In his article, which is an edited transcription of his symposium remarks, Professor Akhil Amar depicts Plessy v. Ferguson as one of the most reviled United States Supreme Court decisions of all time–and tries to explain why that is so. Indeed, he describes Plessy as a central case in an anti- or counter-canon of American law. This anti-canon, Amar notes, is made up of judicial decisions that stand in opposition to widely shared American values, such as equal opportunity and individual liberty.  Plessy, he states, is such a decision. In his remarks, Amar discusses Justice John Harlan’s lone dissent in Plessy, noting that Harlan understood the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution to mean that all citizens are equal under the law, but that the majority opinion in Plessy allowed for unequal treatment of a racial minority under the law. Professor Amar argues that Harlan had an integrationist vision at that time, which is one that we eventually see reflected in various canonic documents of American history and law, such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and Brown v. Board of Education.

 

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