How has the American judicial system dealt with racial discrimination, racial segregation, racial exclusion, and systemic or institutional racism? Has the design of the American legal system made it easier or harder to remedy cases of racial inequality and injustice? What should we expect from the courts in the future?
We study cases involving Americans of African and of Asian ancestry, beginning with Dred Scott and ending with the Harvard College admissions case. Visitors include Drew Faust, Mae Ngai, Richard Pildes, and William Lee and Felicia Ellsworth, the trial lawyers in the Harvard College case.
The primary readings are legal documents: the Constitution, judicial opinions, and the statutes judges interpret. We’ll analyze the opinions in order to understand the legal logic that led to their outcomes. We will see, by doing this, how courts are constrained by the system that was designed by the Constitution’s framers and by the traditions of the common law. We will also consider the historical context in which these cases were decided. Two papers and class participation required.