Rights and Queues: On Distributive Contests in the Modern State

74 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2017 Last revised: 21 Jan 2017

Date Written: November 1, 2016


This article, which was selected for the 2016 Harvard/Stanford/Yale Junior Faculty Forum, examines two legal concepts have become fundamental to questions of resource allocation in the modern state: rights and queues. As rights are increasingly recognized in areas such as housing, health care, or immigration law, so too are queues used to administer access to the goods, services, or opportunities that realize such rights, especially in conditions of scarcity. This Article is the first to analyze the concept of queues (or temporal waiting lines or lists) and their ambivalent, interdependent relation with rights. After showing the conceptual tension between rights and queues, the Article argues that queues and “queue talk” present a unique challenge to rights and “rights talk.” With illustrations from the right to housing in South Africa, the right to health care in Canada, and the right to asylum in Australia, the Article argues that, despite its appearance in very different ideological and institutional settings, the political discourse of “queues” and especially “queue jumping” commonly invokes misleading distinctions between corruption and order, markets and bureaucracies, and governments and courts. Moreover, queue talk obscures the first-order questions on which resource allocations in housing, health care, or immigration contexts must rely. By bringing much-needed complexity to the concept of “queues,” the Article explores ways in which general principles of allocative fairness may be both open to contestation and yet supportive of basic claims of rights.

Keywords: rights, queues, waiting lists, lines, right to health care, right to housing, asylum, refugees, economic and social rights, political discourse, corruption, command and control, markets, judicialization, distributive justice, scarcity

JEL Classification: A12, D40, D73, H1, H4, H5, I14, I24, I30, K20, K32, K37, K33, K40, K42, N40, O15, P36, P37, Z13

Suggested Citation

Young, Katharine, Rights and Queues: On Distributive Contests in the Modern State (November 1, 2016). Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 55, 2016, Boston College Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 431, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2892648

Katharine Young (Contact Author)

Boston College - Law School ( email )

885 Centre Street
Newton, MA 02459-1163
United States

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