Students carry on annual tradition of acting out the landmark Erie case

In April 1938, Justice Louis Brandeis delivered the decision in Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, and wrought great change with seven powerful words: “There is no federal general common law.” Seventy-five years later, the decision to apply state substantive law and federal procedural rules in diversity cases continues to confound law students and practicing attorneys alike, and is the subject of significant discussion within the Supreme Court. Erie also happens to be one of University Professor Arthur Miller’s favorite cases.

In his days at Harvard Law, Miller would open class discussion of the Erie case with flamboyant performances that varied year to year. His costumes ran the gamut from a simple toga to a Superman outfit, and the shows quickly became a law school legend. Miller ultimately attempted to put an end to the tradition—despite the pleas of its celebrants—but was thwarted soon after his move to NYU Law by a section of 1Ls who decided to perform the case themselves. Students have continued the revised tradition each year.

Miller said that this year’s performance on October 24 was unique in the breadth of the class’s participation, pointing out that almost every student had a role. He reminded students that creating lasting bonds with classmates through projects like this is important to their professional and personal well-being. After briefly reminiscing about law professors from days past (“There’s no one today who can terrorize law students how Bull Warren could terrorize  law students”), Miller closed the performance with a quotation he attributed to Oscar Wilde, provided for the edification of this year’s Miller impersonator: “An imitation of a great book is a social necessity, but an imitation of a great man is a travesty.”

Click here to see the full performance on YouTube.

Posted on October 30, 2013