Front Page Titles (by Subject) Courts and Social Science Evidence - Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1
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Courts and Social Science Evidence - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, January/March 1979, vol. 2, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Courts and Social Science Evidence
“On the Limits of Social Science Evidence: Educational Policy Making and the Courts.” Urban Education 13 (July 1978): 127–146.
Courts have become deeply involved in adjudicating controversial social issues. Within the realm of education, many state and local educational officials now must carry out educational policies dictated by the courts. The courts' arbitration of otherwise unresolvable public issues has several implications for the judicial process. As one example, the courts have increased their consultation of new sources and forms of data.
Perhaps the most dramatic area where courts have assumed wholesale policy making functions is “public law litigation” or “class action suits.” The emergence of such litigation in the sphere of education (in the case of school finances, the location of school buildings, the treatment of handicapped students, the use of proper evaluation procedures, and the desegregation of schools) are examples of court efforts to apply legal precedents to large categories of persons rather than to select individuals.
The courts now need greater amounts and different kinds of information than in earlier legal proceedings. Ever more central to the adjudicative process, the court's task of “fact finding” continually grows. However, this does not necessarily imply the utility of social science in judicial decision making. In fact, “with a significant number of the educational suits which find their way before the courts, social science data are far from indispensable, and are more likely irrelevant. This is so, because it is not evident how social science evidence can inform the adjudication of constitutional principles.”
One limitation of social science data is that social science is in a continual state of flux and the findings in vogue at one time may be totally disavowed in another. Constitutional interpretation ought to be based on constitutional principles rather than on a particular data set. Otherwise, liberties and rights would be subject to the findings of social science. Courts should not use social science claims as the touchstone of constitutional interpretation because such data are not substantive in nature. Furthermore, the adversary, partisan nature of legal proceedings minimizes educational and information benefits to be derived from social science inquiry. Legal adversary hearings cannot judge whether social science testimony is adequate nor resolve contradictions that may emerge between conflicting bodies of evidence.
The social sciences cannot substantiate constitutional liberties; they may, however, play a proper role assisting the courts in righting wrongs by evaluating how well remedial programs work.