If you’ve been following the reparations movement of late, you’ve likely seen talk of the lawsuits filed back in 2002 in federal courts around the country. They were consolidated in the Northern District of Illinois in front of Judge Norgle. The name of the case was In re African American Slave Descendants Litigation. Whew, that’s a mouthful.
Lolita Buckner Inniss of Cleveland State University’s Law School has recently posted a paper analyzing Judge Norgle’s 2006 opinion dismissing the case. (So maybe I should have titled this post, Buckner Inniss on anti-reparations rhetoric.) Her abstract is as follows:
In this paper I apply critical legal rhetoric to the judicial opinion rendered in response to the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Second Amended and Consolidated Complaint in ‘In Re African American Slave Descendants’, a case concerning the efforts of a group of modern-day descendants of enslaved African-Americans to obtain redress for the harms of slavery. The chief methodological framework for performing critical legal rhetorical analysis comes from the work of Marouf Hasian, Jr. particularly his schema for analysis which he calls substantive units in critical legal rhetoric. Critical legal rhetoric is a potent tool for exposing the way in which the public ideologies of society and the private ideologies of jurists, legislators and other legal actors are manifested in legal and law-like pronouncements. After introducing this case, I briefly tracing the evolution and meaning of the term rhetoric and examine the relationship between rhetoric and law. I next explore the connection between rhetoric and ideology, which is crystallized in the form of the ideograph and its use as a tool of what is known as critical rhetoric. Finally, I show how critical legal rhetoric is achieved by bringing critical rhetoric to law, and thereafter apply critical legal rhetoric to the case of ‘In Re African American Slave Descendants’.
You can download the paper here for free.
By Dr. Alfred Brophy
Like everyone else this spring, I’ve been captivated by politics. One of the things that interests me about Senator Obama’s campaign (and particularly his Philadelphia speech on race) is how he’s talking about moving beyond our current attitudes towards race–and perhaps changing our approach towards affirmative action. In the his Pennsylvania debate, he seemed to be moving away from affirmative action based on race and more towards affirmative action based on measures of economic need. (He observed that his daughters did not need affirmative action, but some poor white children do.)
So this leads me to all sorts of questions about where an Obama presidency would head on issues like affirmative action and reparations. Politically, the reparations movement is a non-starter. Something like 5% of white people are in favor of reparations. So if I were giving any advice to a political candidate, I’d say “stay away!” And I think that’s what everyone’s doing.
However, I also think that reparations movement has contributed a lot to discussion about race–in both parties. President Bush’s speech at Goree Island in 2003, where he acknowledged the long road we still have ahead, is one product of the discussion of reparations in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So while the movement hasn’t made a ton of progress directly, I think it’s helped shape how we all talk–and perhaps how we think as well.
But perhaps the movement–having made important contributions to the public debate–is now shifting. Maybe we’re going to a new place politically, where race is less of a factor and need plays a great role. Perhaps what we’ll see is a renewed call for “Great Society” social welfare programs, where people who’ve been left behind, who haven’t had been able to share fully in the bounties our country has to offer, are given a greater opportunity to participate. People of all races may have more opportunities for head start programs, better elementary and secondary schools, better health care. We’ll see, but maybe that will be the legacy of the reparations movement.
(I talk a bunch more about this in Reparations Pro and Con.)
Dr. Alfred Brophy is a professor of law.