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The Gravitational Pull of Race on the Warren Court


Burt Neuborne


New York University School of Law

June 2011

The Supreme Court Review, Vol. 2010, No. 1, pp. 59-102, 2010
NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-39

Abstract:     
My thesis in this article is that concern over racial injustice and state institutional failure was so intense during the twenty-one, “Warren years,” from 1952-1973 that it played a significant role in shaping many of the most important constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court in areas as diverse as federalism, separation of powers, criminal law and procedure, freedom of speech, association, and religion, procedural due process of law, and democracy. I believe, as well, that at least some of the changes in constitutional doctrine that have taken place in the post-Warren era, such as the erosion of the exclusionary rule, the rebalancing of federal-state power, and the easing of restrictions on aid to parochial schools, reflect both a decrease in the intensity of the Court’s concern over racial injustice, and an increase in the legal system’s confidence in state and local institutions to act fairly in racially-charged settings. I begin with a summary of selected aspects of Warren Court constitutional doctrine having nothing directly to do with race, arguing that the Justices’ concerns over racial injustice and regional failure to deal fairly with race exercised a gravitational pull on the evolution of constitutional doctrine. I then turn briefly to whether such a gravitational pull should be cause for celebration, condemnation, or a shrug of the shoulders. Finally, I ask why, once the gravitational pull of race had ebbed, certain Warren Court constitutional precedents that appear to owe their genesis, at least in part, to concern over racial injustice and regional failure have flourished, while others have melted away.

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Date posted: June 3, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Neuborne, Burt, The Gravitational Pull of Race on the Warren Court (June 2011). The Supreme Court Review, Vol. 2010, No. 1, pp. 59-102, 2010; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-39. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1857157 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1857157

Contact Information

Burt Neuborne (Contact Author)
New York University School of Law ( email )
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
212-998-6172 (Phone)
212-995-4341 (Fax)
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