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Kenneth Mack

  • Opinion: Did Ketanji Brown Jackson rule against Black workers? It’s not so simple.

    February 23, 2022

    An op-ed co-written by Kenneth W. Mack: As President Biden prepares to nominate the first Black woman to the Supreme Court, it’s worth pausing to consider the story of Constance Baker Motley, the first African American woman appointed to the federal bench. In 1975, Motley presided over a case in which a White woman, Diane Blank, had filed a class-action suit against the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell for sex discrimination.

  • Zoom screen with three women and one man

    Constance Baker Motley

    February 15, 2022

    Georgetown Law Professor Sheryll Cashin ’89 once asked her mentor, Thurgood Marshall, why he had passed over Constance Baker Motley to succeed him when he…

  • What Fannie Lou Hamer can teach today’s activists

    November 22, 2021

    Book review by Kenneth W. Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law: The civil rights activist and leader Fannie Lou Hamer spoke truth to power with an authenticity that makes her words, her actions and even her singing seem to have immediate appeal to us. In 1962, Hamer was a Mississippi sharecropper with little formal schooling when she decided to attend a voting rights organizing meeting at a local church. Two years later, she was facing down President Lyndon Johnson and the national civil rights leadership at the Democratic National Convention. ... The historian Keisha N. Blain’s “Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America” employs “a blend of social commentary, biography, and intellectual history” to harness Hamer’s example for the present.

  • Group discussion around a table

    Reading the law

    November 10, 2021

    Harvard Law School’s upper-level reading groups give students the opportunity to dig into unique subjects connected directly — or not — to the law.

  • Civil Rights: Plessy v Ferguson

    June 2, 2021

    Today in our series on civil rights Supreme Court cases, we examine the anticanon decision of Plessy v Ferguson. Steven Luxenberg, Kenneth Mack, Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson walk us through the story of Homer Plessy, the Separate Car Act of 1890, an infamous opinion and a famous dissent.

  • Plessy v. Ferguson at 125

    May 19, 2021

    One hundred and twenty five years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, Harvard Law Professor Kenneth Mack ’91 says there are still lessons to be gleaned from the case.

  • How a decades-long conversation shaped the young United States

    May 17, 2021

    A book review by Kenneth MackAkhil Reed Amar’s “The Words That Made Us: America’s Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840” is the rarest of things — a constitutional romance. Amar, an eminent professor of law and political science at Yale, has great affection for his subject as a text that is worthy of loving engagement by scholars and the public at large. His 700-page narrative covers the “main constitutional episodes” that Americans faced as they revolted against Britain, created a Constitution and Bill of Rights, and built a new nation. Amar argues that the rebellious British subjects sparked a decades-long “constitutional conversation,” which eventually drew in men such as John Adams, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Chief Justice John Marshall. His book appears at a time when the Constitution has been criticized for its suppression of the revolution’s popular impulses, its undemocratic features such as the electoral college, its embeddedness in slavery and its deliberate exclusion of so many from its iconic invocation of “We the People.” Amar’s story is more celebratory, but the strength of his argument depends on whether his central metaphor of a conversation accurately captures what is at stake in this book.

  • The Diane Rehm Book Club: “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Isabel Wilkerson

    April 22, 2021

    For the April meeting of The Diane Rehm Book Club, Diane and guests discuss "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents," by Isabel Wilkerson. She is joined by Kenneth Mack, professor of law and affiliate professor of history at Harvard University and author of "Representing the Race: The Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer"; Suraj Yengde, author of the "Caste Matters" and co-editor of the anthology "The Radical in Ambedkar" and a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School; and Dwight Garner, book critic for The New York Times.

  • Corporations that back voting rights will find it’s good for business, too

    April 21, 2021

    An op-ed by Norman Eisen and Kenneth W. MackSome of our largest businesses are having a political awakening. From Bank of America to Apple to Coca-Cola to Delta Air Lines, corporate boardrooms are speaking out against new laws in Georgia and elsewhere that will disproportionately make it harder for Black voters to participate in elections. As companies decide how to respond to such laws, they would do well to look for inspiration from the civil rights movement of the 20th century. The evidence suggests that weighing in on the side of justice was not only the right thing to do — in many cases, it was also the profitable thing, serving a double bottom line. Recent work by the economist and historian Gavin Wright has documented the substantial, albeit unequal, gains that accrued to Southerners and the businesses that served them, due to the fall of the Jim Crow system. The numbers are striking: “[S]outhern retail business lagged the nation throughout the years of sit-ins and mass boycotts.” But after the businesses desegregated, Wright found, Dallas department stores saw sales increase by over 80 percent just seven years later (from desegregation in 1961 to 1968), while during the same time span a decade before, sales had been flat or slow in growth.

  • Boston-Area Civil Rights Leaders Discuss What’s Next After Chauvin Verdict

    April 21, 2021

    Local advocates are calling for continued police accountability after Derek Chauvin was found guilty in the murder of George Floyd. Featuring Harvard Law Professor Kenneth Mack.

  • How a 1946 Case of Police Brutality Against a Black WWII Veteran Shaped the Fight for Civil Rights

    March 31, 2021

    The murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, accused of killing 46-year-old Black man George Floyd by kneeling on his neck, began March 29. It comes 10 months after the killing sparked ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and a national reckoning over racial equality and the long history of police brutality, especially against non-white people, in America. Chauvin’s trial also takes place about 75 years after a similarly extreme case of police brutality that helped shape the modern civil rights movement, when a Black Army veteran was blinded in police custody after being beaten in the eye with a billy club. The incident, which resulted in a trial over whether excessive and unnecessary force was used, is the subject of a new American Experience documentary, The Blinding of Isaac Woodard, premiering Mar. 30 on PBS...Then, as now, police violence against Black Americans was “routine, unaddressed and overlooked,” and Black WWII veterans were often targets, as Kenneth Mack, a professor of law and history at Harvard University who appears in the PBS documentary, tells TIME.

  • James Stewart

    Filibuster or bust?

    March 10, 2021

    Harvard Law Professor Kenneth Mack ’91 discusses the origins and history of the filibuster, a controversial and powerful political tool.

  • The Current for Feb. 8, 2021

    February 9, 2021

    As former U.S. president Donald Trump's impeachment trial gets underway this week for his role in inciting the U.S. Capitol attack, some say the country's political institutions are at stake. To unpack the issue, Matt Galloway speaks with Ken Mack, the Lawrence D. Biele professor of law and affiliate professor of history at Harvard University, and Karen Tumulty, a political columnist for the Washington Post.

  • Securing public spaces in the wake of Capitol violence

    January 19, 2021

    Sadly, it’s happened before. Throughout history many of the nation’s landmark sites have been targets of attack, from the British razing of Washington during the War of 1812 to the Sept. 11, 2001, assault on the Pentagon. Political violence, at least in contemporary times, has left these places more locked down and less accessible. In the wake of last week’s assault on the Capitol, experts across Harvardare again considering ways to secure such public spaces now and in the future; how added protective measures will affect public access to America’s most sacred shrines of democracy; and how to address potential social and racial inequities arising from increased policing and tightened security around buildings such as the Capitol, often referred to as “the people’s house.” ... Experts see the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Okla., and the 9/11 terrorist attacks as grim inflection points in the country’s history, moments of deadly violence that led to sweeping new security measures and controls at both the national and local levels. ... “Bollards and planters began going up all over the place, all these things that often had been used at military installations began to appear around public buildings. But at the same time we have maintained a fairly rich tradition of protest in public spaces,” said Harvard historian and legal scholar Kenneth Mack. “There was the closure of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House after [Oklahoma City bomber] Timothy McVeigh’s terrorist act, but Lafayette Square just across the street remained a place for regular, vigorous protests.” Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and affiliate professor of history, said it has yet to be seen how the events of last week may affect the access to public spaces in the future, but he remains hopeful.

  • President Donald Trump standing between large white columns of the White House.

    Trump impeached

    January 14, 2021

    Five Harvard Law faculty react to the unprecedented second impeachment of President Donald J. Trump.

  • Molly Brady wearing a bright red jacket sits in front of a computer and teaches her class in Zoom

    2020 in pictures

    January 5, 2021

    A look back at the year at HLS.

  • Some free-speech norms are in danger. Maybe that’s a good thing.

    November 9, 2020

    A book review by Kenneth MackWhat’s wrong with the democratic experiment? As the United States faces what many believe are existential threats to its political processes, and fragile political systems around the world slip into new, technologically savvy variants of authoritarianism, many commentators say we are suffering a crisis of democracy. Some point to recent departures from bedrock norms that govern the conduct of government and the role of free speech in civic life, with campus debates over matters such as sexual harassment and unpopular speakers as examples of a new generation that has yet to learn the lessons of its forebears. Others argue that the nation’s political heritage is the problem rather than the solution, pointing to undemocratic governmental features such as the electoral college, as well as recent efforts by groups with declining electoral numbers to gerrymander legislatures, suppress Black and Latino votes, and engage in hardball politics to sustain illegitimate legislative, executive and judicial power. Ellis Cose, the eminent journalist, grapples with both explanations for our present crisis in his pithy and thought-provoking book, “The Short Life and Curious Death of Free Speech in America.” Cose contends that the death of traditional free-speech norms might in fact be a good thing, given our current challenges. That might sound like heresy coming from a veteran journalist, and Cose knows it.

  • Hard lessons from a tough election

    November 6, 2020

    It was a presidential election befitting the past four years, unprecedented and contentious...The Gazette asked scholars and analysts across the University to reflect on lessons learned in a variety of areas...Tomiko Brown-Nagin: “This election crystalized American promise and American peril. Fifty-five years after passage of the Voting Rights Act and 100 years after ratification of the 19th Amendment, the fundamental right to vote — the essence of a democracy —remains ferociously contested and deeply cherished. Turnout was extraordinary! An estimated 67 percent of eligible voters cast ballots — almost 160 million people — the greatest number in more than 100 years...At the same time, we witnessed a concerted effort to suppress the vote, to intimidate voters, and to delegitimize legally cast votes.” ... Sandy Levinson: “What we learned was that the uncertainty of this election is entirely a function of the crazy way that Americans elect their president, which is through the Electoral College. This means, for example, that [President] Trump gets nine electoral votes for carrying the two Dakotas plus Wyoming, which collectively have only about 200,000 more residents than New Mexico, which contributed only five votes. What remains an ‘interesting’ question, if one is an academic, is why Americans persist with such a truly dysfunctional system of presidential election.” ... Carol Steiker: “What I have learned in this election is that despite, or perhaps because of, the anger and divisiveness that have marked this political season, it is possible to substantially shift the needle on popular political engagement. We are seeing levels of voter turnout in this election not seen in more than a century, since William Howard Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan in 1908.” ... Kenneth Mack: “What I have learned from this election so far is both a lot and a little. Historians typically look at elections as vehicles for possible political, economic, or social change. Certainly in the run-up to this year’s election we’ve seen some things change significantly. We have the first woman of color on a major party ticket (who now seems poised to become vice president), Black candidates seeming to run competitively statewide in several Southern states, and efforts to suppress minority voting of a kind we haven’t seen in decades.” ... Yochai Benkler: “ The right-wing propaganda feedback loop, anchored in Fox News and talk radio and supported by online media, has played two critical roles in the election. The first, and most foundational, is that throughout the presidency of Donald Trump it offered an alternative reality, in which the president was a strong, effective leader hounded by an alliance of Democrats who hate America and Deep State operatives bent on reversing the victory of Trump, the authentic voice of the people.”

  • Zoom meeting with five HLS faculty

    Election 2020 debrief: What happened and what’s next?

    November 5, 2020

    In an “Election 2020 Debrief” event, a panel of Harvard Law School professors agree that the essential divisions of the American electorate remain unresolved, but find cause for some highly cautious optimism.

  • Recalling another strange, historic election

    November 3, 2020

    This year’s riven, pandemic-complicated election has been unusual on many fronts and undeniably historic, marking the first time a woman of color has been nominated for vice president by a major political party. But there have been other surprising contests in the nation’s history. American saw its first woman presidential nominee and its first Black vice presidential pick in 1872, just seven years after the end of the Civil War. All of it was owing in large part to the women’s suffrage movement and radical feminist Victoria Woodhull, who ran for president against the incumbent, Ulysses S. Grant, as the nominee of the Equal Rights Party and chose (without his knowledge or consent) abolitionist Frederick Douglass as her running mate. For Woodhull, a polarizing political activist who was considered an eccentric by many, it would be the latest of many firsts — a self-declared clairvoyant, she had already been the first woman in the country to own a brokerage firm and to start a weekly newspaper...But while Woodhull was clear about her presidential intentions, she never informed her running mate, Douglass, who never even acknowledged he had been nominated...Douglass also likely didn’t recognize the vice presidential nomination in 1872 because he was already supporting a different presidential candidate, said Kenneth Mack, a historian and Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard Law School...Douglass was a lifelong supporter of women’s suffrage despite splitting with activists in his support of the 15th Amendment, which gave Black men the vote but left women disenfranchised. “Thousands of Black people were being murdered across the South. And Douglass gave his famous speech saying, ‘This is a matter of life and death,’ and he really meant life and death,” said Mack...What would Douglass have thought of the country’s recent elections? “It’s impossible to translate from the 19th century to today … but certainly the principle that Douglass stood for, that the most vulnerable people in our society should have access to the ballot in order to protect their interests, that ballot access should be expanded rather than contracted, was his position all the way through. And he supported women’s suffrage because he thought that women needed the ability to look out for their own interests rather than to supposedly have men look out for them,” said Mack.

  • Behind $12 Million Breonna Taylor Settlement, ‘Black America’s Attorney General’ Benjamin Crump

    September 16, 2020

    Tamika Palmer's voice broke as she spoke about the city of Louisville, Kentucky's $12 million settlement and planned reforms after the killing of her daughter, Breonna Taylor, during a botched police raid...Standing right behind her was Benjamin Crump, an attorney nicknamed "Black America's attorney general" by civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton. Crump, 50, has represented the distraught families of a lengthy list of slain African-Americans in recent years, as they have faced some of the darkest moments of their lives in the public glare. They include the families of Trayvon Martin, a Black teen shot dead in Florida; Ahmaud Arbery, a Black jogger killed in Georgia; and George Floyd, a Black man whose death in police custody in Minnesota sparked global protests this year. Crump says one of his main roles is to keep the spotlight of media attention on the victims and their families. "It's no guarantee that you will get to the court of law, but you first have to win in the court of public opinion if you're a minority in America who was killed by the police," Crump said in an interview with Reuters earlier this month. By focusing public attention on his clients, Crump is following in the footsteps of decades of civil rights lawyers, but with new tools like social media and smartphone videos at his disposal, civil rights experts say. "He's effective in getting attention paid to his cases and putting pressure on local authorities to act in the interest of his clients," said Kenneth Mack, a professor at Harvard Law School. "And to some extent, that's more than half the job at this moment." Like many plaintiffs' lawyers in the United States, Crump works on a contingency basis and receives a cut of the final settlement. Crump's payments have not been made public but plaintiffs' attorneys frequently receive around a third of the settlement amount.

  • Loren Miller’s Extraordinary Fight for Civil Rights in America

    August 31, 2020

    As protests for racial justice take to the streets, we remember one of the most important civil rights lawyers of the mid-20th century: Loren Miller. Miller worked on landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases, like Shelley v. Kraemer, which resulted in racially restrictive housing covenants being ruled unconstitutional, and Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation in public schools. He was also an influential writer and activist. Host Giovana Romano Sanchez interviews writer and researcher Dr. Amina Hassan and Harvard professor Kenneth Mack about Miller’s life, work, and significance in today’s racial politics.

  • Running deeper than race: America’s caste system

    August 3, 2020

    An article by Kenneth MackThe air was hazy on a January night in 2018 when Isabel Wilkerson, the journalist and author of a much-lauded narrative account of the Black migration out of the American South, arrived in Delhi. Wilkerson’s visit had been prompted by a book she was writing that used the Indian caste system to illuminate America’s racial hierarchy. It was her first trip to India, but one aspect of what she saw there seemed instantly familiar. She quickly discovered that, as an African American woman schooled in the folkways of race in her home country, she could easily distinguish upper-caste Indians from Dalits, or Untouchables. In turn, “Dalits . . . gravitated toward me like long-lost relatives.” Patterns of deference and social performance marked caste onto her hosts’ bodies, even when Indians did their best to shake them off. Wilkerson spent much of the 2010s researching and writing her book, just as the United States was moving in a direction that seemed to validate its thesis. A series of killings of African Americans, often by police officers, helped birth a new anti-racist social movement. Athletes knelt, monuments to slavery began to come down, reparations for enslavement and its long aftermath became a mainstream idea, and the politics of White grievance took over the White House. When she finished her book, she titled it “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents.” Wilkerson’s thesis is that Americans’ current obsession with race is somewhat misplaced, for there is a deeper and more intractable system that hides behind the chimera of race, and that system is properly called American caste.

  • A straw hat with sunglasses on top of a pile of books on the sand, illustration of clouds, birds, and water in the background.

    Harvard Law faculty summer book recommendations

    July 30, 2020

    Looking for something to add to your summer book list? HLS faculty share what they’re reading.

  • A Killing in Broad Daylight

    July 23, 2020

    In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, legal scholars see a moment of reckoning.

  • James Baldwin spoke eloquently to his era. Does he speak to ours?

    July 20, 2020

    An article by Kenneth MackIn our present racial crisis, the words of the writer and essayist James Baldwin have reemerged and become ubiquitous in American public discourse. Baldwin’s writings, sometimes shorn of context, are now quoted endlessly on social media and have been prominently displayed during protests against police brutality. Documentary filmmakers and feature film directors, including Academy Award winner Barry Jenkins, have mined his work for their craft. The noted writer and theater critic Hinton Als has curated a multimedia art exhibit dedicated to a complex representation of his life and persona. In addition, Baldwin’s queerness — his status as a gay black man — seems to invest his words with a special prescience for us. Baldwin achieved the height of his fame in the middle of the 1960s, when the novelist and former boy preacher’s beautiful and evocative words seemed to capture the stakes of the black freedom movement like nothing else — particularly for white liberals. It is that prophetic aspect of Baldwin that Eddie S. Glaude Jr., chairman of Princeton’s African American studies department, seeks to recover in his book “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own.” The strength of Glaude’s book depends on how well he makes the case that Baldwin speaks directly to our times. “Begin Again” is, in fact, two different books. The first takes the reader on a deeply researched tour of Baldwin’s essays and actions from the mid-1960s forward. Glaude wants to rescue Baldwin’s legacy from many critics who contend that his art and insightfulness declined once he became an international icon and felt the need to speak for black America. Indeed, Baldwin’s novels and essays from the late ’60s on often received tepid or negative reviews. He sympathized with the emerging black power movement but endured withering, homophobic criticism from figures like Eldridge Cleaver.

  • Ben Crump has become the go-to attorney for racial justice: ‘I feel like I’m running out of time’

    June 22, 2020

    A week in the life of Ben Crump — last week, to be precise. Tuesday in Houston to attend George Floyd’s funeral, where the Rev. Al Sharpton introduced Crump as “black America’s attorney general, probably because we don’t feel like we have one.” Wednesday in Washington to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on racial profiling and police reform. Thursday in Louisville, to convince the city council to pass a law in Breonna Taylor’s name banning no-knock warrants, which passed unanimously. Friday, a return to Houston. The coronavirus pandemic slowed much of the world but the killing of black Americans continued, often at the hands or bended knee of the police. And it didn’t slow Attorney Crump, as he’s known to clients and associates...Police brutality in America, Crump argues, dates its origins to colonial slave patrols in the early 18th century. But “videos have changed everything. They’ve shifted believability,” says Kenneth Mack of Harvard Law School. Generating publicity in advance of trial has a history among civil rights attorneys, including Marshall, Mack says. “Crump’s engaged in multimedia advocacy,” he says. “Putting pressure on state authorities to investigate cases that otherwise would not be investigated.” In a case like Floyd’s, while Minnesota is prosecuting the officers, Crump appeals to the House for reforms and the U.N. to intervene. The legal team often files or sues for public records, advocates for tougher sentencing and uses the media to challenge police accounts.

  • Ben Crump has become the go-to attorney for racial justice: ‘I feel like I’m running out of time’

    June 19, 2020

    ... Crump is an attorney of our times, as much a creature of the green room as the courtroom. In a nation lousy with lawyers, he has become the go-to advocate for families who have lost relatives to police brutality, as though his is the only name on the list. ... Police brutality in America, Crump argues, dates its origins to colonial slave patrols in the early 18th century. But “videos have changed everything. They’ve shifted believability,” says Kenneth Mack of Harvard Law School. Generating publicity in advance of trial has a history among civil rights attorneys, including Marshall, Mack says. “Crump’s engaged in multimedia advocacy,” he says. “Putting pressure on state authorities to investigate cases that otherwise would not be investigated.”

  • Juneteenth in a time of reckoning

    June 19, 2020

    ... To understand the significance of Juneteenth, a blending of the words June and 19th, we asked some members of the Harvard community what the holiday means to them. ...David Harris, Ph.D.’92, managing director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School: "Juneteenth is a defining day. However empty the promise of freedom often appears to have been, Juneteenth has remained a day uniquely celebrated by the descendants of the formerly enslaved." ...Kenneth Mack, Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; affiliate professor of history at Harvard University: .".. We commemorate Abraham Lincoln in various ways, but we don’t have a national commemoration of the triumph over slavery, which has to be one of the most important moments in American history. One should consider Juneteenth in that context. The best case to be made for Juneteenth would be as a commemoration of both the legacy of slavery and the success of the movement to abolish formal slavery in the United States."

  • Emancipation Day celebration June 19, 1900

    ‘Juneteenth is a day of reflection of how we as a country and as individuals continue to reckon with slavery’

    June 18, 2020

    Tomiko Brown-Nagin spoke with Harvard Law Today about the history of Juneteenth and its particular relevance more than 150 years later.

  • Young people have the megaphone. Here’s what they want everyone else to hear

    June 15, 2020

    A headline-making protest that drew enormous crowds to the streets of Boston started with a tweet — and three college students. After three days of watching protests sweep across the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in Minneapolis, Amel Viaud of Mattapan decided it was time for her community to stand up...Young people have the megaphone, and they say they won’t give it up until the country has fully reckoned with the police violence and systemic racism threatening their communities and lives...Young people organizing for racial justice follow in a long tradition. “There have been successive waves of youth activism outflanking the traditional African-American and civil rights leadership" dating back to the 1930s, said Kenneth Mack, a Harvard Law School professor who studies the history of race in the law. He pointed to the example of Representative John Lewis, who as a young man chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a civil rights group that both collaborated with and challenged the tactics of established figures like Martin Luther King Jr. “In that sense, what’s happening right now is very continuous with the past,” Mack said. To Mack, it is no surprise that today’s young people, and Black youth in particular, are leading a new wave of civil rights protests. “I think it’s become hard for young people to avoid images of the movement today,” he said. Teens and young adults are steeped in videos of Black people dying at the hands of police officers, political hashtags and slogans, and images of protests — all of which circulate rapidly online. “We have an entire generation of young people now who have grown up debating these issues," Mack said.

  • protest

    HLS professors and other associates condemn President Trump’s statements about recent protests

    June 7, 2020

    In an open letter to the community, Harvard Law School professors and other associates condemn President Trump’s statements about recent protests

  • Portrait of Dylan Asafo in front of greenery

    Dylan Asafo LL.M. ’20: “I knew that I wanted to do something to transform society for marginalized groups in New Zealand”

    May 20, 2020

    Dylan Asafo LL.M. ’20 plans to use his HLS education to help address the inequalities facing communities of color in New Zealand and the wider Pacific region.

  • Andrew Crespo works from a podium as he teaches his online class from his home

    Zooming in on faculty at home

    April 29, 2020

    With a little help from their at-home photographers, HLS professors share what teaching classes via Zoom looks like.

  • The Pandemic Could Change How Americans View Government

    March 19, 2020

    The economic fallout is here. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Americans are losing their jobs, watching small businesses around them close up shop, and fretting about their retirement savings. It’s a bleak scenario that has lawmakers scrambling to soften the blow: Yesterday, Congress passed a relief package that temporarily mandates paid sick and family leave for some workers, expands unemployment insurance, and increases funding for food stamps and Medicaid—and that could be only the beginning of the government’s response...More recently, the same dynamic played out with the Affordable Care Act. Though the law was fairly unpopular when it first passed, it drew more support from Americans over time. In fact, while the GOP ran on repealing the law for the better part of a decade after its passage in 2010, Republicans quickly changed their message from “repeal” to “repeal and replace” when it became clear that most Americans didn’t want the law to go away—a tacit acknowledgement that the country would not be returning to a pre-ACA era. Even when Republicans controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress at the start of Donald Trump’s presidency, they repeatedly failed to overturn the ACA—though the administration has undermined the law in other ways.“The attempt to delegitimize the Affordable Care Act is to delegitimize the idea that government can actually do things to help the lives of citizens,” Kenneth W. Mack, a Harvard University law professor, told me.

  • Four black men (Harvard Law's first black graduates)

    Celebrating Black History Month: A look back at historic firsts

    February 24, 2020

    Professors Annette Gordon-Reed, Kenneth Mack and David Wilkins discuss the Harvard Law School's first black graduates and the legacy of African Americans at HLS throughout the years.

  • A black writer on individualism, identity and indifference in Trump’s America

    December 20, 2019

    A book review by Kenneth MackClifford Thompson’s “What It Is: Race, Family, and One Thinking Black Man’s Blues” is a story of innocence betrayed. Thompson is an award-winning essayist, a novelist and an author of a previous literary memoir of growing up in the post-civil-rights era. He describes himself, with a bit of irony, as “the only nonracist black person in America,” meaning that he tries to bring very few preconceptions to his encounters with individual white people. Thompson also celebrates what he calls his rootedness — his childhood in a Washington neighborhood where everyone he knew or encountered was black. Yet in college he suddenly felt the pull of individualism, discovering that he was entirely comfortable in white social settings. He eventually married a “slender and blond” woman and began raising biracial children — heresy in the eyes of some, such as a black woman on the New York subway who gives him a withering look of betrayal. When a white neighbor reports him to the police as a possible intruder, the officers don’t mistreat him, as one might expect. Instead, they laugh it off after seeing him with his white spouse. “Things that make other people angry merely cause me to marvel,” he reports.

  • The man who killed Jim Crow: The legacy of Charles Hamilton Houston

    September 6, 2019

    Charles Hamilton Houston ’1922 S.J.D. ’1923 was an inspiring figure in American legal history and a sometimes controversial one as well. Both sides of his legacy were examined in a lively lecture and Q&A discussion at Harvard Law School this week, to coincide with the 124th anniversary of his birth on September 3, 1895. There was no disputing Houston’s status as a one of the key champions of American racial justice in the 20th century. In his opening talk, Professor Randall Kennedy outlined the obstacles Houston overcame as an African American lawyer in the early 20th century, and the accomplishments that ultimately led to the Brown v. Board of Education decision (which came four years after Houston’s death). Professor Kenneth Mack ’91 also celebrated Houston’s achievements, but pointed out decisions Houston made that reasonable minds might take issue with.

  • The man who killed Jim Crow: The legacy of Charles Hamilton Houston

    September 5, 2019

    Charles Hamilton Houston was an inspiring figure in American legal history, and a sometimes controversial one as well. Both sides of his legacy were examined in a lively lecture and Q&A discussion at Harvard Law School this week, to coincide with the 124th anniversary of his birth on September 3, 1895.

  • Video: Unexampled Courage 2

    Video: Unexampled Courage

    April 5, 2019

    Harvard Law School recently hosted Judge Richard Gergel, U.S. District Judge of the U. S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, for a talk on his book, "Unexampled Courage,” and a discussion with HLS professors Randall Kennedy, Kenneth Mack and Mark Tushnet.

  • Fred Korematsu and His Fight for Justice 21

    Fred Korematsu and his fight for justice

    March 6, 2019

    The Harvard Asian Pacific American Law Students Association performed “Fred Korematsu and His Fight for Justice,” a reenactment of the trial and events surrounding Korematsu's challenge of Executive Order 9066, which ordered the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

  • The lasting legacy of a brutal racial beating in 1946 South Carolina

    February 5, 2019

    A book review by Ken MackIn early 1946, many white Americans were jolted out of their complacency about race relations by a horrific instance of police violence against a demobilized black soldier. In February, just hours after his discharge, Sgt. Isaac Woodard Jr. broke Southern racial etiquette aboard a Greyhound bus in South Carolina by getting into a dispute with the driver and then failing to address the local police chief, whom the driver had summoned, as “sir.” The chief, Lynwood Shull, beat the decorated war veteran unconscious with a blackjack, driving the butt end of it into each of Woodard’s eye sockets and permanently blinding him. Woodard was fined $50, ostensibly for drunk and disorderly conduct, but managed to make it to New York City, where the NAACP publicized his story. Orson Welles featured Woodard’s heart-rending plight on his national radio program. Woody Guthrie composed a song titled “The Blinding of Isaac Woodard.” Civil rights activists used Woodard’s blinding to push President Harry Truman to embark on his unprecedentedly frank speeches and actions in favor of black equality. Nearly seven decades later, civil rights leader Julian Bond would still be moved to tears by his childhood recollections of Woodard’s blinding. In “Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waties Waring,” federal judge Richard Gergel presents a deeply researched account of Woodard’s tragic story and weaves it into a larger narrative.

  • A defense of Black Lives Matters from the activist in the blue vest

    November 2, 2018

    A review by Kenneth Mack. One of the most visible faces to emerge from the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and the Black Lives Matter movement they sparked is DeRay Mckesson. Days after the protests began in August 2014, Mckesson, then a 29-year-old school administrator in Minneapolis, began driving to Ferguson to join in. He live-tweeted his journey to Missouri and posted it on Facebook, at one point asking for a couch to sleep on when he arrived. Once there, he and other participants took to Twitter as an organizing tool and an alternative to the mainstream media, which, they thought, misrepresented the protests as violent...His book “On the Other Side of Freedom” is, in part, Mckesson’s response to the charge that he has grabbed too much of the limelight and is unrepresentative of the dispersed networks of organizers, online activists and street protesters who compose this difficult-to-define movement. It is a combination of memoir, self-justification and inspirational guide to imagining a different world of racial politics and criminal justice.

  • Manning elected to American Law Institute

    Manning elected to American Law Institute

    August 1, 2018

    The American Law Institute has elected John Manning ’85, Harvard Law School Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law, as a member. Manning and four Harvard Law School graduates were five of 34 new members elected this year.

  • Honoring Charles Ogletree

    Honoring Charles Ogletree

    October 11, 2017

    Hundreds of friends, former students, colleagues, and well-wishers gathered last Monday in a joyful celebration of the life and career of Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, advocate for Civil Rights, author of books on race and justice, and mentor to former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.

  • Thurgood Marshall: Activist, judge and the story of his quest for racial justice in America

    October 10, 2017

    By the time the US supreme court banned the death penalty in cases of adult rape, in 1977, Thurgood Marshall had been a justice on the court for 10 years. He wrote a brief concurrence in the case, Coker v Georgia, citing his opposition to the death penalty, which then as now disproportionately targeted African American men...“The places he was going were places where there weren’t any other lawyers who were going to do this work,” said Kenneth W Mack, a Harvard Law School professor who wrote Representing the Race: the Creation of the Civil Rights Lawyer. “They were also places where almost nobody had ever seen a black lawyer before. And he had to do things like challenge the local practices of segregation, come into a courtroom, call white people as witnesses, cross-examine them."

  • Honoring Charles Ogletree

    October 5, 2017

    It felt like a family reunion — with 600 relatives. That many friends, former students, colleagues, and well-wishers gathered Monday in a joyful celebration of the life and career of Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree, advocate for Civil Rights, author of books on race and justice, and mentor to former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama...And when John Manning, the Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law at HLS, announced that a group of Ogletree’s friends had established an endowed professorship in his honor, the Charles J. Ogletree Jr. Chair in Race and Criminal Justice, the news brought down the house...The chair was made possible through the generosity of a group of Ogletree’s close friends, said David Wilkins, Lester Kissel Professor of Law. “When the history of Harvard Law School in the 20th century is written, Charles Ogletree’s name will be among the first ones mentioned,” said Wilkins...The panelists told stories to “bring home the Tree-ness of Tree,” as Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law, explained...Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law, said, “Throughout his career, Ogletree has embodied law in the service of society, just the same as other great beacons of the American legal profession, men and women like Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, and Charles Hamilton Houston.”...Another frequent participant was Obama classmate Kenneth Mack ’91, the Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law. Mack said he learned about Houston in a Saturday School class. It was a time, he added, when few people knew about the lawyer whom Ogletree deemed one of the 20th century’s greatest legal minds and Civil Rights lawyers.