Rethinking settlement

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In his canonical articles Against Settlement and The Forms of Justice, Owen Fiss argues that the erosion of civil litigation harms the deliberative process and the elucidation of public values in society. By revealing the hidden public dimension underlying not only public law litigation, but also the adjudication of private law disputes, Fiss's argument can be conceptualized as posing a challenge to the public/ private distinction. At the same time, Fiss's critique reinforces the public/private divide by placing settlement and civil litigation on either side of the borderline. In this Article, we set out to dispel the prevalent depiction of settlement as inherently private, and to challenge the binary logic of the private/public distinction as it is understood to apply to settlement. We show how settlements have the capacity to fulfill each and every one of the public functions attributed to the civil trial, including the elaboration of norms, the discovery of facts, the facilitation of democratic participation, and the creation of public narratives. The functional, process-oriented approach we offer depicts settlement as a device that does not stand in opposition to the promotion of rule of law values - but rather as an institution that enhances the articulation of public norms. Our discussion progresses against the background of three settlement arenas: settlement in the classic civil suit context, structural reform suits, and transnational Holocaust litigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-123
Number of pages47
JournalTheoretical inquiries in law
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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