law; subversive lawyering; criminal law


What if instead of seeing criminal court as an institution driven by the operation of rules, we saw it as a workplace where people labor to criminalize those with the misfortune to be prosecuted? Early observers of twentieth century urban criminal courts likened them to factories. Since then, commentators often deploy the pejorative epithet “assembly line justice” to describe criminal court’s processes. The term conveys the criticism of a mechanical system delivering a form of justice that is impersonal and fallible. Perhaps unintentionally, the epithet reveals another truth: criminal court is also a workplace, and it takes labor to keep it running. But beyond a metaphor, how might a sustained analysis of labor in criminal courts enhance our power of observation?