As part of our annual Law Day celebration, we welcomed moderator Carrie Johnson, Justice Correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), who led an informative and lively panel discussion on equality. The program, “The Movement in America for Civil and Human Rights,” was developed to correspond with the American Bar Association’s national theme, “Realizing the Dream, Equality for All.” Each year, the ABA develops a theme in an effort to draw attention to both the principles and practice of law and justice. This year’s event marked the 150th Anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th Anniversary of the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Panelists at the May 1 event included Risa L. Goluboff, Professor of Law and History at the University of Virginia and Scholar in Residence at the Library’s John W. Kluge Center; Kirk Rascoe, Director of Opportunity, Inclusiveness, and Compliance at the Library of Congress; Jeffrey Rosen, Professor of Law at The George Washington University and Legal Affairs Editor of The New Republic; and Theodore M. Shaw, Office Counsel to Fulbright & Jaworski LLP and Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia University School of Law.
Moderator Johnson spurred discussion around the central issue of the event: whether we are close to realizing the dream of equality. The question is quite timely. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering two major race-related cases this term, with potential implications for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and affirmative action on college campuses. Broadly, the panelists were urged to consider whether our common definition of “equality for all” is expanding to include the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual (LGBT) community, a right to gay marriage, and people with disabilities.
The panelists began the discussion with the definition of equality, both in terms of formal and informal equality. Formal equality refers to equality under the law while informal equality is reflected in cultural and socio-economic disparities. The definition has evolved since the Civil War to include equality based on gender, sexual orientation and wealth. Over the past two decades, the United States has expanded the definition further into the realm of access issues related to physical disabilities, educational abilities and the digital divide.
Next, the discussion turned to the relationship between the courts and civil rights activists. With the U.S. Supreme Court considering two race-related cases this term – one related to the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the second centered on college campuses and affirmative action, the panelists responded to Johnson’s inquiry into what these cases tell us about the state of equality going forward. Will higher education institutions and the electorate find other avenues to achieve equality even if the Court strikes down these two cases? The panelists developed a consensus of concern that certain sections of the Voting Rights Act may be at risk, while some argued we cannot rely upon the courts alone to uphold equality-that there is still a role for civil rights activists.
To round out the discussion, Johnson asked the panelists to predict how the concept of equality will change over the next twenty-five (25) years. It has expanded already to include the LGBT community, a right to gay marriage, people with disabilities, and the current focus on the immigrant community. The panelists identified freedom from digital surveillance as a potentially burgeoning civil liberties issue and one connected to the right to protest.
We thank Carrie Johnson and the panelists for a very informative and thought-provoking discussion.
As mentioned in last week’s pic of the week post, the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, handwritten by President Abraham Lincoln was placed on display at the close of the program for a period of thirty (30) minutes. Michelle Krowl, Historian with the Library’s Manuscript Division, was on hand to answer questions from the onlookers.
The draft was recently on display in “The Civil War in America” exhibition, which runs through Jan. 4, 2014, in the Southwest Exhibition Gallery of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E. in Washington, D.C. The exhibition is free and open to the public, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Update: The event video was added below.