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The People's Law versus Judge Judy Justice: Two Models of Law in American Reality-Based Courtroom TV


Please direct correspondence to Steven A. Kohm, Criminal Justice Studies, University of Winnipeg, 515 Portage Avenue, Winnipeg, MB R3B 2E9, Canada; e-mail:


This essay examines the popular American daytime courtroom programs Judge Judy and People's Court and comparatively analyzes two distinct models of law and justice developed in these shows. Using the techniques of qualitative media analysis, I argue that Judge Judy represents a shift in the way popular culture imagines the role of law in the lives of ordinary people. This shift accords with neoliberal notions of governance and individual self-responsibility for protection against risk. Conversely, People's Court represents an older, liberal-legal model of law that emphasizes individual rights, public participation in the court process, and due process. By demonstrating the supersession of Judge Judy justice over that of People's Court, I argue that this shift in the way law is imagined in American popular culture signals wider shifts in American and indeed international attitudes toward the law in our everyday lives.