Professor Brooks on Books & the Law

Professor Emeritus of Law, Richard Oliver Brooks, is the Founding Director of the Vermont Law School Environmental Law Center. In an era of increasing digitization, Professor Brooks comments on the important role in which books have played in his legal and academic career.

A Note on Books and the Law
In thinking about the role which books have played in both my legal and academic career, I found it surprising to recall how helpful various books were. For the bulk of my legal career, I held positions which dealt with public law issues. As legal counsel to Community Progress Inc. in New Haven, I was assigned with the task of designing a neighborhood legal services program. Since the program was part of the urban renewal effort in New Haven, I read Robert Dahl’s classic political science study of New Haven – Who Governs. The book was particularly helpful in understanding the pluralistic political structure which was to affect the manner of adoption of the program. In the late 1960’s and 1970, I was legal advisor to a charter revision commission in Waterford. The issue arose as the need, at the local level, to have one- man, one-vote districts in Norwich. In addition to rereading Mill’s Representative Democracy, I turned to Alex Bickel’s The Supreme Court and the Idea of Progress which was an analysis, (ultimately rejected), of the one-man, one –vote issue. In the late 1960’s, I began work as a consultant for the Rouse Company in the development of the New Town of Columbia. Prior to this consultation, I had read extensively both in the community and new towns literature. Such literature was important to my assisting with the legal implementation of citizen village councils and a Counsel of Institutions in Columbia. This experience became the stimulus for my book, New Towns and Communal Values. In 1970, I began representing a group of citizens opposing the building of a nuclear power plant on Long Island Sound. For the first time in my career, I encountered a variety of ecological issues. One of my key witnesses was Bill Neiring, an ecologist who persuaded me to take his ecology course and read The Foundations of Ecology, which offered me a framework for understanding the warm water effects of the proposed plant on the Sound. In the late 1970’s, when faced with the task of initiating the Environmental Law Center, I returned to Barry Commoner’s The Closing Circle, which led me to the belief that ecology and its implications should rest at the heart of environmental law. Finally, I should like to mention the two volume study of Vermont’s Act 250, Towards Community Sustainability which I undertook after stepping down from the directorship of the ELC. I do not regard this as an academic work, but rather as a teaching tool though which many students were enlisted to work on the book as a group. The work was also intended as a reference volume for Vermont’s practicing attorneys, so it overlaps practice, teaching and scholarship.

I also have reviewed the books and articles I have written over the past several decades. Almost all of them have been stimulated by books or have begun their analysis with the discussion of selected books. I will take as examples the last three law journal articles and several books I have recently written or edited since my retirement. The first article dealt with the Kelo case – a well known takings case. Here, I was interested in the issue of the possibility of defining “the public interest” or “the common good” as a justification for the economic development of New London, Connecticut. With regard to this issue, I turned to Adler’s Theory of Democracy and The Common Sense of Politics which, to my mind offers the best discussion of the definition. A second article deals with the BP oil spill and, beginning with  the writings of Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, I explored the issue of the regulation of technology in general and the technology which failed in the spill. The third article which I am presently completing explores the environmental regulation of the Long Island Sound and, was inspired, in part, by the fine work by Brian Norton entitled Sustainability. I have also penned several recent comparative law articles drawing upon the works that I and others edited on Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, and Augustine. These works also included substantial introduction to and discussion of the legal works of these authors. In terms of ongoing projects, I am presently undertaking, (along with James Murphy and Carl Yirka), the edited selection of writings on St. Thomas Aquinas’s theory of law and completing an article on Augustine and comparative law. Since I have written extensively in the past on planning and the law, with the publication of John Friedmann’s monumental Planning in the Public Domain, I hope to complete a summary article on the subject of planning and law.

In completing this present work, as in the past, I am very dependent upon the staff and Director of the library of Vermont Law School as well as its collection of books and legal materials, and its service of Interlibrary Loan. It is only by the keeping up such an ongoing collection of works that a legal scholar can secure the support he needs for his work. Of particular importance is the availability of books to my work. Such books offer the extended narratives and comprehensive intellectual framework needed for significant legal scholarship.

Richard Oliver Brooks

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