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 and is completing a book on race relations and the Obama presidency.

Recent Articles

Contempt of Court

T he U.S. Supreme Court's intervention into the presidential election was and is a scandal. Five right-wing justices used the flimsiest of pretexts to block the Florida vote recount. Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Company are typically unmoved by alleged Equal Protection Clause violations (except when the plaintiffs are whites charging so-called reverse discrimination). In George W. Bush et al. Petitioners v. Albert Gore, Jr., et al., however, they created a new right to uniform treatment in ballot counting. Typically, these conservative justices insist that every benefit of the doubt be accorded to state judges interpreting state law. Indeed, they are usually so deferential to state judges that they have been willing even to countenance the executions of prisoners rather than encroach even a bit on the perceived prerogatives of state courts. In Bush v. Gore, however, Rehnquist, Justice Antonin Scalia, and Justice Clarence Thomas asserted that the Florida Supreme...

Confirmation of Dishonesty:

The Senate confirmation hearings on the proposed appointment of John Ashcroft as attorney general offered little respite from a season of political bad news. First, it seems clear now that, barring some unforeseen last-minute development, Ashcroft will be confirmed. This alone would be bad enough -- a conjoining of fearsome power with reactionary politics. The Office of the Attorney General makes all manner of crucial decisions regarding the administration of justice that are beyond the power of the press, the Congress, the White House, or the courts to oversee effectively on an ongoing basis. And John Ashcroft, despite his sudden amiability and professed concern with protecting the rights of all Americans, is a militant, indeed truculent, right-winger. He is hostile to women's rights over their reproductive capacities and hostile to the aspirations of gays and lesbians who seek equitable treatment. He is friendly with anti-black bigots such at the authorities at Bob...

Is He a Soul Man?

On Black Support for Clinton

A large percentage of black Americans have supported President Bill Clinton with remarkable intensity in his darkest moment of political and legal peril. It is as if, in his vulnerability, he had become more attractive. "We are going to the wall for this President," Henry Louis (Skip) Gates, Jr., declared in August 1998 on Martha's Vineyard, at a ceremony mainly organized by luminaries of the black Establishment: folks such as Charles Ogletree, Christopher Edley, and Leon Higginbotham. In the months since then, black politicians—especially Democratic members of the House of Representatives like John Conyers, Maxine Waters, and Charles Rangel—have been among the most aggressively outspoken defenders of the President. But black support for Clinton reaches way beyond Martha's Vineyard or Harvard Square or the Congressional Black Caucus. It reaches deep into the ranks of teachers, cabbies, police officers, janitors, barbers, carpenters, and beauticians. No racial group—and maybe no group...

Orphans of Separatism: The Painful Politics of Transracial Adoption

Liberals' misguided efforts to respect race may harm children -- and deepen racial intolerance.

N o issue more highlights feelings of ambivalence over the proper place of racial distinctions in American life than the delicate matter of transracial adoptions. Opponents of such adoptions insist that allowing white adults to raise black children is at worst tantamount to cultural genocide and at best a naive experiment doomed to failure. In most states, custom reflects and reinforces these beliefs; public policy, formally or informally, discourages cross-racial adoptions or foster placements, to the point where thousands of children are denied placement in loving homes. Now one of the Senate's leading liberals is compounding the damage with a well-intentioned but badly misguided bill titled the Multiethnic Placement Act. Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio sees his bill as a deft compromise. On the one hand, the bill prohibits state agencies or agencies that receive funds from the federal government from completely barring or unduly delaying transracial child placements, either for...

The Political Court

After a decade of court-packing, now is not ime to pretend the courts are apolitical.

P resident Clinton will likely have the opportunity to fill several vacancies on the Supreme court. How should he go about doing it? Although the president should look to a variety of considerations, by far the most important is a prospect's substantive political commitments. By substantive political commitments, I mean a prospect's stance towards the central, inescapable, politically significant controversies of our time. In the 1850s, a presidnet should definitely have wanted to know where a prospect stood on the slavery question; in the 1930s, where a prospect stood on the New Deal; in the 1960s, where a prospect stood with respect to the civil rights revolution. Today President Clinton should aquire knowledge that will let him know in detail and with confidence where a prospective nominee stands on all of the most vexing issues that trouble our society including reproductive freedom, race relations, freedom of expression, and the status of religion in a secular society. To acquire...