A Common Lawyer Looks at Supreme Court Constitutional Law

“Cooperation yes, force no—presumptively.” 

Richard Epstein, the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of Law at New York University Law School, came to the Center for Constitutional Studies at Utah Valley University to address a group of students, scholars, and members of the community on Thursday Feb. 4, 2016.

That evening, Epstein began an address by explaining that the majority of common law judgments can be understood through the lens of a simple, five-word phrase: “Cooperation yes, force no—presumptively.” This, said Epstein, was the key to understanding the scope of and reasoning behind common law based legal and government actions. The first four words in this formula explain that the purpose of a common law-based government is to allow for free trade and cooperation while limiting the use of force.

Epstein continued by explaining that 20% of the law is simple enough to be understood using the first four words in his phrase; however the last word in the above formula, presumptively, is the reason why many different sections of law exist today. He explained that because the common law allows for exceptions to its established presumptions, many different additions and clarifications have been built into this system over the more than 200 years of the American experience. With a focus on this final point, Professor Epstein continued through the remainder of his address, expressing his understanding of the many changes that have occurred to the American common law legal system since its inception.