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The Development of a Legal Rule: The Federal Common Law of Public Nuisance

Paul J. Wahlbeck
Law & Society Review
Vol. 32, No. 3 (1998), pp. 613-638
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Law and Society Association
DOI: 10.2307/827758
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/827758
Page Count: 26
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The Development of a Legal Rule: The Federal Common Law of Public Nuisance
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Abstract

Scholars from across disciplinary lines are interested in understanding legal development. One impediment to the quest for a systematic explanation has been measures of legal change. Indicators like whether a court overturns an earlier ruling capture one facet of legal change but fail to capture the full range of courts' actions to develop legal doctrine. I introduce an alternative measure of legal change here--one based on Levi's (1949) focus on whether factual circumstances are or are not encompassed by the law. I use the U. S. Courts of Appeals decisions on the federal common law of public nuisance to illustrate this measure. Utilizing a multinomial logit model to explore the appellate judiciary's decisions to develop this legal doctrine, I find that the judges' decisions to develop the federal common law are explained by the judges' policy preferences; the litigation environment consisting of party resources, attorney experience, and amicus support; as well as the broader political context of public opinion and Supreme Court rulings.

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