Writing Vagrant Nation
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
In my response to reviews by Christopher Agee, Christopher Schmidt, Karen Tani, and Laura Weinrib, I explain some of the challenges of writing Vagrant Nation: Police Power, Constitutional Change, and the Making of the 1960s. In particular, I explore the challenge of creating narrative coherence without losing the essential multiplicity of the story or compromising my methodological commitment to constitutional history across the many actors involved in the legal change process. I ultimately constructed such coherence on three levels: narrative, thematic, and doctrinal. Narratively, I settled on a larger role for the Supreme Court than initially anticipated, while still decentering the Court substantively, methodologically, and causally. I located thematic coherence largely in a new vision of the “sixties.” The decade that emerges was marked by a common claim of people deemed out of place to make their own places in the world; an evolving if incomplete effort to disentangle difference from danger; and the crucial role of both sympathy and empathy in the success of the challenge to vagrancy laws. Though numerous legal arguments ran through that challenge, doctrinal multiplicity — the refusal to flatten or narrow the complex set of arguments and harms that vagrancy cases presented — became its own form of coherence.