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

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 Jones University...

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—...

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 no time 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...

Race, Liberalism, and Affirmative Action

In our Winter issue, Paul Starr argued that because the Supreme Court, with its changed membership, is now likely to overturn earlier decisions upholding affirmative action, liberals need to find "a new road to equal opportunity in America." He urged a two-pronged approach: policies to expand opportunity and security for low- to middle-income Americans of all races; and a program of institution-building in minority communities, including a new National Endowment for Black America, initially to be financed with private funds. Since views on this subject are so diverse and deeply held, we have invited responses from a number of writers representing different viewpoints. We asked them to address any or all of the following questions: (1) What do you see as the political future of affirmative action? (2) Are there other policies or approaches that you regard as feasible and as preferrable, acceptable, or necessary? (3) Does the United States owe black Americans distinctive obligations...