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Melissa Murray Wins National Scholarly Papers Competition

By Andrew Cohen

Berkeley Law Assistant Professor Melissa Murray is the co-winner of the 26th annual Association of American Law School (AALS) Scholarly Papers Competition. She shares this year’s award with Ashira Ostrow, an associate professor at Hofstra Law School. 

The competition is open nationally to law professors who have been teaching for five years or fewer. A committee of established scholars reviews the submitted papers—which reflect original research or major developments in previously reported research—with the authors’ identities concealed.

Murray was honored for “Marriage as Punishment,” which she will present in January at the AALS annual meeting in San Francisco. It was one of more than 100 scholarly works submitted for this year’s competition.

Berkeley Law Professor Anne Joseph O’Connell won the same competition in 2007 for “Political Cycles of Rulemaking: An Empirical Portrait of the Modern Administrative State.”

In her paper, Murray describes how marriage has played a critical role in the operation of the criminal justice system, including serving as a defense to crime and as a form of punishment. Focusing on the crime of seduction—which existed in most U.S. jurisdictions from the 1840s through the 1960s—she considers the use of marriage both as a defense to the crime of seduction and as a punishment for the crime.

While today marriage is often spoken of in reverential tones—as an unvarnished right or freedom symbolic of one’s inclusion as a full citizen—Murray describes how viewed through the lens of the seduction cases, marriage appears more complicated.

In the not too distant past, marriage could be coerced and compelled, and serve as an alternative to criminal prosecution and a prison sentence. Seduction cases, notes Murray, suggest that in debating whether to expand marriage to a broader constituency, society failed to appreciate the degree to which marriage—like criminal law and more traditional punishment vehicles—serves as a form of regulation and governance.