“You Are Asking Me About Reading Things I Never Had to Read”: Consumer Contracting in Historical Context

Anne Fleming, The Rise and Fall of Unconscionability as the ‘Law of the Poor’, 102 Geo. L. J. 1383 (2014). Tess Wilkinson-Ryan Who is best suited to police unfair terms—the market, the judiciary, or the legislature? Williams vs. Walker-Thomas Furniture has long been offered as a cautionary tale, but in her 2014 article, legal historian Anne Fleming takes on the standard narrative of judicial overreach and recasts the relationships among institutional actors in a reform movement. In 1965, Judge Skelly Wright ruled that Ora Lee Williams’s contract to pay for furniture on a pro rata installment plan was subject to review for unconscionability—a moment of judicial activism that was later blamed for the decline and stagnation of the doctrine of unconscionability. Fleming pushes back against the standard narrative that Williams created a backlash against Wright’s ‘law of the poor’ – according to that simplistic story,…

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