When this year’s 1Ls sit down for their first Property Law class they are likely to discuss Pierson v. Post. The case concerns a dispute over who owned a wild fox killed during a hunt. Lodowick Post and his pack of hunting dogs were in pursuit of the fox, having chased it through a stretch of the town commons when Jesse Pierson suddenly intervened to kill and claim it. Post insisted that the fox was rightly his, as he and his pack of hounds had been in pursuit and were on the verge of capturing it. Pierson countered that a wild animal is no one’s property until it is definitively captured or killed.
Pierson is a 1L classic because it dramatizes the legal construction of ownership. The dividing line between the fox’s state of nature and its state as property is whatever the majority opinion says it is. More subtly, the case also dramatizes a key assumption driving much of Anglo-American property law: settling the question of ownership clarifies many of the rights and responsibilities that shape our relations as political subjects. Pierson can feel anachronistic, with the majority discussing obscure legal treatises and the minority perseverating on the noxiousness of foxes. But the case was not really about a fox.
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Before our first class for Constitutional Law, our assignment was to read the Constitution in its entirety. As a recent business school graduate, I couldn’t help but draw a parallel and think of the United States as a business entity. Then, I started wondering, would the Constitution be its mission or vision statement?
In my operations and strategy courses at my undergraduate institution, we learned that a mission statement identifies an organization’s primary purpose for existing. For example, Google’s mission statement is to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” On the other hand, a vision statement is a high-level statement of what the organization wants to achieve in the future. Following the previous example, Google’s vision statement is “to provide an important service to the world-instantly delivering relevant information on virtually any topic.”
Of course, I know it’s an immense oversimplification to analogize the nation to a business entity. Yet, I do find it an interesting exercise to explore whether the Constitution more establishes an identity for the country based on the framers’ perception – a more “mission statement” purpose – or whether it sets forth a foresight of what the country should aspire towards – a “vision statement” type of objective.