Michael Klarman

  • February 3, 2010

    Largely premised on the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education decision, which galvanized the civil rights movement, the U.S. Supreme Court's reputation for protecting minorities' rights is not often challenged. But, according to Harvard Law Professor Michael Klarman, that conventional wisdom is a myth.

    In "Has the Supreme Court Been Mainly a Friend or a Foe to African Americans?" at SCOTUSblog, Klarman argues that, over the course of its history, the Court has repeatedly proven to be "regressive force on racial issues."

    By way of example, Klarman observes: 

    Before the Civil War, the Court sustained the constitutionality of federal fugitive slave laws, invalidated the laws of northern states that were designed to protect free blacks from kidnapping by slavecatchers, voided Congress's effort to restrict the spread of slavery into federal territories, and denied that even free blacks possessed any rights "which the white man was bound to respect." After the Civil War, the Court freed the perpetrators of white-on-black lynchings and racial massacres, and it invalidated a federal law designed to secure blacks equal access to public accommodations. Well into the twentieth century, the Court sustained the constitutionality of state-mandated racial segregation and various southern state measures for disenfranchising African Americans.