Civil rights retreat is Supreme Court’s fault, scholar says

April 3, 2014 5:10 PM

Maggy Baccinelli

Chief Justice John Roberts wouldn’t hesitate to overrule a key Supreme Court precedent that allows affirmative action in higher education, constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky told a full-house audience at Tulane Law School on Monday (March 31).

Lecturer Erwin Chemerinsky

“My 34 years in law has taught me diversity is essential” in the legal profession, Erwin Chemerinsky told a Tulane audience. He is dean of the University of California–Irvine School of Law. (Photo by Linda P. Campbell)

Sixty years after the high court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racially separate schools are unconstitutionally unequal, U.S. education is more segregated, from the public schools up, he said.

“A good deal of blame should be on the Supreme Court,” he said.
Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California–Irvine School of Law, which he helped open in 2008, was delivering the McGlinchey Lecture on Federal Litigation at Tulane. The lecture series is named for Dermot S. McGlinchey, a leading insurance lawyer and civic activist who promoted equal access to the courts. He was a 1954 Tulane Law School alumnus.

Though Chemerinsky called himself an optimist, he offered somewhat bleak opinions on the future of affirmative action and voting rights. He criticized a 2013 decision that struck down a vital section of the Voting Rights Act. And he said he believes the Supreme Court “is on the verge” of eliminating consideration of race in higher education admissions as a means of student body diversity.
But that would have ramifications for the legal profession as well, he said.

“My 34 years in law has taught me diversity is essential in the profession. There is no way to achieve diversity (in admissions) through race-neutral means.”

Rather than having law schools compete for a limited pool of qualified students, efforts to increase diversity must start with educational preparation much earlier, Chemerinsky said.
UC–Irvine, for instance, offers a Saturday program through which ninth-graders receive instruction in reading, writing and speaking skills and the legal field. Participants have shown higher academic achievement and graduation rates, he said. Every law school could create something similar, he suggested.

Maggy Baccinelli is a communications specialist in the Tulane Office of Development Communications.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000