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This article examines aspirational laws in a randomized field experiment. We analyze the impact of an unenforced public smoking ban on individual behavior and attitudes. The findings indicate that aspirational laws, like public smoking bans, can make rights holders sensitive to behavior that violates their rights, irrespective of the material consequences of infringements and their personal views about the law. The results present a mixed position in the debate between rights-based social movement lawyering and critics of hollow rights. On the one hand, aspirational laws can create unforeseen social frictions when rights are declared, but their implementation and enforcement are ineffective. On the other hand, aspirational laws may also have self-fulfilling potential. Due to the adverse experience of rule breaking, rights holders may seek enforcement and compliance even if the law fails to influence public beliefs.

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Law and Social Inquiry