Citing Slavery

47 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2020 Last revised: 19 Sep 2022

See all articles by Justin Simard

Justin Simard

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2020


The law of slavery is still good law. In the twenty-first century, American judges and lawyers continue to cite case law developed in disputes involving enslaved people. These cases provide law for a wide variety of subject areas. Judges cite slavery to explicate the law of contracts, property, evidence, civil procedure, criminal procedure, statutory interpretation, torts, and many other fields. For the most part, judges cite these cases without acknowledging that the cases grew out of American slavery and without considering that a case’s slave origins might lessen its persuasive authority. Nor do they examine the dignitary harms that the citation of slavery may impose. In citing slavery, lawyers thus demonstrate a myopic historical perspective that creates legal harms and reveals the ethical limitations of their profession. This Article illustrates the benefits a broader historical perspective can bring to bear on contemporary doctrinal issues. At a time when American groups and institutions from businesses to universities are coming to grips with the legacy of slavery, the legal profession has an obligation to do the same.

Keywords: slavery, law, citation, lawyers

Suggested Citation

Simard, Justin, Citing Slavery (January 1, 2020). Stanford Law Review, Vol. 72, No. 79, 2020, Available at SSRN:

Justin Simard (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States


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