What happens when people's common sense view of justice diverges from the sense of justice they see enshrined in particular legal rules and legal outcomes? In particular, does the perception of one particular law as unjust make people less likely to comply with unrelated laws? This article reports an experiment that empirically tested the Flouting Thesis - the idea that the perceived justice of one law can influence the intention to comply with unrelated laws. Participants who were exposed to laws they perceived as unjust were more willing, as a general matter, to flout unrelated laws, compared to participants exposed to laws perceived as just. This willingness to disobey extended far beyond the unjust law in question, resulting in participants expressing plans to flout unrelated laws in their everyday lives (such as traffic violations, petty theft, and copyright restrictions). Factors contributing to the relationship between perceived injustice and flouting include the role of law in American popular culture, the expressive function of the law in producing compliance, and unconscious psychological processes that underlie the diminished willingness to comply with the law.
Date of this Version
Janice Nadler, "Flouting the Law: Does Perceived Injustice Provoke General Non-Compliance?" (November 2002). Law and Economics Papers. Working Paper 37.