Keeping Up With Atiba: October 2017 Edition

This has been a busy fall semester for me, and it’s only the second week of October! For this fall, I am the Boden Visiting Professor of Law at Marquette University Law School. As part of my position I am participating in several local speaking events over the next few weeks. If you are in the Milwaukee area, I would love to see you at one of these events. If you are reading this post from afar, several of my talks will be available online (see below for details).

This has been a busy fall semester for me, and it’s only the second week of October! For this fall, I am the Boden Visiting Professor of Law at Marquette University Law School. As part of my position I am participating in several local speaking events over the next few weeks. If you are in the Milwaukee area, I would love to see you at one of these events. If you are reading this post from afar, several of my talks will be available online (see below for details).

Lecture on Gill v. Whitfordacs-logo
American Constitution Society
Thursday, October 12, 12:00 pm
Eckstein Hall, Room 363, Marquette University

I will be discussing the Gill v. Whitford case that was argued last week before the U.S. Supreme Court. I will also discuss how gerrymandering poses significant issues for the right to vote in the United States. Event details here.

What Are Athlete’s Rights? Part 1 – Activism SLS-B-W_69
National Sports Law Institute of Marquette University Law School’s Annual Conference: Maintaining the Integrity & Commercial Value of Sports While Protecting Athlete’s Rights
Friday, October 13, 3:05 – 4:15 pm
Eckstein Hall, Room 144

I have the privilege of participating in a panel discussion on athlete’s activism rights with both legal scholars and practicing sports law attorneys. In particular, I will be discussing the First Amendment context in which protests by athletes occurs and how the recent #TakeAKnee protest and similar contemporary activism against racism has shifted this discussion and unearthed underlying American dilemmas regarding race. Learn more at the conference website.

tedx-logoTEDxOshkosh performance: Using Memes to Break Out of Voter Fraud Talk
Saturday, November 4, 8 am – 6 pm
Grand Opera House in Oshkosh, WI

Voter fraud talk has dominated our last two elections, and policy makers and voters have divergent views of the problem. My talk will show us how the lens of memes can help us focus on the first principles of voting and the evidence around what makes voting effective.

To learn more and to register visit the TEDxOshkosh 2017 website. If you can’t attend, my talk will be available on the website after the event and I will post a link here and on Twitter and Facebook when it becomes available.

Lecture on Civil Rights issuesacs-logo
American Constitution Society
November 9, 12:15 pm
Marquette University. Building and room TBA.

The recent resurgence of the rhetoric of white supremacy and the open reveral of recent gains in antidiscrimination doctrine by the current administration has illustrated the importance of civil rights doctrine and the fragility of the constitutional consensus around American equality. At Marquette Law this semester, I have been teaching a course entitled “Contemporary Perspectives on Civil Rights,” which has explored through the lens of race the key principles behind this antidiscrimination consensus and the tensions in their application across a variety of legal contexts. My talk will explore some of these key principles and tensions and the likelihood of their continued applicability in the Era of Trump.

On the Issues: Voting Rights
November 16, 12:15 pm
Eckstein Hall, Marquette University

I will be speaking with Molly McGrath of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project. Together, we will discuss how voting laws have changed in recent years, and what impact those changes might be having on our elections. Since the 2010 election, more than 20 states have enacted new voting laws. They range from photo ID requirements, to limits on early voting, to changes in voter registration rules. Supporters of the changes say the goal of the legislation is to guarantee the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud. But opponents, such as McGrath and myself, say the new laws make it harder to vote, and have a disproportionate impact on minority communities.

Event is free, but registration is required. The talk might be live-streamed, so check back here and on my social media accounts for details.

Teaching Dred Scott in the Era of Trump

I taught Dred Scott v. Sanford this week. As a teacher and scholar of civil rights, it’s my job to teach the constitutional canon and how Dred Scott, and cases fairly called its progeny, misshaped our idea of equality. And while it is unsurprising to teach this canon in a course at Marquette Law on “Contemporary Perspectives on Civil Rights,” or in any civil rights or constitutional law course, what was different this time is that I taught Dred Scott for the first time in the Era of Trump.

Of course, I’ve taught the case before in first-year Property, in my Race Racism & American Law seminar, in public lectures at WVU Law, and in seminars on three different continents. I’ve written about Dred Scott in articulating my view of “tiered personhood” and blogged about its contemporary relevance. And it is fair to say that, after teaching for over 10 years, on some level, I was used to rehearsing the case often called “pure constitutional evil.”

But this time was different.

I walked into class, ready with my practiced confrontation of this intellectual monument to Chief Justice Roger Tawny. And after answering follow-up questions from last class about a case that enforced the racial classification system on which slavery depended, I began Dred Scott by reminding my students that we were studying the origin story of American white supremacy.

But before opening the casebook, I recalled that a student suggested we frame the conversation by watching a recent viral video of Univision News journalist Ilia Calderón. I had attempted to show the video in the class prior, but due to technical difficulties, this video prefaced our discussion of Dred Scott—which was not my original plan but proved more than appropriate for discussing the case in today’s political climate.

After the video ended, I found myself dumbstruck. This Klansman and his wife had the audacity to claim his superiority based purely on the color of his skin (which echoed the race classification cases from last class). He called her a “mongrel” and a “n**ger” and threatened to burn her out of his land. And despite their claims of racial superiority, religious exceptionalism, and entitled grievance, accompanied by threats of rebellion against a government that attacks their heritage and takes their stuff, the couple claimed they are not racist and the Klan is not a hate group.

In that moment, I remembered that Dred Scott is more than precedent. It is the anti-gospel of slavery, echoed anew by this Klansman, as an effort to tell Ms. Calderón (and all of us who can imagine her situation) to keep our place or be ready to burn. My own anger welled up, and my sadness too because that Klansman’s words reminded me of the times I had been called “n**ger” by white people, or told during an internship that “deliveries were around back,” or called “Big boy” by a white senior partner in front of my peers. Watching this Klan couple’s loathing reminded me that their hearts are full of twisted grievance and their minds are the heirs of the racial hierarchy enforced by Dred Scott.

To calm myself after the video ended, I had to let silence overcome the room. As far as I could tell, the students felt some mix of anger, pity, and shock. After this pause, I explained in both legal and moral terms that the structures of racism and the ideology of white supremacy cannot be thought of in isolation. The anti-gospel of the Klan and the words of Chief Justice Tawney must be thought of as parts of a whole.

Indeed, to read Dred Scott is to read a blueprint for structural racism. American citizenship is defined to exclude all black people. Slaves are a property that can be treated with near impunity. People of color do not belong in the American political community. A black person was “so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” These are the lessons of Dred Scott, which followed through on the seeds sown in the Constitution of 1789, and which took amendment and 160 years of activism, struggle, and needless death to reverse.

And though the law has changed, the reversal is incomplete. This era—these times we live in now—echo that evil. The boundaries of personhood continue to be drawn to exclude not only race, but also gender and sexual orientation. The borders of the political community are being redrawn to wall off children who live up to the egalitarian American creed but have imperfect immigration status. The Klan and Nazis march with the impunity offered through mealy-mouthed accommodation from the White House. The structures of mass incarceration, disenfranchisement, and police brutality were built according to the same blueprint of white supremacy as Dred Scott, yet there are those who defend these still-functional monuments to slavery and Jim Crow as “law and order.”

Dred Scott and its ideological and doctrinal progeny are still with us. As much as we have moved away from being an apartheid state, as much as we have asserted through the Constitution and laws that we believe in equality, there are those of us who, by their torches, their twisted ideologies, and their policies seek to bring us back to that time. Their fire and fury—both cultural and legal—still try to burn out equality in the name of nativism and racial superiority. This is the era in which we live.

Keeping Up With Atiba: New Years Edition

Happy New Year, and welcome to the first Keeping Up With Atiba installment of 2017! This month I am presenting at two conferences, and I hope you will be able to join me.

Association of American Law Schools (AALS)

This weekend I will be moderating the Minority Groups section’s panel, “Presidential Politics and the Future of the Supreme Court: Post-Election Reflections and Forecasts for the ‘Post-Racial’ Post-Obama White House” (Co-Sponsored by Constitutional Law & Election Law). This promises to be a lively and important discussion. aals-meeting-2017

Description
The 2016 presidential campaign has been characterized as one of the most contentious and surprising in history. This program explores how the landscape of presidential politics has uncovered deep divides among the American population. According to some, the gender, class, and racial representation of the presidential candidates added multidimensional complexity to the task of deciphering the contemporary effects of this divisiveness. The long battle to the White House has ignited heated national conversations on race, immigration, and counterterrorism policy, as well as debates on gun, voting, and reproductive rights. Moreover, Justice Scalia’s death at the height of the campaign season opened the door to an examination of the role of campaign and identity politics in the Supreme Court nomination process. Distinguished experts on race and the law, election law, national security, constitutional law, and immigration, among other areas, offer their reflections on the 2016 presidential election and the new administration, particularly Supreme Court nomination process and what we might expect (or hope for) under the new administration.

Location
Saturday, January 7, 10:30 am – 12:15 pm
Hilton San Francisco Union Square
Continental Ballroom 6, Ballroom Level, Hilton

Speakers
Jennifer M. Chacon, University of California, Irvine School of Law
Guy-Uriel E. Charles, Duke University School of Law
Bertrall Ross, University of California, Berkeley School of Law
Shirin Sinnar, Stanford Law School
Franita Tolson, Florida State University College of Law

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

For the second year in a row, I will participate in Washington and Lee University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day events. I will be part of a panel on voting rights entitled “The 2016 Presidential Election: Voting Rights in a ‘Post-Racial’/’Post-Civil Rights’ Era.”

Location
Monday, January 16, 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Millhiser Moot Courtroom, Washington and Lee University School of Law

Speakers
Chris Seaman (Moderator), Associate Professor of Law, Washington and Lee University School of Law
Atiba Ellis, Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law
Luis Fuentes-Rohwer, Professor of Law and Harry T. Ice Faculty Fellow, Indiana University Maurer School of Law
Mark Rush, Director of International Education and Waxberg Professor of Politics and Law, Washington and Lee University School of Law

Mid-Atlantic People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference (MAPOC)

Later this month I will participate in this year’s MAPOC conference “Legal and Political Change During the Obama Era.” I will speak as part of the panel “Election 2016: Revelations and Responses” where I am looking MAPOC Convention graphic of Obamaforward to reflecting on the open, online class discussion I held at West Virginia University the day
after the the presidential
election.

Location
Saturday, January 28, 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm
The George Washington University Law School, Washington DC