Judging Stories (November 2013)


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Thursday, November 14, 2013
Speaker: Noah Novogrodsky (Wyoming)
Location: Osgoode, IKB 2003
Time: 12:30 -2:20pm

This seminar focused on the confluence of incitement to genocide and hate speech in a single case to explore the power of stories in law. That power defines how we see the world, how we form communities of meaning and how we speak to one another.

Previous commentators have recognized that law is infused with stories, from the narratives of litigants, to the rhetoric of lawyers, to the tales that judges interpret and create in the form of written opinions. “Judging Stories” builds on those insights to address the problems posed by transnational speech and the question of which norms apply to inflammatory publications transmitted across borders. This Article uses the case of Citizenship and Immigration (Canada) v. Mugesera to introduce the term “master story” while making three related claims. First, states produce and rely upon master stories – constitutive legal narratives – that define political culture and shape the contours of permitted and forbidden speech. Second, judges play a unique role in constructing master stories. Judicial speech is different than other forms of commentary and serves to join law with communal fables in ways that legitimate some stories at the expense of others. Third, courts and tribunals are beginning to use incitement to genocide – but not hate speech – to write a new master story. As geographically and temporally removed tribunals are called upon to adjudicate hateful expression from outside the master story, a global process is unfolding that may serve to reset the balance between unfettered speech and the threat of dignitary harms posed by incendiary language. Channeling international human rights law and norms, judges are supplanting exhortations of hatred with the language of reason in an effort to develop a body of transnational legal rules, a new nomos for an interconnected world.


Noah Novogrodsky is a professor at the University of Wyoming law school where he teaches International Human Rights, Immigration Law and Civil Procedure. Professor Novogrodsky is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate with highest honors from Swarthmore College; he holds a law degree from Yale and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Queens’ College at Cambridge University. After law school, he served as law clerk to the Honorable Nancy Gertner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts; as a Robert L. Bernstein Fellow in International Human Rights in Asmara, Eritrea, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Cape Town, South Africa; as a litigation associate at the firm of Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin in San Francisco; and as the founding director of the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. In that capacity, Professor Novogrodsky filed an intervenor submission in the case of Citizenship and Immigration (Canada) v. Mugesera. Professor Novogrodsky has also been a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Connecticut School of Law; his scholarship is focused on legal accountability for mass atrocities, the global HIV/AIDS pandemic and the justiciability of social and economic rights.

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