High-speed trains and solitary nighttime walks that end in gruesome violence—these elements make good fodder for action movies, and also figure prominently in the landmark 1938 US Supreme Court case Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins. This year, 1L students in University Professor Arthur Miller’s civil procedure class drew the connection. As part of their annual Erie Day skit, which reenacts the case that drastically changed how federal courts hear cases under diversity jurisdiction, the students parodied the latest James Bond movie, No Time to Die, in a skit titled “No Time to Die-mur.”
The Erie case began in 1934 when Harry Tompkins, walking home along railroad tracks in his home state of Pennsylvania, was struck by a passing train and lost an arm. When he sued the railroad, a federal court declined to apply a Pennsylvania precedent, but ultimately the Supreme Court found that liability should be decided using state law, including state common law. Overturning a century-old rule, the Court held that there is no federal common law.
Erie Day began when Miller acted out scenes from the litigation in his class at Harvard Law School, and it continued when Miller moved to NYU Law in 2007. When Miller bowed out of performing himself, his students kept up the tradition. Previous themes have included the Wizard of Oz, ancient Greece, and Superman.
This year’s Erie Day featured prerecorded elements, such as parody film trailers referencing elements from the 1L Lawyering class, and an opening credit sequence that included new lyrics to the Adele song “Skyfall”: “This is the end/A ninety-six-year precedent/No body of law’s transcendent/Not at all what Congress meant.” Most of the performance, however, was a live skit in which participants played characters such as Bond, Moneypenny, and M (also called Miller).
“We have been really amazed at how much effort the students have been putting into it,” says Aine Carolan ’23, a teaching assistant for the class. She notes that last year’s Erie Day production was video-only, with students contributing separate recordings that were then edited together. The in-person performance, she says, “feels like a sign of the return of beloved Law School traditions after we’ve all had to be apart during the pandemic.”
Watch video of the Erie Day performance:
Posted November 9, 2021.