A cause célèbre (French: [koz selɛbʁ], famous case; plural causes célèbres) is an issue or incident arousing widespread controversy, outside campaigning, and heated public debate. The term is particularly used in connection with celebrated legal cases.
The term is a French phrase in common usage in English. In French, cause means, here, a legal case, and célèbre means "famous". The phrase originated with the 37-volume Nouvelles Causes Célèbres, published in 1763, which was a collection of reports of well-known French court decisions from the 17th and 18th centuries. While English speakers had used the phrase for many years, it came into much more common usage after the 1894 conviction of Alfred Dreyfus for espionage, which attracted worldwide interest. Often, politicians and social gadflies will become involved to use the media attention surrounding the case to promote their own agendas.
It has been noted that the public attention given to a particular case or event can obscure the facts rather than clarify them. As one observer states, "The true story of many a cause célèbre is never made manifest in the evidence given or in the advocates' orations, but might be recovered from these old papers when the dust of ages has rendered them immune from scandal".
Notable examples of cases and events described by this term include:
- The Douglas Cause, Great Britain, 1760s
- Ireland Shakespeare forgeries, Great Britain, 1790s
- The Mortara case, Papal States, 1850s and 1860s
- Vera Zasulich trial, Russia, 1878[page needed]
- R v Dudley and Stephens cannibalism case, United Kingdom, 1884
- The Dreyfus affair, France, 1890s and 1900s
- The Brown Dog affair, United Kingdom, 1900s
- The Beilis case, Russian Empire, 1913
- Sacco and Vanzetti appeals, United States, 1920s
- The Scopes Monkey Trial, United States, 1925
- The Petrov Affair, Australia, 1954
- The shooting of William Woodward Jr., United States, 1955
- The disappearance of Lord Lucan, United Kingdom, 1974
- The trials of Claus von Bülow, United States, 1982-1985
- Rodney King beating, United States, 1991
- O. J. Simpson murder case, United States, 1994-1995
- Amanda Knox trials, Italy, 2009-2015
- Sergei Magnitsky's death, Russia, 2009
- Julian Assange extradition, United Kingdom, 2011
- Pussy Riot trial, Russia, 2012
- Delhi gang rape, India, 2012
- Lists of landmark court decisions
- List of French expressions in English
- Media circus
- Missing white woman syndrome
- Hirsch, E.D., Jr.; Kett, Joseph F.; Trefil, James, eds. (2002). "cause célèbre". The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy (3rd ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. Archived from the original on September 21, 2008 – via Bartleby.com.
- "cause célèbre". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Company. 2000. Archived from the original on August 3, 2008 – via Bartleby.com.
- John Humffreys Parry, "Whistler v. Ruskin: An Attorney's Story of a Famous Trial", in The Living Age (January-March 1921), Volume 308, p. 346.
- Kertzer, David I (1998) . The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 126–127. ISBN 978-0-679-76817-3.
- Bristow, Joseph, ed. (2013-05-28). Wilde Discoveries: Traditions, Histories, Archives. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-1-4426-6570-5. Retrieved 2015-07-15 – via Google Books.
- Edgar Sanderson, Historic Parallels to L'affaire Dreyfus (1900), p. 265: "The unique cause célèbre of the nineteenth century, L'Affaire Dreyfus, is conspicuous for every kind of wickedness that can be brought to bear against an innocent man".
- Weinberg, Robert (2013). Blood Libel in Late Imperial Russia: The Ritual Murder Trial of Mendel Beilis. Indiana-Michigan Series in Russian and East European Studies. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-01114-5. Retrieved 2015-07-15 – via Google Books.
- Gilbert, Carol Bengle (May 1, 2012). "Rodney King: Before and After the Traffic Stop that Inflamed L.A.". Yahoo News. Archived from the original on March 2, 2014.
- Sowell, Thomas (June 30, 2001) . "The Quest for Cosmic Justice". The Quest for Cosmic Justice. New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-7432-1507-7. OCLC 898484807.
A more recent cause célèbre of the American criminal justice system was the murder trial of former football star O.J. Simpson, which provoked widespread consternation, not only because of its “not guilty” verdict in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, but also because of the sheer length of time that the trial took.
- Barry, Colleen (September 30, 2013). "New Amanda Knox trial under way in Florence". USA Today. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
- "Dying in Agony: His Reward for Solving a $230 Million Fraud". The Sunday Times. November 14, 2010.
- Sparrow, Jeff; O'Shea, Elizabeth (December 7, 2010). "Open letter: To Julia Gillard, re Julian Assange". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
- O'Neill, Brendan (2013-12-24). "How to become a cause célèbre: a guide for political prisoners". spiked. spiked Ltd. Retrieved 2015-07-15.
- Harikrishnan, Charmy (2015-03-04). "India's Daughter: Why we should watch Leslee Udwin's documentary". Daily O. India Today Group. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
- Gibb, Simon (2012-12-30). "The Delhi Gang Rape Incident". Libertarian Home. Retrieved 2016-11-04.
- The dictionary definition of cause célèbre at Wiktionary