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Randall Kennedy

  • Passed By for Decades, Clarence Thomas Is a New Symbol of the Trump Era

    May 18, 2020

    Among certain conservatives, an idea has started to take hold: Could Justice Clarence Thomas ever be the kind of pop-culture icon to his followers that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become to hers? Justice Ginsburg, 87, has a book to her name, a touring museum exhibition and a surprise box-office hit in a 2018 documentary about her life. She is tattooed on her fans. Her personal trainer has his own book out. She was appointed to the bench in 1993 but came to realize and embrace this level of celebrity in recent years when her dissents became liberal rallying calls, leading to the nickname homage — and then best-selling book on her life — “The Notorious R.B.G.” Justice Thomas, the Supreme Court’s most conservative member, is catching up in his own way at age 71...As Justice Ginsburg has become the flag bearer of the Supreme Court’s diminished judicial left, Justice Thomas, who spent years dissenting on the fringes, is a potent symbol for an ascendant conservative wing. “He’s the most right-wing member of the court, and we are in a right-wing moment,” said Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and critic of the justice. In a piece in The Nation last fall, he criticized those who he said had recently “been solicitous of Thomas” in terms of his biography and his legal thinking, writing that he’d once been the same himself.

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    Heard on Campus

    January 7, 2020

    From a U.S. Supreme Court justice to the president of Germany to a senator from Utah to a Hiroshima survivor: “I speak because I feel it is my responsibility.”

  • The Apparatchik

    November 5, 2019

    A book review by Randall Kennedy: Appointed 28 years ago, Clarence Thomas holds the honor of having held a seat on the Supreme Court longer than any of the other current justices. He is also the nation’s second African American justice, having succeeded the first, Thurgood Marshall, in 1991. Born in Pin Point, Georgia, in 1948, Thomas grew up poor, though not destitute, and in circumstances in which he experienced both anti-black racism and the opportunities pried open by the civil rights movement. He attended Holy Cross College and Yale Law School, pursuant to admissions programs that expressly sought to assist promising black students. Upon graduating from Yale, he associated himself with Jack Danforth, an ambitious, well-connected Republican and future Missouri senator who became a lifelong mentor and door opener. Through his budding ties with the GOP, Thomas steadily rose on the rungs of the political appointee ladder.

  • Randall Kennedy addressing an audience

    Banned Books Week at Harvard Law: How censorship leaves us in the dark

    October 15, 2019

    This year marks the fourth time the Harvard Law School Library has hosted Banned Books Week, an annual program of exploration and discussion spearheaded by the American Library Association in support of the right to read.

  • 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.

  • A black academic grapples with his own racism

    August 26, 2019

    An article by Randall Kennedy:  ‘How to Be an Antiracist” is a memoir by Ibram X. Kendi that details his grapplings with racism and his advice for eliminating it. Kendi is the director of the Antiracist Research & Policy Center at American University and the author of “Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2016. Kendi’s latest book describes his peregrinations as a child and early adolescent in predominantly black, urban settings in New York; as an anxious student at the predominantly white Stonewall Jackson High School in Northern Virginia; as a journalism major at the virtually all-black Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University; and as a PhD candidate in the African American studies department at Temple University. Kendi dissects what he sees as his own racism in each of these phases of his life.

  • Does Representing Harvey Weinstein Preclude This Law Professor From Serving Students?

    May 20, 2019

    Can a famed law professor serve on the defense team of the nation's highest profile #MeToo case — and also adequately serve the needs of university students under his care? That is one of the questions at the center of a controversy that's erupted at Harvard University. It involves law professor Ronald Sullivan. He's done some of the nation's most important criminal justice work on behalf of the wrongly incarcerated, and until recently he was also on Harvey Weinstein's defense team. Sullivan was also the faculty head of a Harvard dorm. ... "There is no inconsistency between being a faculty dean of a house at Harvard University and, at the same time, being a criminal defense attorney for Harvey Weinstein," Randall Kennedy, professor at Harvard Law School, told On Point's Meghna Chakrabarti.

  • Harvard Betrays a Law Professor — and Itself

    May 15, 2019

    An op-ed by Randall Kennedy: I have been a professor at Harvard University for 34 years. In that time, the school has made some mistakes. But it has never so thoroughly embarrassed itself as it did this past weekend. At the center of the controversy is Ronald Sullivan, a law professor who ran afoul of student activists enraged that he was willing to represent Harvey Weinstein. Mr. Sullivan is my friend and colleague. He is the director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School and the architect of a conviction-review program in Brooklyn that has freed a score of improperly convicted individuals. He is also a sought-after lawyer who has represented plaintiffs (including the family of Michael Brown, whose death at the hands of a police officer fueled the Black Lives Matter movement) as well as defendants (including Rose McGowan, the actress who faced drug charges and is, ironically, one of Mr. Weinstein’s accusers).

  • Valerie Jarrett’s winding path to the Obamas’ inner circle

    April 12, 2019

    A book review by Randall Kennedy: Valerie Jarrett was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama during both his terms; is a close friend to Michelle Obama; directed an important real estate firm; and has served as chair of the Chicago Transit Authority Board, chair of the Chicago Stock Exchange and chair of the board of trustees of the University of Chicago Medical Center. She chaired the White House Council on Women and Girls and co-chaired the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault. She sits on the boards of directors of Ariel Investments and Lyft and is a distinguished senior fellow at the University of Chicago Law School. Jarrett is, in short, a big deal.

  • Legal Community Split Over Emory Professor’s Use of Racial Slur

    April 10, 2019

    Two law professors and a former law school dean have offered their public support to an Emory law professor suspended over the use of a racial slur. Affidavits from Harvard University’s Randall Kennedy, Princeton’s Keith Whittington, and Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, the former president of Florida State University where he also served as the law school’s dean, were included in formal complaints calling for Emory’s censure. ... Kennedy—a former law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and the author of a book on the use of the slur as a “linguistic weapon”—said Zwier’s use of the word “was neither careless nor malicious.”

  • When ‘the n-word’ meets public education

    April 8, 2019

    An op-ed by Randall Kennedy: News reports suggest that an effort by the Cambridge School Committee to display racial enlightenment has turned into a racially discriminatory act of political repression. In January, a teacher at the Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, Kevin Dua, sponsored a research project titled “RECLAIMING: Nigger v. Cracker: Educating Racial Context In/for Cambridge.” The project sought to explore the history and effects of racial slurs. Dua invited members of the committee to attend a discussion of the project in part because he wanted them to address an issue that surfaced when the students pursued their research: School computers blocked access to websites containing the n-word and other racial and ethnic slurs. One member of the committee who attended, Emily Dexter, listened to the presentation, participated, and volunteered to assist the students in negotiating the problem of the computer filters. So far so good. The situation presented a positive instance of public high school education: an exercise aimed at sparking curiosity about an important, albeit controversial, subject in the context of an academic setting in which students, instructors, and others could engage, hopefully, in a memorable, fascinating, edifying exchange of information and views. But then things went awry.

  • 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.

  • Minnesota professor’s suspension fuels academic freedom debate

    April 1, 2019

    Augsburg University history Prof. Phillip Adamo led a classroom discussion about the N-word this school year, saying the racial slur rather than the euphemism. The class set off a flurry of student complaints, international press coverage of Adamo’s eventual suspension and intense soul-searching on Minnesota’s most racially diverse private campus about inclusion and academic freedom. ...This time, students took their complaints to the top. Adamo says he was told not to return to his classroom the following week and was relieved of his duties as honors program director. He was eventually suspended as the university sought to formally discipline him. His case drew national attention and press coverage in the U.K. and Denmark. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard law scholar Randall Kennedy, who is black, blasted Adamo’s suspension as “a dispiriting farce” and argued that Augsburg leaders had undermined the university’s reputation. Adamo got support from the American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which charged that Augsburg “has run roughshod over academic freedom and its own policies.”

  • When Civility Is Used As A Cudgel Against People Of Color

    March 14, 2019

    The value of civility is one of the few things Americans can all agree on — right? That's the common assumption. And yet it's an assumption that depends on everyone thinking they're a full member of the community. But what about when they aren't? ... San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel during the national anthem enraged many people — including President Trump. The upward spiral of unarmed black people (mostly men) who have been killed by (mostly) white policemen was unacceptable to the NFL star. He chose to kneel to bring attention to it, and that, says Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy, made a lot of the white public furious. "The idea that these athletes were addressing themselves to a burning political issue — that in and of itself made people mad," Kennedy says.

  • ‘A word that has blood dripping off it’: How a white lawmaker’s slur reverberated in Maryland

    March 5, 2019

    Before the vote, Maryland Del. Charles E. Sydnor III had planned to rise to explain why he would cast a ballot to censure his colleague, a fellow Democrat who began her state legislative career with him five years ago. ... Sydnor was one of 137 members of the House of Delegates who, on the final day of Black History Month, took the rare action of censuring Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (Harford) for conduct that “brought dishonor to the entire General Assembly of Maryland.” The revelation Monday that Lisanti, a white lawmaker, had described an area of Prince George’s County as a “n----- district,” sent feelings of hurt, shock, anger and disgust through the State House, across Maryland and into Prince George’s, a community long hailed as a mecca of the black middle class. ... “It is the most notorious racial-ethnic-group slur in the American language, and that is saying something because the American language is filled with slurs,” said Harvard Law professor Randall L. Kennedy.

  • ‘Whose Side Are You On?’: Harvard Dean Representing Weinstein Is Hit With Graffiti and Protests

    March 5, 2019

    The graffiti showed up on the door of a Harvard University building last week: “Our rage is self-defense,” and “Whose side are you on?” The unexpected target was Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., who is an accomplished lawyer, the director of Harvard’s criminal-law clinic and the first African-American to be appointed as a faculty dean. Earlier this year, Mr. Sullivan joined a team of lawyers representing the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who heads to trial in June in Manhattan on rape and related charges. ... In his first public remarks, Mr. Sullivan said in a phone interview on Monday that he did not anticipate the level of backlash he has received. He has a long history of taking on high-profile and, at times, controversial clients, as well as representing students who have been victims of sexual assault, he said. “Lawyers are not an extension of their clients,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Lawyers do law work, not the work of ideology. When I’m in my lawyer capacity, representing a client, even one publicly vilified, it doesn’t mean I’m supporting anything the client may have done.” ... But many of Mr. Sullivan’s colleagues have come to his defense. Dozens of law professors from the university on Feb. 14 sent a letter to the college in support of Mr. Sullivan. On Feb. 28, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article by Randall Kennedy, a Harvard law professor, who wrote: “Those calling for Sullivan’s resignation or dismissal as a faculty dean solely because he is serving as Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer in a rape prosecution are displaying an array of disturbingly widespread tendencies.

  • When a Dean Defends Harvey Weinstein

    March 4, 2019

    An op-ed by Randall Kennedy: Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. is the faculty dean of Winthrop House, one of the 12 undergraduate dormitories in which most students live during their final three years at Harvard College. The faculty deans are mentors, guardians, and counselors — truly in loco parentis. They are responsible for their house’s overall social environment and manage a staff charged with facilitating the well-being of the students. Sullivan, the first black faculty dean at Harvard, is also a clinical professor at Harvard Law School, where I have taught for over three decades. In addition to those roles, Sullivan engages in private legal practice. He helped win an acquittal in the double-murder prosecution of the professional football player Aaron Hernandez (a convicted murderer in a different case, who eventually committed suicide). He represented the family of Michael Brown, whose death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. At the invitation of the Brooklyn district attorney, he designed and adopted a conviction-review program that freed scores of improperly imprisoned people. Sullivan is, in short, an imposing, deeply respected figure in the legal community.

  • In Defense of Harvey Weinstein’s Harvard Lawyer

    March 4, 2019

    The law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. is among the most accomplished people at Harvard. He has helped to overturn scores of wrongful convictions and to free thousands from wrongful incarceration. ... Sullivan faces this “clamor of popular suspicions and prejudices” because he agreed to act as a criminal-defense attorney for an object of scorn and hatred: Harvey Weinstein. ... Catharine MacKinnon, Harvard’s James Barr Ames Visiting Professor of Law, emailed: The issue is not whether Ron can represent reviled clients accused of crimes and still be the faculty dean of a college. Of course he can. The issue is substantive. ...The Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig echoes the argument that it’s possible to be a survivor of sexual assault and feel comfortable with Sullivan’s choice. ...“The skills, capacities, and dispositions that would help to make a person a valued defense counsel are also the skills, capacities, and dispositions that would help to make a person a valued Faculty Dean,” [Randall Kennedy] argued.  ... The Harvard professor Jeannie Suk Gersen emailed me her concerns with such “processes”: "Professor Sullivan has chosen to represent and defend persons whom many people would not defend. Strong disagreement with those choices is of course part of the exploration of differences of principle and opinion that we’d hope for in a university." ... “Little more than half a century ago, mainstream lawyers were frightened away from defending alleged Communists who faced congressional witch hunts, blacklisting, criminal trials, and even execution,” Harvard Law’s Alan Dershowitz wrote. ... The Harvard professor Janet Halley calls Harvard’s actions “deeply disturbing.” She explained in an email: The right to counsel even for the most despised defendants, the basic role of counsel in our legal order, the presumption of innocence, academic freedom, and the right of University employees to assist persons accused in the University’s Title IX proceedings—are all implicated here. ... The Harvard law professor Scott Westfahl, however, defended the idea of a climate review, also by email. ... “We are all better off as a result,” and he noted, “I completely support the right of Professor Sullivan, an extremely talented defense lawyer, to take on a very difficult case. Should Mr. Weinstein be convicted, there will be absolutely no doubt that he received a fair hearing with the best possible defense counsel.”

  • How a Dispute Over the N-Word Became a Dispiriting Farce

    February 12, 2019

    An article by Randall Kennedy: A series of dismaying events has transpired at Augsburg University, in Minneapolis. According to several undisputed news reports, it began in October, when a student read a sentence in class from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time ... Airing the N-word caused a commotion. The professor leading the class, Philip Adamo, asked the students if they felt it was appropriate to voice the word Baldwin had written.

  • Who Read What in 2018: History and Journalism

    December 10, 2018

    ...Randall Kennedy: The most memorable book of the year for me was one I have read and reread at least annually over the past few years: Lee Baer’s “The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts.”...Adrian Vermeule: I’m somewhat at a loss, because I rarely read new books, on principle. Most are bad. Time, that piercing reviewer of books, relegates so many to obscurity; and time’s judgments often take decades to ripen. Two old books I’ve read in the past year have deepened my understanding of sovereignty—the concept from high political and constitutional theory that is much in the news and that underlies issues of elections, populism, borders and European Union membership.

  • Learning while leading at Harvard Law Review

    Learning while leading at Harvard Law Review

    November 27, 2018

    On a March evening, Michael Thomas Jr. gave a tour of Gannett House to his dad and two brothers, who were visiting to see where Barack Obama first made headlines as the first black leader of the Harvard Law Review. But they were also there to celebrate Thomas, who had recently been elected the journal’s third African-American president.

  • The Rise and Fall of Affirmative Action

    October 9, 2018

    If Blum’s suit is successful, the effect will be felt far beyond Harvard. It will limit the freedom that academic institutions have often had in pursuing their unique educational missions. The lawsuit, and Blum’s efforts to change the cultural conversation surrounding diversity and discrimination, could end affirmative action in higher education as we know it....Suspicions about the fitness and the qualifications of nonwhites didn’t begin with affirmative action. But it has become the most prominent way that these suspicions are aired, since the stakes are so clear. Life rarely seems so zero-sum as it does when we imagine that we are vying for the lone seat in the classroom. “Affirmative action is part of a larger struggle,” Randall Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School, told me. “The much larger struggle is the struggle against the idea that the United States is a white man’s country. Do people of Asian ancestry benefit from that larger struggle against the notion that America is a white man’s country? Yes, absolutely.”

  • The Second Redemption Court

    September 4, 2018

    The conservative majority on the Supreme Court today is similarly blinded by a commitment to liberty in theory that ignores the reality of how Americans’ lives are actually lived. Like the Supreme Court of that era, the conservatives on the Court today are opposed to discrimination in principle, and indifferent to it in practice...“For large portions of American life people of color have been treated unjustly, and for most of that period the Supreme Court has found ways to rationalize that, and make us think that is consistent with promises of liberty and equality,” says the Harvard Law professor and legal scholar Randall Kennedy. “That’s what it’s typically done. Is it doing that today? Yup.”

  • Ethnicity not a factor in Elizabeth Warren’s rise in law

    September 4, 2018

    The 60-plus Harvard Law School professors who filed into an auditorium-style room on the first floor of Pound Hall on that February 1993 afternoon had a significant question to answer: Should they offer a job to Elizabeth Warren?...The Globe examined hundreds of documents, many of them never before available, and reached out to all 52 of the law professors who are still living and were eligible to be in that Pound Hall room at Harvard Law School...“By the unwritten rules that most schools played by at the time, none of this should have happened,” explained Bruce Mann, Warren’s husband of 38 years, who joined her for the interview with the Globe. “Law faculties hired in their own image. . . except for those rare occasions when someone came along that was just so stunningly good that they couldn’t ignore her.”...She dazzled Andrew Kaufman, a Harvard Law School professor who recalled meeting her at a conference she organized at the University of Wisconsin Law School in the mid-1980s. “I was blown away,” Kaufman said, recalling his first interaction with Warren. “I thought she was a real whiz.”...“The views had a lot to do with the methodology she was using,” recalled David Wilkins, a Harvard Law professor who voted to offer Warren a job. “Was it the right methodology?” ...“She was not on the radar screen at all in terms of a racial minority hire,” [Randall] Kennedy told the Globe. “It was just not an issue. I can’t remember anybody ever mentioning her in this context.”...“It had nothing to do with our consideration and deliberation,” said Charles Fried, the former solicitor general to president Ronald Reagan and a member of the Harvard Law School appointments committee at the time. “How many times do you have to have the same thing explained to you?”

  • ‘Say It Loud’: 50 Years Ago, James Brown Redefined Black Pride (audio)

    July 25, 2018

    Fifty years ago, James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul," released the iconic song, "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." It was released in August 1968, just four months after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Randall Kennedy, a Harvard law professor, said he remembers when he first heard the song. The funk- and soul-inspired hit was like nothing he had heard before — especially at a time in which Kennedy said overt "colorism," or the preference for lighter skin color, was prevalent in the black community.

  • Say It Louder: I’m Black and I’m Proud

    July 20, 2018

    An op-ed by Randall Kennedy...It was precisely because of widespread colorism that James Brown’s anthem “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” posed a challenge, felt so exhilarating, and resonated so powerfully. It still does. Much has changed over the past half century. But, alas, the need to defend blackness against derision continues.

  • Class Marshals hold HLS banner at Commencement

    Camera-ready: Harvard Law School Commencement 2018

    May 25, 2018

    On Thursday, May 25, the Harvard Law School Class of 2018 received their diplomas at a ceremony on Holmes Field, and celebrated their graduation with family, friends, and picture-perfect New England weather.

  • Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy: a fraught relationship

    April 30, 2018

    A book review by Randall Kennedy. ‘Thanks to their common goals and trajectories and calendars,” David Margolick observes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy are linked in the popular mind “as no other black man and white man in the history of civil rights have ever been.” King was the most important leader of the black protest movement that, between 1954 and 1968, uprooted de jure racial segregation and put many forms of racial discrimination on the defensive. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Open Housing Act of 1968 all derive, directly and indirectly, from King’s inspired rhetoric and much-publicized sacrifice.

  • Thurgood Marshall remembered by Justice Kagan and other former clerks

    March 12, 2018

    “His voice is still in my head,” Justice Elena Kagan told the audience on Tuesday when asked how her former boss, Justice Thurgood Marshall, had affected her life. Kagan, along with three other former Marshall clerks, described a justice who demanded much from his clerks, but gave his time and knowledge generously in return. They also remarked on the peculiarity of working for, as one panelist put it, “not just a regular Supreme Court justice, but a living legend.” In addition to Kagan, the event, which was hosted by the Supreme Court Historical Society, featured Harvard Law School professor Randall Kennedy, Judge Paul Engelmayer of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, and Judge Douglas Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, who also moderated the panel...During deliberations over a case, Marshall would tease and joke with his clerks. Kennedy once told Marshall that if he ruled the way he was intending, he would contradict one of his own earlier decisions. In response, Marshall asked Kennedy, “Do I have to be a damned fool all my life?”

  • New exhibit documents the long road to justice for African-Americans in Boston

    February 9, 2018

    ...When he went to work in Roxbury, what he saw from the bench disturbed him. Poor people seeking the protection of the court came into his courtroom accompanied by minor children who had nowhere else to go. “The only place for them was to sit in the courtroom, where they were exposed to all kinds of descriptions of violence and drugs,’’ he said. “It was awful. I said we can do better than this.’’...Julian Houston was determined to change that, embracing a social justice movement that animated his life. It still does...And it will be a centerpiece of an exhibit to be unveiled at the Brooke courthouse on Thursday that has been a longtime passion for Houston. It’s called “Long Road to Justice: The African-American Experience in the Massachusetts Courts."...“This wouldn’t have happened without him,’’ said Randall Kennedy, a Harvard Law School professor who will emcee Thursday’s event. “He’s a very courtly, a very gracious man, and he’s also very persistent. He had this idea and he kept nudging and nudging and pushing and pushing.’’

  • Law Professors Debate School’s Support for Public Interest

    February 9, 2018

    As Harvard Law School celebrates its 200th year Professors and student activists gathered at Harvard Law School Wednesday night to debate the school's reported disconnect with public interest. The event, titled “Harvard Law and the Public Interest,” revolved largely around a report titled "Our Bicentennial Crisis" by Law student Pete D. Davis ’12 [`18]. Panelists Randall L. Kennedy, Carol S. Steiker ’82, Duncan Kennedy ’64, and Todd D. Rakoff ’67—all Law School professors—agreed that public interest law is essential for fighting inequality and that the Law School has the power to promote that interest.

  • Has America created a misleading fable about the civil rights movement?

    February 5, 2018

    A book review by Randall Kennedy. "A More Beautiful and Terrible History" is a critique of what its author derides as the ascendant fable of the civil rights movement. Brooklyn College professor Jeanne Theoharis contends that influential shapers of public memory have attempted with considerable success to whitewash and truncate recollections of the black protests that challenged the racial status quo between the 1950s and the 1970s. The culprits include academics, journalists and politicians. What they have done, she charges, is depict a movement devoid of unsettling militance, with narrow aims that were accomplished on account of an attentive citizenry that only needed to glimpse injustice in order to respond nobly. The fable, she argues, is complacently triumphalist, offering a distorted mirror that misleadingly celebrates observers.

  • Bicentennial Lecture Series: Randall Kennedy on Race Relations Law

    Bicentennial Lecture Series: Randall Kennedy on Race Relations Law

    January 16, 2018

    In this three-part lecture, Professor Randall Kennedy draws on a course he teaches in Race Relations Law to discuss the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • Mentors, Friends and Sometime Adversaries 4

    Mentors, Friends and Sometime Adversaries

    November 29, 2017

    Mentorships between Harvard Law School professors and the students who followed them into academia have taken many forms over the course of two centuries.

  • Charles Ogletree and family in audience

    ‘Tree’s’ tremendous legacy: Celebrating Charles Ogletree ’78

    October 11, 2017

    It took an all-star team of panelists to honor the scope and influence of Charles Ogletree’s career last week at HLS—eminent friends, students and colleagues all paying tribute to a man that the world knows as a leading force for racial equality and social justice, and that the Harvard community knows affectionately as Tree.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Thurgood Marshall: The soundtrack of their lives

    October 2, 2017

    Thurgood Marshall is revered as a titan of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the architect of the landmark court case that ended legal segregation in America’s public schools, and the first African-American Supreme Court justice. Yet for five of his former law clerks gathered Wednesday at Harvard Law School (HLS), he was more than that. For Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Marshall was a messenger of hope and courage to African-Americans who endured the injustices of the Jim Crow South...For Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law, who clerked for Marshall in the ’80s, the associate justice was a source of pride, lifting the spirits and the consciousness of black Americans who were treated as second-class citizens...For Martha Minow, former dean of Harvard Law School, Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence, and University Distinguished Service Professor, who also clerked for Marshall, he was the embodiment of a deep commitment to social justice and faith in the power of the rule of law to bring equal rights to all eventually...The panel was moderated by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law, director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, and professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Kenneth Mack, the Lawrence D. Biele Professor of Law...“He was a formidable person in all respects,” recalled another former clerk, William Fisher, WilmerHale Professor of Intellectual Property Law and faculty director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society...Carol Steiker, Henry J. Friendly Professor of Law and Special Adviser for Public Service, said she developed a lifelong interest in death penalty law during her clerkship with Marshall.

  • Thurgood Marshall panelists

    Thurgood Marshall: The soundtrack of their lives

    September 29, 2017

    Thurgood Marshall is revered as a titan of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the architect of the landmark court case that ended legal segregation in America’s public schools, and the first African-American Supreme Court justice. Yet for five of his former law clerks gathered Wednesday at Harvard Law School, he was more than that.

  • HLS celebrates its connection to the arts 7

    HLS celebrates connection to the arts

    September 27, 2017

    The Harvard Law School community gathered on Sept. 15 and 16 for a bicentennial festival celebrating HLS in the Arts featuring talks, art, films and performances by HLS faculty, students, staff and alumni.

  • Looking back at the founding of Harvard Law School

    Looking back at the founding of Harvard Law School

    September 13, 2017

    To officially open Harvard Law School’s Bicentennial celebration, a panel of Harvard Law School faculty members gathered on Sept. 5 to discuss the law school’s early history.

  • “To Be True to Our Complicated History”

    September 7, 2017

    Midway through the list of names was when the crowd fell fully silent. Some 300 people, suddenly pinned in place, stood motionless in a half-circle around the outdoor podium where Janet Halley, Royall professor of law, was reading out the names of slaves who’d once belonged to Isaac Royall Jr., the eighteenth-century sugar-plantation owner whose fortune endowed Halley’s professorship and helped establish Harvard Law School...Inside Wasserstein Hall earlier in the evening, listeners had heard some of that complicated history from Warren visiting professor of American legal history Daniel Coquillette. The author of On the Battlefield of Merit: Harvard Law School, the First Century, he spoke not only about Royall, a brutal slave owner whose plantation in Antigua was notorious (he kept a 500-acre farm in Medford, too), but also about the school’s connections to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793—which most faculty members at the time strongly supported, Coquillette sai...After Coquillette’s remarks—and a panel discussion that followed, with Halley, Warren professor of American legal history Annette Gordon-Reed, Klein professor of law Randall Kennedy, and Schipper professor of law Bruce Mann—audience members filed out into the courtyard to see the new memorial revealed.

  • Harvard Law School unveils memorial honoring enslaved people who enabled its founding 2

    Harvard Law School unveils memorial honoring enslaved people who enabled its founding

    September 5, 2017

    On Sept. 5, at the opening of its Bicentennial observance, Harvard Law School unveiled a memorial to the enslaved people whose labor helped make possible the founding of the school.

  • Deep Thinking on Affirmative Action

    September 1, 2017

    ...This book presents a balanced defense of what the writer, the Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy, refers to as “positive discrimination.” Kennedy explores the history of race-related laws and asks why, despite preferential treatment in college admissions for people based on special categories like geography or legacy status, consideration on the basis of race has always been contentious. His focus is on higher education, where these discussions have historically taken place because of the scarcity of available seats and top universities’ role as “gateways to opportunity, socialization and certification” and “ training grounds for the power elite.”

  • Taking a closer look at the powder keg of affirmative action

    August 28, 2017

    “[A]ffirmative action is like an injured bear,” writes Randall Kennedy. It’s “too strong to succumb to its wounds but too hurt to attain full vitality.” The renowned Harvard Law School professor wrote that four years ago, but it’s sure germane now in light of the Justice Department’s apparent renewed interest in anti-affirmative-action complaints against colleges. Harvard, in particular, is in the legal crosshairs. Jeff Sessions’s team says it wants a closer look at allegations filed on behalf of a group of Asian-Americans who say they face a higher bar for admission at Harvard than other racial and ethnic groups, including whites.

  • Charlottesville, President Trump And Confederate History (audio)

    August 22, 2017

    An interview with Randall Kennedy. This week on Freak Out And Carry On, Ron Suskind and Heather Cox Richardson respond to the violence in Charlottesville and President Trump's response. They also dive into the history of confederate statues with Randall Kennedy, law professor at Harvard University and author of "The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency", and Tony Horwitz, author of "Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War".

  • The N-Word Is Shouted In Boston’s Back Bay, With Reverberations (audio)

    June 20, 2017

    A few weeks ago I was interviewing the Rev. Laura Everett, at an intersection in Boston's Back Bay where a bicyclist was recently hit and killed, when in the background, we heard a pedestrian yelling at another pedestrian...Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy wrote a book about the N-word, a word he called the "atomic bomb of racial slurs." "Not only [was] it used in that way 33 years ago," Kennedy said at his desk in Cambridge. "But is it used in that way today? Sure it is." Kennedy says the current political climate has created a sense that bigotry can be OK.

  • Connecting beyond the classroom

    April 21, 2017

    More than 60 Harvard Law students and 27 HLS faculty members took over the typically quiet tables of the library reading room for the first “Notes and Comment” event.

  • A grudging admiration for Trump’s speech

    January 23, 2017

    An op-ed by Randall Kennedy. I am appalled by Donald J. Trump, particularly his willingness to elicit and exploit destructive social prejudices, including sexism, racism, and nativism. I see his ascension to power as a threat to the best features of American life. I applaud those who have committed themselves to resistance to Trumpism. Here I think especially of those, like Representatives Katherine Clark and Mike Capuano, who, at some risk, defied tradition and refused to attend the inauguration as a protest against the incoming president. Still, I must confess a certain grudging admiration for Trump’s performance of his inaugural address even as I loathe the baleful politics that his words simultaneously obscure and announce. Trump’s address was succinct, only 17 minutes, and benefited from the channeling of attention that brevity facilitates.