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Books: A Liberal Who Preached Restraint

Publication Date: 
January 05, 2013
The Wall Street Journal
Adam J. White

A 1995 quote by Professor Michael McConnell is cited by Adam J. White in this Wall Street Journal article referencing how the decision in Brown v. Board of Education serves as the bedrock rule of modern constitutional law. 

If modern constitutional law has a bedrock rule, it is this: Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided. To argue, even to imply, that the Supreme Court erred when it ended school segregation in 1954 is to exile oneself from respectable constitutional debate. "Such is the moral authority of Brown," constitutional scholar Michael McConnell wrote in 1995, "that if any particular theory does not produce the conclusion that Brown was correctly decided, the theory is seriously discredited."

Only one jurist has condemned Brown without losing his reputation, and he accomplished that feat only because he had established himself as one of the greatest judges in American history. In 1958, near the end of his half-century of service on the federal bench, New York's Judge Learned Hand used a Harvard lecture series to criticize what he saw as the Supreme Court's unprincipled judicial activism in desegregating the schools. Yet just three years later, no less a civil-rights champion than Bobby Kennedy would remark, upon Hand's death, that "he was one of the great legal minds of our history, ranking with John Marshall and Oliver Wendell Holmes."