A Lawyer Looks at Civil Disobedience: How Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Reframed the Civil Rights Revolution
26 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2014
Date Written: October 21, 2014
This essay reconstructs Lewis F. Powell, Jr.’s thoughts on the civil rights movement by focusing on a series of little-known speeches that he delivered in the 1960s lamenting the practice of civil disobedience endorsed by Martin Luther King, Jr. Convinced that the law had done all it could for blacks, Powell took issue with King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, impugning its invocation of civil disobedience and rejecting its calls for compensatory justice to make up for slavery and Jim Crow. Dismissive of reparations, Powell developed a separate basis for supporting diversity that hinged on distinguishing American pluralism from Soviet totalitarianism. Powell’s reasons for defending diversity are worth recovering today, not least because courts continue to misinterpret his landmark opinion in Regents v. Bakke, confusing the use of diversity in higher education with the compensatory goals of affirmative action, a project that Powell rejected.
Keywords: diversity, affirmative action, race, Powell, segregation, desegregation, schools
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