Skip to content

Randall L. Kennedy, Brown as Senior Citizen, 1 Am. J. L. & Equal. 238 (2021).

Abstract: On May 17, 2019, Brown v. Board of Education attained that notable landmark in American life—the age of sixty-five. One of the Supreme Court’s most esteemed decisions became a senior citizen. Brown is a ruling that people tend to think they know even if they have not actually read it. This contributes to a fate that often bedevils celebrities. Observers project their yearnings upon Brown, neglecting its particularities. They sanctify Brown, make it an icon, and invoke its constitutional authority to impose preferred policies. Liberals have done this, and so, too, have conservatives.This essay contains five Parts. Part I defines what I mean by Brown. Part II recalls its painful birth and traumatic childhood. Then, Part III rejects prominent claims said to be justified by Brown. Next, Part IV rebuts frequently heard charges of “betrayal,” noting that the Supreme Court, throughout Brown’s adulthood, has never retreated from the invalidation of segregation in public schooling. Finally, Part V asserts that we should acknowledge Brown’s limits and, renouncing ancestor worship, look to ourselves to fashion fresh ideas that suitably address the new challenges we face.