Reconstruction in Legal Theory

11 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2019

Date Written: April 4, 2019


Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Era did not make a significant appearance in legal theory until the eve of Brown v. Board of Education. The reconstruction accomplished by legal theory was internal to legal theory itself, as it was in philosophy as a whole. Methods of judicial review and processes of legal reasoning came in for criticism and revision, just as the aims and methods of philosophy did so. Legal theory took a turn towards legal positivism and legal realism, neither of which had much patience with the normative claims underlying civil rights. Nor did philosophy as it fell under the influence of logical positivism and its skepticism of normative claims generally. This essay describes this historical pattern, in which the neglect of civil rights in legal theory paralleled the neglect in constitutional law, only to be suddenly transformed by Brown v. Board of Education. Civil rights went from the status of a neglected stepchild in legal theory to the heir apparent of judicial review. Legal theories could no longer ignore principles of racial equality but instead had to take them as axiomatic.

Keywords: Reconstruction, Legal Theory, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Jurisprudence

Suggested Citation

Rutherglen, George A., Reconstruction in Legal Theory (April 4, 2019). Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2019-20, Available at SSRN:

George A. Rutherglen (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-7015 (Phone)
434-924-7536 (Fax)

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