• August 6, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Nicole Austin-Hillery, Director and Counsel of Washington, D.C. Office, The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law 

    *This post originally appeared on The Brennan Center’s blog

    Congress went home last week without tackling several critical issues facing our country. This is common in an election year. But this year should have been different. For the first time in nearly five decades, Americans will go to the polls in November without a key protection under the Voting Rights Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court gutted last year in Shelby County v. Holder. When Congress comes back in September, leaders of both parties must act to ensure every citizen can freely cast a ballot.

    Today, on the 49th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, it’s worth looking back at how far our nation has come on voting discrimination and race, and how we can move forward together to ensure equality and justice for all.

    The America we knew in 1965 was vastly different than the one we know now. The civil rights struggle showed our country through a black and white prism. President Lyndon Baines Johnson spoke of this race divide when he signed the VRA, which made it illegal for states to discriminate based on race in voting.

    “The stories of our Nation and of the American Negro are like two great rivers,” he said, “flow[ing] through the centuries along divided channels.” Only after the Civil War, Johnson remarked, did the two rivers begin “to move toward one another.” And a century later, the VRA would allow the two currents to “finally mingle and rush as one great stream across the uncertain and the marvelous years of the America that is yet to come.”

  • February 25, 2010
    Rising Road
    A True Tale of Love, Race and Religion in America
    Sharon Davies

    By Sharon Davies, John C. Elam/Vorys Sater Designated Professor of Law, Moritz College of Law, The Ohio State University

    Rising Road is one of those books that happened by accident; a chance occurrence on the way to somewhere else.

    After the outcome of the election in 2004, when the country was abuzz with reports of how the question of gay marriage drove President George W. Bush's supporters from their homes to the voting booths, I began to think about law and marriage, and the way of constitutional change.

    It was a topic of great personal importance to me, law and marriage. Had my parents been swayed by the marriage laws that were still in place in various states at the time of my birth, I would never have been born. Neither would any of my five brothers or sisters. It was the era of the anti-miscegenation laws. The simple act of having us was a crime, a number of states declared, and they backed the ban up with the criminal sanction. Defiant mixed race couples could be jailed.

    I was nearly seven-years-old by the time the U.S. Supreme Court finally got around to striking those laws down. Seems my siblings and I weren't crimes after all. It was the law that was wrong, the Court announced in Loving v. Virginia in 1967. The decision was unanimous. Even Justice Hugo Black agreed, though a son of the South, the region of the country most steadfastly devoted to the anti-miscegenation regime.

    After the election in 2004, I wondered how constitutional change like that came about-how acts of intimacy, and marriage, and the wee beings that can result from them, could one day be outlawed, and another day not. I will write an article about that, I thought to myself, and set to work.

    When doing the researching for that intended article, however, the unexpected happened. I tripped over a reference to a 1921 trial in Birmingham, Alabama. A murder trial, where the marriage of the daughter of a Methodist minister to a Catholic migrant from Puerto Rico, led the minister to kill the Catholic priest who took their vows. How horrible, I thought. I'll use it as an example in my article.

  • August 5, 2009
    Guest Post


    By David Kairys, a law professor at Temple University, is the author of Philadelphia Freedom, Memoir of a Civil Rights Lawyer. Kairys' other books include a leading progressive critique of the law, The Politics of Law. Kairys' post also appeared as an oped in today's Philadelphia Inquirer.


    In our polarized fascination with Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates, there's been a lot of talk about teachable moments, but little effort to understand how two decent guys doing their jobs and living their lives could have such different perceptions of their encounter.

    The central problem is how we think about race or, really, about racism.

    The idea that racism is wrong is very new in our culture, history, and law. Before World War II, racial stereotypes were common in everyday life. Racial epithets, slurs, jokes, and put-downs were uneventful ingredients of discussion across ethnic, religious, and class lines. The Supreme Court embraced segregation and slavery, and it approved of the imprisonment of all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast during World War II.

    The change in our values reached its peak when legally sanctioned segregation was ended in the 1960s. The immorality and evil of racism became so accepted that even factions of the Ku Klux Klan declared themselves non-racists who just happened to "like white people." In mainstream culture, racism grew to be so socially forbidden that it was just about the worst thing one could be accused of. Labeling a white person racist was to put him or her in the company of lynching, church-bombing, slaveholding monsters. It became common for some to deny that they even notice race.

    This has made it very difficult to talk about the obvious reality that when we encounter each other - on the street, in the workplace, or in our homes - we do notice race, and it has meaning for us. This is not wrong or a personal failing, and we won't be able to understand or do anything about race issues if we insist that racism is restricted to villains.