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Richard D Parker

Paul W. Williams Professor of Criminal Justice

Richard D. Parker
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Richard Parker is a sixties person. It was his privilege to participate in a great popular uprising – the civil rights movement of 1955-1965. A few weeks after arriving at Swarthmore College in 1963, he got into the movement which was just beginning its expansion into the North; a few months afterward, he was arrested in a sit-in demonstration; and in early 1964, he was arrested in a much larger sit-in (seizing a city hall). Prosecutions for multiple crimes, including felonies, pended for years. For two years a community organizer and joining every “mass march” he could, the whole experience of sixties’ radicalism was formative for him.

From then on, he’s been committed to a democratic goal: Power to the People. His special concern – rooted in his days in the Students for a Democratic Society — has been for those of all races who are marginalized by class, in particular those most disdained by elites, rather than those defined by any identity group.

Also rooted in those days is his continuing critical focus on antidemocratic ideas and values entrenched in law and elite culture, and turned into orthodoxies that dominate and so disempower other ideas and values. As a student at Harvard Law School (1967-1970), he opposed the orthodoxy of the school as, nowadays, he opposes a very different one.

He joined the faculty in 1974. By 1981, he had published three articles plumbing values structuring the work of writers in areas of constitutional law and theory. The first two appeared under the names of others. See the bibliography. He swore to himself that, thereafter, what he wrote would be entirely his own, original and creative, obeying no settled genre in form or substance.

Since, he’s pursued that ambition along two lines. The first is constitutional populism. He began in 1994 with a small book, a “manifesto,” entitled “Here, the People Rule”. He has followed up with three essays. Others writers on the left have followed along this line subsequently.

He has extended his populist work with years spent advocating a constitutional amendment that would restore to Congress the power to protect the American flag from physical desecration. Several times, it won the necessary two-thirds support in the House; it came within one vote of two-thirds in the Senate in 2006. His advocacy has been in association with a grass roots group, the Citizens Flag Alliance, of which he is now the national chairman. It has allowed him to write and speak for a cause consistently supported by majorities of ordinary Americans and scorned by elites; at the same time, it has provided a prime opportunity – starting in 1994 — to criticize judicial supremacy in constitutional lawmaking and interpretation, a line followed nowadays, for the first time, by most progressives.

His second project has long been to develop his own theory of the practice of constitutional argument. He published an anticipation of it in 1989. (See bibliography.) Now, he is working toward its publication in book form. It will show that argument can be understood, not exclusively as legal reasoning, but in an idiom practiced everyday by ordinary people – and, unselfconsciously, by the legal elites themselves. Its title will be “Constitutional Law is in Our Imagination”.

(It has been delayed for years by the onset of spinal cord disease and then quadriplegia, resulting from surgery.)