The Legacy of the Little Rock Crucible

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette1 Comment on The Legacy of the Little Rock Crucible

little rock 9“That crucible moment” – that’s a phrase Ernest Green used to describe the period when he and eight other African American students enrolled in and attended Little Rock Center High School in 1957. It took the president of the United States and 10,000 soldiers to help them get in the door in deeply segregationist Arkansas. But more than anything, their success took the determination and self-control that the nine showed against almost overwhelming opposition and hate. The events of that fall became a huge landmark in the fight to end official segregation. 

I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was when six of the nine took the stage at the Varsity Theater this week to receive Marquette’s highest honor, the Pere Marquette Discovery Award, from Father Robert Wild, S.J., the university’s president. 

Maybe it was because I was just barely old enough at the time – I was seven – to have the television images from Little Rock permanently planted in my mind. And here they were, in person.  Continue reading “The Legacy of the Little Rock Crucible”

Horace Scurry: Our First African-American Law Student

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal History, Marquette Law School, Marquette Law School History, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Horace Scurry: Our First African-American Law Student

Horace S. Scurry was one of many fascinating individuals who passed through the Milwaukee Law School between the time of its founding in the early 1890’s and its merger with Marquette University in 1908.  He appears to have been the first African-American to join the ranks of that institution’s students.

Details of Scurry’s life are meager.  He was born in 1865 in Delaware, Ohio, and first arrived in Milwaukee in 1882 at age 17.  He attended school in Milwaukee and then returned to Ohio, where he enrolled in Ohio Wesleyan College (which was in his hometown of Delaware).  The college catalog listed him as a Milwaukee resident, and he apparently entered college with the intention of becoming a teacher. In 1900, he was working at Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, as the steward of the teachers’ house and, reportedly, as a teacher.

He returned to Milwaukee at some point and enrolled in the Milwaukee Law School.

Although he studied law, he does not appear to have been admitted to the bar.  The Milwaukee Law School was designed to prepare students for admission to the Wisconsin bar and did not award degrees of its own.  However, in 1908, following the merger, Marquette University awarded a law degree to any former student of the Milwaukee Law School who had been admitted to the Wisconsin bar.  Scurry’s name does not appear on the list of degree recipients, although it is possible that he was admitted but did not bother to apply for the Marquette degree.

In any event, Scurry’s future was in neither education nor law, but in religion.  In the early twentieth century (if not sooner), he became an ordained Baptist minister. He was affiliated with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Milwaukee (a black Baptist church) and with the Wisconsin State Baptist Convention.  After his entry into the ranks of the clergy, he retained an interest in politics and public affairs.  The archives of the American Socialist Party contain a letter written to Scurry by Norman Thomas, the party’s perennial presidential candidate.

In 1935, Scurry, aged 70 and retired from the ministry, was awarded a monthly old-age pension of $30 from the Milwaukee county court.  A story in the December 17, 1935, edition of the Milwaukee Journal reported the award of the pension by County Judge John C. Karel and mentioned Scurry’s prior affiliation with the Milwaukee Law School.  Scurry died on June 6, 1943, still affiliated with the Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

SAT Scores and Affirmative Action

Posted on Categories Education & Law, Higher Education, Race & LawLeave a comment» on SAT Scores and Affirmative Action

sunsetIn her majority opinion in the landmark civil rights case Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 342-44 (2003), Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote:

Enshrining a permanent justification for racial preferences would offend this fundamental equal protection principle. We see no reason to exempt race-conscious admissions programs from the requirement that all governmental use of race must have a logical end point. . . . From today’s vantage point, one may hope, but not firmly forecast, that over the next generation’s span, progress toward nondiscrimination and genuinely equal opportunity will make it safe to sunset affirmative action.

Although O’Connor and her colleagues upheld the constitutionality of the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative action program at issue in Grutter, her opinion reflected a belief that affirmative action programs would draw to a close at some future point.

Data released by the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT exam, at the end of August suggests, however, that the end date for affirmative action is probably still a long way off.

Once again, Non-Hispanic whites and Asians scored significantly higher on the SAT than African-Americans and Hispanics, and the pattern of scores provides no evidence that the gap is closing.  Over 1.5 million college-bound seniors took the test, the largest number in history.

The SAT now consists of three sections — writing, critical reading, and mathematics — each of which is scored on a scale that ranges from 200 to 800.  Since April 1995, the targeted median score on each test has been 500 (rather than 450 as it was before).  Consequently, the range of combined scores is 600 to 2400, with an “average” score being 1500.  The actual average for the 2008-09 academic year was 1504, essentially the same as it was the previous year.

For the test as a whole, Asian students scored 1633 compared to 1581 for non-Hispanic whites, with most of the disparity resulting from a significantly higher mathematics score.  Other groups did not do nearly as well.  The scores of Native Americans and Eskimos averaged 1448; Hispanics, 1364; and African-Americans, only 1273.  Males of all races, who counted for only 46.5 percent of test takers, outscored females, 1523 to 1496.

Much of the discrepancy in racial performance is due to socio-economic factors that adversely affect black and Hispanic adolescents.  Low family incomes, single-parent homes, low levels of education in the family, and the lack of role models who have achieved academic success all contribute to poor test performance. For example, students of all races with family incomes of $200,000 or more averaged 1702 on the SAT; those with family incomes of below $20,000 scored 1321.  Students whose parents had at least one graduate degree averaged 1683; those who parents had not finished high school scored only 1281.

With this kind of disparity in SAT scores, only affirmative action programs can guarantee that African-Americans and Hispanics will be proportionally represented at America’s more selective colleges and universities.  Although we may reach Justice O’Connor’s sunset at some point, right now we are clearly still in the middle of the day.

The Beer Summit-A Restorative Justice Experience?

Posted on Categories Marquette Law School, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Popular Culture & Law, Race & Law, Uncategorized3 Comments on The Beer Summit-A Restorative Justice Experience?

art.beer.summit.afp.giAs I listened to the political pundits argue about the “beer summit” that occurred at the White House yesterday, I am amazed by the debate as to whether President Barrack Obama, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Lieutenant James Crowley really gave us “a teachable moment.” There is no doubt in mind that they did. The only question is what they and all of us learn from that moment. President Obama appears, perhaps intuitively, to have utilized restorative justice principles when he suggested this meeting. The men came together in a “safe environment” to respectively talk about the harm that was caused by the others, the impact it has had on many people, and how to proceed in a positive way to help heal the harm as each of them saw it. Those are the tenets of restorative justice. People getting together in a safe environment for a difficult conversation on identifying the people who have been harmed (in this case by the others), identifying that harm and how can the “offender(s)” and the community look forward and work to repair that harm.

We certainly could see much of the harm unfold on the news and talk shows. Professor Gates, a highly respected scholar, gets arrested in his own home by a white officer. He (and many others) believes he has been treated unfairly because of his race. The officer, who with his fellow officers, including an African-American, believes he was doing his job because he is investigating a possible home invasion and has a man, in his opinion, who is uncooperative and verbally abusive. And we have a highly respected president, who usually is extremely careful with his words, announce that despite the fact that he does not know all the facts, that the police acted “stupidly.” Then we went on to learn that Lucia Whalen, who called in the suspicious behavior at Dr. Gates’ home, is now receiving death threats and being called racist despite the fact that she never volunteered anything about race to the 911 operator. We can then imagine the harm to the Cambridge police department, the African-American community in the Boston area, the family members of everyone involved and then of course the harm to the thousands and thousands of others who experience the renewed pain of some bad police/community member relations all over this country. We have some political pundits characterizing all police as men and women who routinely engage in racial profiling (never acknowledging that never does an entire profession engage in bad behavior so that the “good cops” are thrown into the same description as the “discriminating cops.”) Those kinds of comments not only demoralize police departments but also devastate family members of law enforcement officers. We have once again publicly displayed acts of racism (a Boston officer writing a letter describing Professor Gates as “banana-eating jungle monkey”). We know that the wounds of racism and profiling in this country are justifiably deep and painful. And we have a president, who is trying to focus on our national health care crisis, in part because of his own words, being embroiled in these events. There is not a question in my mind that this was an opportunity for all of us to watch and learn a better way to move forward other than our continuous name calling. Continue reading “The Beer Summit-A Restorative Justice Experience?”

Law Professors Reflect on Brown v. Board of Education

Posted on Categories Legal History, Legal Scholarship, Marquette Law School, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Law Professors Reflect on Brown v. Board of Education

phoebewilliamsThe United States Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education is without question one of the most significant cases in modern constitutional law.  It was also a defining event in the lives of a generation of American law teachers.  Vanderbilt University Press has recently published Law Touched Our Hearts: A Generation Remembers Brown v. Board of Education (2009). The book, edited by Professors Mildred Robinson and Richard Bonnie of the University of Virginia, contains forty essays, each written by a law professor who discusses the way that his or her life was affected by the Brown decision.

The forty contributors vary considerably by gender, race, and ethnicity.  A majority, but only a majority, grew up in states where legally segregated schools existed at the time of the Brown decision.  Some are old enough to have remembered the day that the decision was handed down; others were born after it was already the law of the land.  But all, to one extent or another, believe that their personal and professional lives have been profoundly shaped by the Brown decision.

I read Law Touched Our Hearts with great interest.

Although I am too young to remember the actual announcing of the Brown decision — it was handed down two weeks before my second birthday — it was clearly a defining event in my life.  In 1956, my family moved from Giles County, Virginia, where I was born, to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.  Two years earlier, after an attempt to integrate the White Sulphur schools in response to Brown, the town and nation witnessed the first post-Brown, anti-integration riot in the United States which led the county school board to cancel the integration experiment after only one week.  In 1956, integration occurred a second time, this time as the result of a federal court order.  My mother started teaching at White Sulphur Elementary that fall, and when I started school there two years later the fate of integrated education seemed anything but certain.  In 1959, we moved back to Virginia where the schools were completely segregated, and I experienced integration a second time in 1964, when Giles County decided to voluntarily close its black schools and incorporate the entire black and white population into a single school system.  (Incredibly, Giles County was the first county in Virginia to do this.)

I was also interested in Law Touched Our Hearts because eight of the contributors are good friends of mine.  I can say, though, without fear of contradiction, that the most moving and most poignant essay in the entire collection is the one written by my Marquette colleague Phoebe Williams.  Phoebe’s essay, titled “Segregation in Memphis,” tells the story of her experiences as an 8-year old school child in segregated Memphis schools when the Brown decision was handed down.  Although the Brown edict was to be adopted with “all deliberate speed,” the “promises of Brown,” as Phoebe puts it “remained unrealized” in Memphis.  There had been no school integration in Memphis when Phoebe graduated from high school in 1963, and there would be none for years to come.  Her first experience with integrated education came when she enrolled at Marquette as an undergraduate.

Phoebe’s essay wonderfully captured the spirit of optimism that arose with the handing down of the Brown decision, as well as the disappointment that accompanied the failure of southern states to live up to its mandates.

I was already familiar with much of Phoebe’s account because of an appearance she made several years ago in a class on the History of the Civil Rights Movement that I was teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences.  I invited Phoebe to come speak to the class about her experiences growing in the era of segregation.  The students in the class were riveted by her presentation, even though most were northerners and had been born more than two decades after the Brown decision.  Many students later told me that Phoebe’s presentation was the highlight of the class.

I strongly recommend Law Touched Our Hearts to anyone interested in the history of civil rights in the United States, but I insist that anyone with any sort of Marquette connection should read Phoebe Williams’ contribution to the collection (pp. 123-134).

Parlow and Pilon Rumble in Room 325

Posted on Categories Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette3 Comments on Parlow and Pilon Rumble in Room 325

Yeah, that doesn’t quite recall the Ali-Foreman fight, but there was still a pretty good conversation between Dr. Roger Pilon and our own Professor Matt Parlow yesterday. Dr. Pilon argued that public sector affirmative action encroached upon libertarian principles (he does not believe that such efforts should be prohibited in the private sector) and the idea of equal protection. Professor Parlow argued for  such efforts, emphasizing the need, not only for diversity but, as the Supreme Court has not allowed, to ameliorate the impact of past discrimination. Thanks are in order to the Federalist Society and American Constitution Society for sponsoring the event.

Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection and Improper Closing Arguments

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Federal Criminal Law & Process, Federal Sentencing, Race & Law, Seventh CircuitLeave a comment» on Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection and Improper Closing Arguments

The Seventh Circuit had three new opinions in criminal cases last week.  The most interesting was United States v. McMath (No. 08-2316), which featured the Seventh Circuit’s most extended discussion to date of Snyder v. Louisana, 128 S. Ct. 1203 (2008).  In my view, the Supreme Court’s decision in Snyder represented a real break-through in the Court’s on-again/off-again efforts to eliminate racial bias from the jury-selection process.  In McMath (which was, coincidentally, decided on the exact one-year anniversary of Snyder), the Seventh Circuit seemed to recognize the significance of Snyder and awarded the defendant a remand for further consideration of the racial bias issue in the district court.  McMath also included an interesting discussion of questionable closing arguments made by the prosecutor.

McMath’s jury-selection claim centered on alleged racial bias in the prosecutor’s use of peremptory strikes.  In Batson v. Kentucky, of course, the Supreme Court made clear that prosecutors are prohibited from removing potential jurors from a case on account of their race.  Here are the relevant facts from McMath: Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Week in Review: Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection and Improper Closing Arguments”

Drug Courts, Racial Disparities, and Restorative Justice

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Legal Scholarship, Race & LawLeave a comment» on Drug Courts, Racial Disparities, and Restorative Justice

I have a new paper on SSRN dealing with drug courts, focusing particularly on their (poor) prospects as a mechanism to address racial disparities in the prison population.  Here is the abstract:

Specialized drug treatment courts have become a popular alternative to more punitive approaches to the “war on drugs,” with nearly 2,000 such courts now established across the United States. One source of their appeal is the belief that they will ameliorate the dramatic racial disparities in the nation’s prison population – disparities that result in large measure from the long sentences handed out for some drug crimes in conventional criminal courts. However, experience has shown that drug courts are not a “do-no-harm” innovation. Drug courts can produce both winners and losers when compared to conventional court processing, and there are good reasons to suspect that black defendants are considerably less likely to benefit from the implementation of a drug court than white defendants. As a result, drug courts may actually exacerbate, rather than ameliorate, racial disparities in the incarceration rate for drug crimes. Thus, the concerns of inner-city minority communities with the war on drugs may be better addressed through a different sort of innovation: a specialized restorative justice program for drug offenders. Although treatment may be part of such a program, the real centerpiece is the “community conferencing” process, which involves mediated dialogue and collective problem-solving involving drug offenders and community representatives. Where the drug treatment court gives a dominant role to criminal justice and therapeutic professionals, the community conferencing approach empowers lay community representatives, and is thereby capable of addressing some of the social capital deficits that plague inner-city minority communities with high crime and incarceration rates.

The article is forthcoming in the Stanford Law & Policy Review.

Meares on Race and Policing

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Race & Law, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Meares on Race and Policing

In delivering the first annual Barrock Lecture on Criminal Law yesterday, Yale Professor Tracey Meares set a high bar for future speakers.  (A webcast is available here, and a written version will appear in the summer issue of the Marquette Law Review.)  Tracey’s talk was a call for police to move from an emphasis on deterring crime through the threat of harsh punishment to a more holistic approach to crime control that includes promoting more positive attitudes towards the law and legal authorities.  She identified procedural justice — basically, treating people with fairness and respect — as an important component of the more holistic strategy.  Her particular concern lies with crime and policing in inner-city, minority neighborhoods, where punishment-alone approaches have resulted in shockingly high incarceration rates among young, poorly educated, African-American men.  Tracey argues that an approach combining punishment with procedural justice offers better prospects for reducing crime and improving the quality of life in these difficult environments, and points to her own work with Project Safe Neighborhoods in Chicago as an example of the violence-reduction that can be accomplished when the police engage with the community in new ways.

I recently made a similar argument that the same sorts of benefits might be derived from prosecutors paying more attention to procedural justice in plea bargaining.  (A copy of my article is available here.) 

As Tracey indicated in her talk, there is plenty of evidence indicating that deterrence has limited value as a crime-control strategy.  Continue reading “Meares on Race and Policing”

I Refer to the Woman with Whom You Have a Child But Who Is Not Your Wife (Hereafter “Baby Mama”)

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Race & Law, Wisconsin Court System, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process3 Comments on I Refer to the Woman with Whom You Have a Child But Who Is Not Your Wife (Hereafter “Baby Mama”)

Perhaps Professor O’Hear can straighten me out on this.

The decision of a divided Court of Appeals setting aside the sentence of Landray Harris has gotten a fair amount of play in the blogs and on talk radio. Put briefly, the court vacated the sentence because the sentencing judge, apparently frustrated by the defendant’s failure to get a job, referred to the defendant’s “baby mama” (who supports him) and wondered how “you guys” (referring to one out of four defendants who appeared before the court) find women who are willing to support them in idleness. One of the area’s most prominent African-American defense attorneys has come to the defense of the sentencing judge, suggesting that his comments grew out of conversations that they had over the years about the puzzling ability of ne’er-do-wells to find women who enable them.

MULS alum Tom Foley is derisive of the critics, suggesting that they have failed to understand the proper standard for evaluating such matters. He points out that the majority asked whether the sentencing remarks could suggest to a reasonable observer or a “reasonable person in the position of the defendant that the court was improperly considering Harris’s race?” Thus, Tom argues, the question to be answered is not what, say, Jeff Wagner would make of the judge’s remarks but how they would be perceived by an African-American defendant. Continue reading “I Refer to the Woman with Whom You Have a Child But Who Is Not Your Wife (Hereafter “Baby Mama”)”

A Heartbreaker Named Detroit

Posted on Categories Milwaukee, Race & Law1 Comment on A Heartbreaker Named Detroit

As a native Milwaukeean, Detroit breaks my heart. There are just a few cities that you can go to that you remind you of home. Chicago and Cleveland are the big two. Cincinnati is reminiscent, but a bit too southern. Detroit — or what used to be left of Detroit — was another. (Minneapolis is an entirely different kind of place.)

So pieces like Matt LaBash’s recent cover piece for the Weekly Standard disturb me. Websites like this one are fascinating and frightening chronicles of how bad urban decay can get. I have always thought that a conservatism that has no concern for places like the inner-city of Detroit is not a conservatism that I want to be part of.

But one cannot, I think, make a great city by litigation or subsidy. Here in Milwaukee, the ACLU has filed a complaint with the Federal Department of Transportation alleging that actions of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation in approving the certain aspects of the reconstruction of I-94, including the partial closure of a city interchange and the construction of a new suburban interchange, violate the anti-discrimination provisions of Title VI and its implementing regulations. It also complains of a decision to widen the freeway (which runs through the city) from six to eight lanes instead of using the money for commuter rail. Continue reading “A Heartbreaker Named Detroit”

Time for Racial Impact Statements in Wisconsin?

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Race & Law4 Comments on Time for Racial Impact Statements in Wisconsin?

As reported in the new issue of Sentencing Times, Iowa and Connecticut adopted new laws earlier this year that call for the preparation of racial impact statements as sentencing bills are working their way through the state legislative process.  In many states, it is already required that fiscal and environmental impact statements be prepared for new legislative proposals, but Iowa and Connecticut are the first to adopt a similar policy with respect to racial concerns.  This seems like a good idea for other states to consider–particularly states like Wisconsin with glaring racial disparities in their prison populations.  Of course, the fact that a sentencing proposal might exacerbate racial disparities would not (and should not) necessarily preclude its adoption, but the debate over such proposals would benefit from more self-conscious and well-informed attention to their racial impacts.