutional appeal of the pie-baking hippie and the "banner year" of 1969 -- 8. The beginning of the end of vagrancy laws -- Race, crime, and vagrancy redux -- Loitering , protest, and the importance of facts -- Close encounters with the Anti-war Movement, Sprint 1971 -- 9. "Vagrancy is no crime" -- Race to the court -- Constitutionalizing the vagrancy law challenge, Winter 1972 -- Papachristou and the long 1960s
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