In my last two columns I looked at the state of the law around the years 1000 and 1900. In both columns, therefore, I looked backward. In today's column, my last for the millennium, I would like to look forward and speculate about what legal changes may take place in the next hundred years.
Let me begin by saying that I do not want to write five paragraphs about space law (although there is a famous law review article about the "law" in Star Trek). Rather, today I want to look at some of the legal trends of the past decades and consider whether they will continue into the next few decades.
The past 50 years have been marked by a number of major trends in law and society. Of these, three are particularly important. The first is the gradual expansion of individual rights by the courts. Ours has been the age of civil rights, of the judicial abolition of legal discrimination, of the recognition of personal privacy, and of the belief that individual rights are, in the main, more important than collective or governmental rights. The courts, to the dismay of some, have often taken a lead in this crusade and forged ahead of popular opinion. I believe that this expansion of individual rights will continue into the new century. It may slow somewhat as more conservative federal judges dominate the federal court system, but I do not believe that we will see a reversal of this trend. Indeed, I believe the next century may well be the
"Age of the Individual."
The second trend of the 20th century which I think will continue (and will contribute to the next century being the Age of the Individual) is that of increasingly pervasive information technology -- the computer, telecommunications, and the Internet. The fact that ten years ago hardly anyone had even heard of the Internet demonstrates the speed of changing technology.
The Internet promises to affect every aspect of our lives. The nature of work and play and of social and political relations are all changing because of the new technology. Law must adapt to these changes and, I believe will do so. I anticipate significant changes in areas such as labor law, as information technology replaces manufacturing technology as the main type of employment in the developed world.
I expect we will see vast change in criminal law in response to undreamed-of crimes made possible and known crimes made easy because of the Net. As the new technology empowers individuals and frees them from traditional social and political institutions, we will see changes in the laws to attempt to encourage the benefits of individual empowerment and minimize the dangers.
A third trend of the last half of the 20th century has been toward bigger and more bureaucratic government. I think that trend will not continue. I believe that just as technology will empower the individual it will discourage the growth of intrusive government. We are, I believe, entering an era of smaller, less bureaucratic government, one where information is readily accessible to most people and where information is the ultimate source of power.
It is becoming impossible to limit individuals' access to information. Open access to information will encourage a decline in regulation by government and a recognition of local authority.
Of course, only prophets can see into the future and I am no prophet. Only time will tell whether my optimistic predictions will prove accurate.
But I will conclude in this way: May you all have a safe and happy new year. May the new century and the new millennium bring peace and joy, health and prosperity. Happy New Year! Happy New Century! Happy New Millennium!