Success Without Victory

Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America

321 pages

January, 2004

ISBN: 9780814751121



Also available in



Part of the Critical America series


Jules Lobel is Professor of International and Constitutional Law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School. He is also Vice President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, a national civil and human rights organization. On behalf of the Center, he has been one of the foremost legal challengers of unilateral presidential war-making for the past two decades.

All books by Jules Lobel

Winners and losers. Success and failure. Victory and defeat. American culture places an extremely high premium on success, and firmly equates it with winning. In politics, sports, business, and the courtroom, we have a passion to win and are terrified of losing.

Instead of viewing success and failure through such a rigid lens, Jules Lobel suggests that we move past the winner-take-all model and learn valuable lessons from legal and political activists who have advocated causes destined to lose in court but have had important, progressive long term effects on American society. He leads us through dramatic battles in American legal history, describing attempts by abolitionist lawyers to free fugitive slaves through the courts, Susan B. Anthony's trial for voting illegally, the post-Civil War challenges to segregation that resulted in the courts’ affirmation of the separate but equal doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson, and Lobel’s own challenges to United States foreign policy during the 1980s and 1990s.

Success Without Victory explores the political, social, and psychological contexts behind the cases themselves, as well as the eras from which they originated and the eras they subsequently influenced.


  • “This eloquent and moving memoir raises profound questions about law, justice, tradition and community, the path to constructive social change, and not least, how to live a decent life. It is an inspiring story, with many valuable lessons to ponder.”

    —Noam Chomsky

  • “Jules Lobel looks back on a history of litigating an impressive number of lost cases on behalf of important political causes. In this brilliant book, against a moving background of spiritual heritage, family life, and such quintessentially American cultural references as baseball and Vietnam, Lobel ponders these losses. What might have been a dry documentary of cases is, instead, a living, gripping, revelation of real people, their motivations and passions. Books such as Success without Victory tell us the stories of the legally unsuccessful anti-slavery litigation, early women's suffrage cases, workers rights struggles, and challenges to illegal U.S. intervention in Vietnam, Cuba, Central America, and Kosovo, giving us the background we need to understand that, if we can build solid community, we need not despair even when faced with today's horrendous odds.”

    —Margaret Randall, author of When I Look into the Mirror and See You: Women, Terror, and Resistance

  • “Our culture in this country—including the subculture of radical lawyering—is too much influenced by a fast-food approach to social change. Jules Lobel carefully explains that the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and other monumental achievements of social protest movements in the United States came about because protesters, including lawyers, were long-distance runners. Law students and young lawyers in particular are likely to keep this book under their pillows.”

    —Staughton Lynd, author of Living Inside Our Hope: A Steadfast Radical's Thoughts on Rebuilding the Movement

  • Success Without Victory is thoughtful and provocative, and I highly recommend it. It is highly readable, includes fascinating stories centered on powerful personalities and the sustained reflection on unilateral presidential war-making powers is timely.”

    Law and Politics Book Review

  • “A vivid illustration. The book makes a valuable contribution to our evolving understanding of the work of cause lawyering and the significance of test case litigation. It stands as a beacon of hope in an era dominated by pessimism about the capacity of law and lawyers to contribute to progressive social change.”

    American Historical Review