This column is the first in a series from Nota Bene on race, civil rights, and the presidency. Members of the law school community are encouraged to share their thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or at notabene.gwsba.com.
Hello Dean Lawrence. Thank you for taking the time to complete this interview about Civil Rights, Race and the American Presidency with Nota Bene. Would you tell us a bit about your role here at GW Law?
I have been Dean of the Law school since 2005. Since arriving at GW Law I have taught criminal law. While I was a Professor at Boston University in addition to criminal law I taught civil rights courses including a course in civil rights enforcement, and a seminar on civil rights crime.
What does the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States mean for the Civil Rights movement going forward?
It was a historic moment for Barack Obama to be elected President. In the first two months of his Presidency, race has not been much of an issue because President Obama ran to become President; not a Black President. His election was a watershed moment but not the end of the civil rights movement. The idea that Barack Obama was running for President without emphasizing his race was evident during the campaign and since the election. He is just our President, not our "Black President".
How do you think the 2008 elections have influenced race relations in the Washington, D.C. community?
In many ways it has enhanced the level of investment and engagement by the African American community. A sense of ownership that is extremely positive is a better way to put it. I will give an example. During the weekend before the inauguration, GW Law hosted its largest gathering of Black alumni ever. This turnout was largely a result of this sense of ownership and engagement in society.
Will President Obama's minority status influence the Supreme Court's perspective concerning affirmative action policies?
There has been a lot of talk about this topic. I do not think so. There has been discussion over the past few years about the extent to which affirmative action will get phased out as racial equality is reached. The election of President Obama was a significant event moving us towards equality. Not the achievement
of equality, just progression towards it. The election of President Obama will not cause a wholesale change in the affirmative action jurisprudence of the
Could the financial crisis have a negative impact on race relations in the United States if public support for President Obama decreases?
No. No one blames President Obama for the financial crisis. Some people oppose the approach he is taking. Most people approve. The financial crisis is
not a question that has been racialized. When people think about his approach to the crisis, they think of President Obama and other political actors like Secretary Geitner, Larry Summers, and Ben Bernanke. This is not a Black response to the financial crisis as much as the Obama administration response to the financial crisis. Opposition to President Obama concerning the financial crisis will not be because of race; it will be because of the administration's policies.
What is the most controversial legal issue you foresee arising during the Obama Presidency and why?
I think the most controversial legal issues will involve the expansion of the federal government into the economy. In many ways the financial crisis is
another example of the way in which the issues we focus on during campaigns are not the issues that occupy the administration. During the campaign we talked about national security, abortion, and stem cell research among other issues. However, these will not be the most controversial issues. Rather it will be the expansion of the federal government and the constitutional issues that raises.