Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Over the course of two centuries, constitutional law has evolved as both a source and ratification of moral development. The processes of constructing and interpreting the nation's charter have established a unique window through which it is possible to glimpse the fundamental concerns of bygone and present eras and to observe the competition of values and ordering of priorities that define the society. A survey of the complete record discloses innumerable conflicts of law and morality that have arisen, been resolved, and exist now primarily as historical reference points. It also reveals significant business that remains unfinished. Even as the nation has developed and reinvented itself, fundamental problems of race have endured as a seemingly immutable and intractable feature of its cultural landscape. Race was a crucial factor when the union was formed, and later when it ruptured and was reconstructed. It has persisted as an agent of profound division, confoundment, and nonresolution.

Racial progress in the United States is characterized by an evolutionary process that has yet to work through its final stage. From the abolition of slavery, the nation has lifted the comprehensive burdens on personal liberty that followed emancipation, dismantled segregation, and advanced to the point of at least suspecting and probably prohibiting any racial preference. Fundamental law has developed to preclude formal discrimination, but generally has stopped short of accounting for subtle or unconscious racism.' Further evolution of law and morality, to the point of a final reckoning with the surviving aspects of racism, necessitates attention not just to the law's letter, interpretation, or even redirection. Formal legal change, as meaningful as it has been and difficult as it was to achieve, has evidenced its limited capacity as a means toward broad spectrum and deep-seated reform.