Speaker Series: Amalia Kessler
Although arbitration has deep roots in the United States, the first half of the twentieth century witnessed a remarkable surge of enthusiasm for this extrajudicial dispute-resolution procedure, giving rise to legislative and institutional experiments at multiple levels of government. A broad range of actors and interests embraced arbitration as key to the revitalization of American democracy in a modern age beset by pressing new challenges of industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. Arbitration, they argued, facilitated new forms of private/public partnership that would enable expanded, lawyer-free access to justice and give voice to disempowered groups—ranging from small-scale business organizations and labor unions to Jewish communal minorities. The end result, they hoped, would be to generate a more socially expansive and culturally pluralist society, refashioning American democracy for the modern industrial era.
Recovering this forgotten history of arbitration reveals the surprising role that this seemingly technical and abstruse procedure played in two key developments that profoundly transformed the United States roughly a century ago and whose legacies remain with us to this day—namely, the rise of the modern administrative state and the emergence of cultural pluralism as a defining, though contested feature of American society.
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Amalia Kessler is the Lewis Talbot and Nadine Hearn Shelton Professor of International Legal Studies, the Associate Dean for Advanced Degree Programs, a Professor, by courtesy, of History, and the Director of Stanford Center for Law and History at Stanford Law School.
A scholar whose research focuses on the evolution of commercial law and civil procedure, Kessler seeks to explore the intersections between law, markets and dispute resolution—with a particular focus on the forces that have shaped the nature and origins of modern capitalism. She is currently working on a new book, tentatively entitled “The Public Roots of Private Ordering: Arbitration and the Remaking of the Modern American State,” the research for which is supported by a Guggenheim Fellowship in Constitutional Studies, as well as a fellowship from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. In 2018, her book, Inventing American Exceptionalism: The Origins of American Adversarial Legal Culture, 1800-1877 (Yale University Press, 2017) received the American Society for Legal History’s John Phillip Reid Book Award for the best English-language monograph by a mid-career or senior scholar on Anglo-American legal history.