An investigation of how US courts act on disputes emerging over acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), delineating the social & cultural justifications they use to undergird their decisions. It is postulated that courts operate normally to depoliticize social tensions revealed by AIDS, legitimating the routines of dominant parties in the AIDS sociolegal network. At the same time, courts deviate from their normal practices by upholding the claims of subordinate parties in this network, particularly people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) & their allies. Analysis of AIDS-related court rulings published 1983-1987 -- the formative years of AIDS litigation in the US -- supports the notion that courts operate as "dual-edged" institutions. Dominant parties bring forward claims seeking to retain their established practices as well as to utilize regulation & other control measures at their disposal to manage the social dynamics of AIDS. Courts routinely uphold these claims, particularly when they are juxtaposed to the expansionary claims of subordinate parties in the AIDS sociolegal network. Cases in which litigious subordinate parties, including persons living with HIV, have their expansionary claims affirmed by the courts are also discussed. To explain the duality of judicial decision making, attention is focused on social & cultural factors rather than on the doctrinal judgments expressed in the texts of court rulings. Specifically, ways that relational attributes, evident in contestants' characteristics (eg, plaintiff/defendant, status differentials) & the nature of claims (ie, restrictive/expansive), combine to account for wins for dominant parties are detailed, along with how other combinations of these attributes define wins for subordinate parties. It is also shown how judges combine specific interpretational attributes in the text of their rulings (eg, use of divisive AIDS metaphors, deference to medical authority) to justify wins for each set of parties. 7 Tables, 1 Appendix. Modified AA

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