On Sept. 19, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow gave a lecture at Howard Law School in Washington, D.C., in commemoration of Constitution Day – an annual, national celebration of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787.
In her talk, titled “A Proper Objective: Commitment and Educational Opportunity after Boiling v. Sharpe and Parents Involved in Community Schools,” Minow reflected on how the Constitution and the Supreme Court have shaped desegregation law and diversification efforts in schools – from Brown v. Board of Education to affirmative action to race-conscious school districting – and suggested future steps toward achieving the educational benefits of diversity.
Minow explored three avenues for addressing the constitutional treatment of equal educational opportunity: Lawyering in the trenches over meaning of parents involved; a doctrinal alternative to the emerging color-blind approach; and political and social action as a critical element of constitutional interpretation and change.
“Looking across over 100 years – the advocacy before and after Brown – constitutionally-founded educational opportunity has grown as an ideal and altered practices on the ground, though more work remains to make the promise real,” said Minow. “The Constitution, in this process, is not a blue-print, simply waiting for construction along pre-planned lines … If a metaphor is needed, try this one: the Constitution is a seed culture, made of the materials from the past, cultivated in the present, and if well cared-for, lasting indefinitely and available the next we are ready to make something of it.”
The full text of Minow’s talk will be published in an upcoming issue of the Howard Law Journal.
Minow, who is the Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law at HLS, was appointed dean in 2009, and has taught at the school since 1981. An expert in human rights and advocacy for members of racial and religious minorities and for women, children, and persons with disabilities, she has also written and taight about privatization, military justice, and ethnic and religious conflict.
Bemis Professor of International Law Noah Feldman and Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law John Palfrey also gave lectures Sept. 19 in celebration of Constitution Day.