Randall Kennedy

Randall Kennedy has been a contributing editor of the Prospect since 1995. He is the Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard University. His several books include The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.

Recent Articles

The Enduring Relevance of Affirmative Action

When diversity became a positive, race-based preferences overcame the backlash.

President Barack Obama talks with former President Bill Clinton. (White House Photo/Pete Souza)
One of the most notable accomplishments of liberalism over the past 20 years is something that didn't happen: the demise of affirmative action. Contrary to all predictions, affirmative action has survived. This is a triumph not only for race relations but also for the liberal vision of an inclusive society with full opportunity for all. In the early 1990s, the future of policies aimed at assisting racial minorities seemed bleak indeed. In 1989, the Supreme Court invalidated an affirmative-action plan for government contracts in Richmond, Virginia, holding that such programs at the state and local level must be subject to "strict scrutiny" -- the same level of skeptical assessment applied to laws or decisions that had historically disadvantaged racial minorities. That same year, the Court issued decisions that neutered the concept of "disparate impact" as a form of racial discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Disparate impact required employers not only to...

Affirmative Reaction

In racial matters, good news from the Supreme Court is generally no news. Since at least the mid-1970s, the Court has been mostly inhospitable to those seeking to advance progressive racial policies through litigation. That is why civil-rights activists often deliberately keep potentially far-reaching cases away from the High Court. In a revealing episode in 1997, for example, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and other organizations, rather than risk an adverse judgment by the justices, pooled hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay the settlement costs demanded by a white schoolteacher who had initiated a reverse-discrimination lawsuit. There was a time when Congress could be a counterweight to the Court's rollbacks. In the early 1980s, when the Supreme Court narrowed its previous interpretation of the 15th Amendment's prohibition against racial discrimination in elections, activists pushed successfully for legislation that partially regained what the justices took away. In the late...

White Parents, Black Children

Gift Children: A Story of Race, Family, and Adoption in a Divided America By J. Douglas Bates. Ticknor & Fields, 270 pages, $21.95 Secret Thoughts of an Adoptive Mother By Jana Wolff. Andrews and McMeel Publishing, 148 pages, $12.95 Loving across the Color Line: A White Adoptive Mother Learns about Race By Sharon E. Rush. Rowman & Littlefield, 190 pages, $23.95 W hites who adopt black children are widely viewed with suspicion. Are they adopting black youngsters to satisfy some neurotic need? Are they more interested in demonstrating political virtue than in pursuing the prosaic tasks of parenthood? Are they so desperate to raise a child that they will accept a black one though they would really prefer a white one? Are they dangerously naive about the realities of racism? Are they racial missionaries seeking to "save" black children from blackness? Are they trying to obtain juvenile slaves? Moreover, as if the suspicions of strangers were not enough to contend with, white...

State of the Debate: The Case Against "Civility"

Can't we all just get along? Not when "civility" is just a genteel way to mask the inevitable tensions and antagonisms of democratic society.

Many people believe that we are in the midst of what Stephen L. Carter calls a "civility crisis." Judith Rodin, the president of the University of Pennsylvania, calls it a "nuclear explosion of incivility." Newspapers and magazines publish articles with titles like "Civility in Politics: Going, Going, Gone" ( New York Times ) and "Whatever Happened to Good Manners?" ( Washington Post ). And even public opinion polls report that between half and three-quarters of the public believes that incivility is a serious social problem. People think of a wide variety of virtues when they speak of "civility" and of a correspondingly broad assortment of sins when they refer to "incivility." Civility typically connotes courtesy, respectability, self-control, regard for others—a willingness to conduct oneself according to socially approved rules even when one would like to do otherwise. For many it means treating one's antagonists with a modicum of respect (even if one abhors them). Incivility...

In Extremis

T he confirmation of John Ashcroft as attorney general conjoins fearsome power with reactionary politics. The attorney general makes crucial decisions regarding the administration of justice that are beyond the power of the press, Congress, the White House, or the courts to oversee effectively on an ongoing basis. And Ashcroft, despite his sudden amiability and professed concern with protecting the rights of all Americans, remains a militant--indeed, truculent--right-winger. He is hostile to women's reproductive rights and to the aspirations of gays and lesbians who seek equitable treatment. He is friendly with antiblack bigots, such as the authorities at Bob Jones University --and friendly, too, with the fanatical wing of the gun lobby. The Ashcroft hearings were suffused with deception. The strategy behind Ashcroft's "confirmation conversion" from fundamentalist tribune to restrained public servant is clear: Say what you must to gain enough votes for...