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. His several books include The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.

Recent Articles

The Bush Court

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Four of the nine justices currently on the Supreme Court are at least 65 years old. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the last of the Nixon appointees, is 75. Justice John Paul Stevens, a Ford appointee, is 79. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a Reagan appointee, is 69. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee, is 66 and recently underwent surgery for colon cancer. One cannot, of course, be definite here. Thurgood Marshall served for a decade after many observers thought that poor health would force him to resign. And one does not wish to be funereal. Still, the next president will almost certainly appoint three, maybe even four, justices to what is now a closely divided Supreme Court. He or she will thus significantly shape the course of federal constitutional law for the first several decades of the new century. A turnover of only one or two seats could have major repercussions across a wide range of areas including abortion rights, affirmative action, and the place of religion...

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?

As Democrats’ most loyal constituency, blacks have rallied around the President during his political crisis, even (some argue) going so far as to confer on him honorary black status. Maybe blacks are selling their political capital too cheaply.

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...