A movement of one's own?: American social movements and constitutional development in the twentieth century

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Martens, Allison Marie

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This dissertation examines the interaction between American social movements as they pursue their constitutional rights. The public law literature is dominated by a topdown approach to the study of constitutional politics, frequently focusing on the impact of Supreme Court decision-making. Instead, I explore constitutional politics from the bottom-up, analyzing constraints on social movement organizations as they formulate their constitutional strategies. Social movements must always be keenly aware of the actions of their peers who also seek to exploit the Constitution for their own benefit. My findings indicated that social movements recognize this competitive relationship with other social movements and treat their fellow constitutional claimants accordingly, acting to contest claims unfavorable to their cause, co-opt claims of other groups that have shown promise, and even form coalitions with their peers where an adjustment of their own claims to accommodate their coalition partners will likely net a greater return than going it alone. These negotiated constitutional claims have resulted in significant, durable and often ironic or unexpected shifts in constitutional development.