Author, Panel Mark Georgetown's Constitution Day
September 20, 2010 – America’s old Jim Crow laws are not unlike today’s mass incarcerations of African Americans, civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander said on Constitution Day at Georgetown’s Law Center.
Alexander, a professor at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, was honored Sept. 17 at with the Constitutional Commentary Award for her new book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
The award is given annually by the Constitution Project for a work deemed to improve the quality of public discourse on a constitutional question.
Alexander has spent years working with people of color who came home from prison only to be denied housing and employment and the right to vote.
“I came to see that mass incarceration in the United States does function as a comprehensive and well-disguised system of social control … strikingly similar to Jim Crow,” she said.
Terrorism and Justice
Georgetown law professor David Cole led a Constitution Day panel on terrorism and the right to a fair trial.
“We ask … whether the rules for justice changed on 9/11 -- or whether they should change going forward to accommodate realities and threats that became apparent on 9/11,” Cole said.
Panelists included former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore; Todd Hinnen, deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Security Division; Denny LeBoeuf of the American Civil Liberties Union; and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
While the panelists agreed America must maintain its security while not giving up civil liberties, they had different views of how that should be done.
New Vs. Old Rules
LeBoeuf argued that creating different rules for suspected terrorists would amount to “new rules for sets of people, not sets of crimes.”
She noted America’s mistreatment of African Americans and Native Americans throughout history as well as German and Japanese Americans during World War II.
“These are not heartwarming examples … of selecting a group and making new rules,” said LeBoeuf, who directs an ACLU project defending Guantanamo detainees. “We shouldn’t have done it then, and we shouldn’t do it now.”
Gilmore questioned whether current law addresses the unprecedented challenges of terrorism, and recommended looking beyond the criminal justice system and military tribunals to bring suspected terrorists to justice.
“There’s something new here that we’re confronting,” he said. “There’s a tendency to go back to the old ways of doing things and say, ‘Well let’s just fit this into it.’ I don’t know that we can.”
The Constitution Day events were co-sponsored by the Constitution Project and the Georgetown Center on National Security and the Law.