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Prof. Coglianese shows how populist leaders use the law as a ‘scapegoat’ to fuel public disaffection

October 06, 2020

In his recently released paper, “Law as Scapegoat,” Professor Cary Coglianese argues that some populist leaders frame laws and regulations as “the other” in an effort to expand their followings.


In his recently released paper, “Law as Scapegoat,” Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science Cary Coglianese argues that some populist leaders frame laws and regulations as “the other” in an effort to expand their followings.

Coglianese compares such legal scapegoating to the use of anti-migrant rhetoric to stir up public anger against migrants, which is cultivated “in the face of stagnant or declining economic prospects.” He references recent developments in Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States to show how populist leaders can scapegoat the law.

Coglianese also addresses “the political economy of legal scapegoating,” explaining why politicians are drawn to blaming the law for social conditions as a strategy for building political support. Moreover, he explains “how persistent legal scapegoating can undermine public confidence in vital governing institutions, posing a risk of longer-term harms to society.”

The research paper draws on a keynote lecture that Coglianese delivered in the fall of 2019 in Rome at the International Association of Legislation’s conference on “The Crisis of Confidence in Legislation.”’

Coglianese specializes in the study of administrative law and regulatory processes and is the Director of the Penn Program on Regulation. He was a founding editor of the peer-reviewed journal Regulation & Governance, and he founded and continues to serve as advisor to The Regulatory Review.

His research and scholarship focuses on the empirical evaluation of alternative processes and strategies in the role of public participation, technology, and business-government relations in policy-making.

Coglianese’s books include Achieving Regulatory Excellence (Brookings Institution Press, 2016); Does Regulation Kill Jobs? (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014); Regulatory Breakdown: The Crisis of Confidence of US Regulation (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012); Import Safety: Regulatory Governance in the Global Economy (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); Regulation and Regulatory Processes (Ashgate, 2007); and Leveraging the Private Sector: Management-Based Strategies for Improving Environmental Performance (Routledge, 2006).

He has also recently written on climate change policy, public participation and transparency in federal rulemaking, the use of artificial intelligence by government agencies, and voluntary environmental programs.

Read more Law School faculty papers and publications.