Casebooks and Geographic Bias
posted by Dave Hoffman
Though it’s well-known that casebooks can have ideologies, such criticisms usually ignore regional bias. Indeed, when I started law teaching, it would have difficult for me to have imagined that casebooks in a national survey class would have any geographic tilt at all. Now I’m wondering if it is a fairly common sin.
My civ pro case book, Babcock/Spaulding/Massaro, provides one such example. It’s a good book – cleanly laid out, with useful problem sets, and decent notes. True, it often seems to have a pro-personal-jurisdiction bias (and, consequently, a liberal one). But that’s not surprising given what one hears on the Civ Pro listserv. Less obvious on a first scan is how much it feels like a west coast book. The hypos are usually set in Arizona, California, or thereabouts; the manual refers often to Stanford students’ experiences; the intertextual notes are weighted toward 9th Circuit case illustrations. By contrast, the Barnett contracts book I continue to use feels rooted in the plains states — there are more cases from Kansas, Iowa, etc., than you’d expect. (To be fair, it might be because agriculture produces a ton of contract problems.) The KBR corporations book I use is rooted in Delaware – but that’s related to a vision of the course, not an incident of where the authors teach.
Can others think of examples of “southern” casebooks, or ones that feel “northeastern” in their orientation?
Geographic bias isn’t nearly as pernicious as the other kinds of ideologies than infect casebook authors. Indeed, maybe it doesn’t matter much at all. I’m sensitive to it largely because of my recent research into geographic variation in contract law: even in our national economy, there are significant differences in commercial law, and procedural practice, between the states. Casebooks that with a regional flavor should be up front about their tilt.