Law and Public Policy: A Gap Between Theory and Teaching?

Law and Public Policy: A Gap Between Theory and Teaching?

By Edward F. KammererIdaho State University and Neenah Estrella-LunaSalem State University

The realization that policy and law are tightly intertwined dates at least to de Tocqueville’s observation that, in the United States, political questions often become judicial questions. Scholars have shown consistently that courts, both federal and state, play a role in public policy decision making. This is observed in social policy (e.g., same-sex marriage and abortion), environmental policy (e.g., Environmental Protection Agency regulations), economic policy (e.g., New Deal Era decisions), and more. Too often, however, graduate programs in public policy fail to prepare students for the role of the courts in the policy process. This study examines the requirements and core competencies from Masters of Public Policy programs to determine to what extent, if any, judicial policy making is taught. We find that there is a significant gap between the theory about the role of courts in the public policy process and what public policy programs teach their students. We conclude with recommendations for possible changes to curricula to close this gap.