Inga Markovits

Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow - Class of Spring 2012

Friends of Jamail Regents Chair in Law, University of Texas School of Law

American Academy Project: Law Professors Under Socialism: A History of the Humboldt University Law Faculty Under GDR Rule
Current Institution Affiliation: University of Texas School of Law
Current Location: Texas


Inga Markovits is an internationally renowned expert in comparative law and the Friends of Jamail Regents Chair in Law at the University of Texas. Her research has concentrated on socialist legal regimes, on law reform in Eastern Europe, and on the comparison of legal cultures in general. Markovits has been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University and a visiting scholar at the Zentrum für Zeithistorische Forschung in Potsdam, Germany. Her recent book Justice in Lüritz (Princeton University Press, 2010; German edition: Gerechtigkeit in Lüritz, C.H. Beck, 2006) traces the rise and fall of socialist law as reflected in the files of one East German trial court; it was the co-recipient of the Willard Hurst Prize  for the best book in socio-legal history in 2010. Her other publications include Imperfect Justice (Oxford University Press, 1995; German edition: Die Abwicklung: Ein Tagebuch zum Ende der DDR-Justiz (Beck, 1993), and Sozialistisches und bürgerliches Zivilrechtsdenken in der DDR (Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik, 1969).

American Academy Project

Law Professors Under Socialism: A History of the Humboldt University Law Faculty Under GDR Rule

Markovits will use her time in Berlin to do research for a new book project: a history of the law faculty of Berlin’s Humboldt University during the years of East German Socialism. Socialist governments always had an ambivalent relationship with the law; the Party used it as a handy tool to achieve its goals but rejected its authority over the state’s own behavior. Legal professionals under Socialism, accordingly, had to walk a precarious line between the law’s insistence on regularity and order and the Party’s arbitrary usurpations of the law. They could (and did) respond to the political pressures on their work in  various ways: surrender to the Party, define themselves as guns for hire who served whatever client chose to hire them, stick to the letter of the law wherever possible, or push for law reform. By studying the history of one discrete and manageable group of highly articulate and influential lawyers (Humboldt law professors), Markovits hopes to gain insight into the tensions between law and political power while at the same time tracing the ups and downs of East German legal history.

Lecture Summary

Published in Law

Law in the Time of Party Rule: Humboldt University’s Law Faculty Under Socialism

The curious dialectic between law and socialism in the former East Germany

“Lawyers make bad Christians,” Martin Luther once said (“Juristen – böse Christen”). Why? Lawyers are too contrary, too skeptical, too willing to argue either side of any controversy in order to win. They have no talent for unquestioning faith, no convictions, no allegiance. This same rationale might explain, says Inga Markovits, the Ellen Maria Gorrissen Fellow at the Academy this spring, why Socialism, a secular religion of sorts, was always wary of its lawyers and kept them under tight control. »