Experts at the 40th anniversary Journal of Law & Politics symposium at the University of Virginia School of Law will explore how abortion rights advocates can use the democratic process to “reclaim reproductive rights” after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Dobbs and Democracy,” co-sponsored by the Karsh Center for Law and Democracy, will be held Feb. 23 at 4 p.m. in WB128. Student organizers said the event’s themes draw on Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s assertion that advocates can use the legislative process to achieve their goals — “Women are not without electoral or political power,” he wrote in his majority opinion for Dobbs.

Legal and political experts will examine state-by-state efforts to protect reproductive rights via the ballot box and the challenges these movements face. Law professors, and current and former elected prosecutors will discuss prosecutorial discretion with respect to state abortion crimes, as well as state constitutional bases for protecting reproductive rights.

New York University law professor Melissa Murray (COL ’97), whose research focuses on the legal regulation of intimate life, will deliver the keynote address at 6:30 p.m.

The event’s organizers said the court’s reassignment of women’s rights to state-level democratic processes is a shift that calls for rethinking how constitutional issues are taught in law school.

“In the past 40 years, the face of law and politics has changed substantially. With fundamental rights hanging on state constitutions, legal education that prioritizes federal law may need to dramatically shift,” said Kathryn McEvoy ’23, the journal’s editor-in-chief. “Challenges to voting rights may impose larger burdens on individual political actors and local community members to take action to protect fundamental rights.”

The event marks the 40th anniversary of the Journal of Law & Politics, a student-run publication that was established in 1983 by UVA Law students under the guidance of then-Circuit Judge Antonin Scalia, a former Law School faculty member. 

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Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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