The U.S. government’s role in upholding the Jim Crow systems of laws that enforced racial segregation has long remained obscure. In recent years, however, it has become increasingly clear that the U.S. government did systematically support racial segregation and subordination, and this has fueled contemporary debate about the extent to which the government is responsible for repairing this legacy. The key legal question is whether the US Constitution can be understood to allow such reconciliation.
Opponents of remedies for slavery and systemic racism often insist that the Fourteenth Amendment — originally enacted to ensure equal citizenship for African Americans — does not compel measures to achieve equal citizenship. They argue instead that the amendment requires such remedies be dismantled in the name of colorblindness. In this lecture, Joy Milligan illuminates the constitutional constraints, possibilities, and obligations for the United States government to redress its historical role in racial subordination.