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2023 Enlund Scholar-in-Residence: Professor Paul Gowder, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law

Register for the 2023 Enlund Scholar-in-Residence Lecture.

The United States perceives itself as a republic of law, one in which power—especially government power—is closely regulated by rules rather than by the whims of the powerful. This ideal, known as "the rule of law," features prominently in American political debate and also in the face the United States presents to the outside world. 

Yet, the protections of our law have always been delivered unequally. At America's founding, the claim to respect property rights was paired with the open disregard of the prior claims to the land of Native American nations, including in a U.S. Supreme Court decision in which Chief Justice John Marshall openly declared that the relationship between the U.S. courts and Native Americans was one not of law but of conquest. Ideals like freedom and due process were paired with the most arbitrary relation of power in the history of the world, that of racialized chattel slavery.  

Even today, subordinated racial groups in segregated neighborhoods continue to be the victims of lawless power in the form of broken windows policing, under which officials claim the authority to minutely supervise the lives of those whose rights they purport to protect and to back up that supervision with hair-trigger violence.  And immigrants present themselves at the border to a legal system that purports to hold so-called "plenary power" over them—the brute right to decide on their fate without any meaningful legal constraints at all.  That doctrine that lay, thinly hidden, in the background of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to permit Donald Trump to implement his blatantly unconstitutional Muslim Ban at the start of his time in office.

Drawing from his latest book, THE RULE OF LAW IN THE UNITED STATES: AN UNFINISHED PROJECT OF BLACK LIBERATION, Professor Paul Gowder suggests that the right response to these circumstances is to understand America's claims to the rule of law as the product of struggle, a struggle primarily (though not exclusively) driven by the long movement for Black liberation spanning the abolition movement, the civil rights movement and the contemporary movement for Black lives. By telling the story of the development of the American rule of law—such as it is—through the lens of Black liberation, we can begin to see the shape of our constitutional ideals in their best form and the way to continue building them today. 

DePaul University College of Law is an accredited Illinois MCLE provider.  This event has been approved for up to one hour of CLE credit.  

Please register by April 11, 2023.  In-person attendance will be capped at 85 attendees; those who register after the room cap is met will receive a Zoom link just ahead of the event.    

No proof of vaccination is required of in-person guests and masks are optional.  However, DePaul is a mask-friendly university, and wearing a mask is highly recommended for all indoor spaces. These rules are subject to change in accordance with public health guidance.