The Federalist Society

Contempt of Court & Broken Windows: Why Ignoring Contempt of Court Severely Undermines Justice, the Rule of Law, and Republican Self-Government

March 4, 2006

Michael Warren

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani dramatically reduced serious crime in the city of New York by rigorously enforcing what were until then widely considered insignificant criminal laws and ordinances. Under Mayor Giuliani, New York began to enforce long neglected laws against vandalism, graffiti, loitering, underage drinking, public use of intoxicants, public indecency, subway gate jumping, and similar matters. Although many critics demeaned the enforcement of these laws as trivial and unworthy of the resources of the police, when used in conjunction with complementary strategies, the investment paid off handsomely. Overall crime was cut by more than half; murders plunged by over 70%; robbery fell by over 60%; total violent crimes dropped by over 50%; and total property felonies fell over 60%.In implementing this policy, Mayor Giuliani relied heavily on a theory originally posited by Harvard political scientists James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling. In a 1982 Atlantic Monthly article, “Broken Windows,” they posited that the failure to address so called petty crimes  encourages criminals to engage in more serious felonies, thereby plunging communities into a spiral of urban decay and crime. Broken windows that are not fixed lead to graffiti, which leads to loitering, which leads to prostitution, which leads to drugs, which lead to gangs and even murder....

Contempt of Court and Broken Windows: Why Ignoring Contempt of Court Severely Underminds Justice, the Rule of Law, and Republican Self-Government  


The Federalist Society