Constitutional Law Through an Anti-Racist Lens

When Dan Song transitioned from practicing law to teaching history at CPS, he brought with him a love of learning and a passion for the law. Dan has taught history courses for our younger and older students, but he finds his Constitutional Law elective especially rewarding. Read how it’s evolved to include the study of law through an anti-racist lens.

Q: As an educator, why do you feel it's relevant to look at constitutional law through an anti-racist lens? 

DAN: It’s relevant because the Constitution is the foundational document of this country, and it unequivocally sanctions slavery. Yet, the Constitution also contains words and ideas that would be used by generations of lawyers, activists, scholars, and ordinary people, to confront that racist legacy. The debate over the legacy of the Constitution is ongoing, but it is important for students (and really, everyone who resides in this country) to understand how the Constitution shapes the terms of the debate. If anti-racism is about creating policies and practices that foster equality, then it is essential that we examine this nation's original organizational policy - the Constitution - to see if, and how we can interpret or amend it in a more egalitarian way. 

Q: What changes have you made to your Constitutional Law class as it pertains to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

DAN: The course will place greater emphasis on employing critical race theory (CRT) in our analysis of constitutional law. In particular, focusing on how "race-blind" jurisprudence or the purported juridical equality of citizenship has perpetuated and even exacerbated discrimination and discriminatory outcomes. CRT also places great emphasis on how the law, which seeks to categorize people, is often ill-equipped to handle issues of intersectionality. We will explore those issues as well. From a topical perspective, the course will now spend more time focusing on rights emanating from the Bill of Rights and its incorporation into the 14th Amendment. Particularly new to this year's class, in light of renewed calls to scrutinize the criminal justice system, will be the inclusion of a unit on criminal procedure as it relates to the 4th and 5th Amendments. 

Q: What are some of the primary sources you'll be using in your class to help you in your anti-racist work?

DAN: Since we read mostly case law, I probably won't introduce many secondary sources, such as law review articles or books. However, Critical Race Theory: A Primer, by Khiara Bridges is a great overview text, especially as it relates to theory and intersectionality, and I plan introducing excerpts from it. With respect to case law, I'll definitely be introducing some cases that traditionally don't get covered, such as the Civil Rights Cases (1883), which gutted the Reconstruction-era Civil Rights Act; Ozawa (1922) and Thind (1923) which both deal with racist definitions of whiteness and immigration policy; Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960) and other racial gerrymandering cases; Batson v. Kentucky (1986) and JEB v. Virginia (1994) - race and gender-based peremptory challenges in jury selection; and Terry v. Ohio (1968) "stop and frisk." 
I'm really looking forward to examining these cases with students, because (with the possible exception of Terry) they're not often covered as foundational cases in Constitutional law, yet they were powerful in shaping societal norms and expectations. I'm hoping that by studying these cases along with the rest of our cases, the gatekeeping function the law has played in American history will reveal itself to students. And hopefully, they can walk away from this course with an understanding of how judges and the law can effectuate positive change in society.

The College Preparatory School

mens conscia recti

a mind aware of what is right