Vicki Lens

Publication Information

42 Mitchell Hamline Law Journal Of Public Policy and Practice 48 (2021)


This article revisits over sixty years of Supreme Court decisions that have affected the poor and racial minorities, using a novel approach that considers the synergistic relationship between different doctrinal areas rather than focusing on one area. Specifically, I appraise the Supreme Court’s doctrinal contributions from 1953 to the present across three foundational elements of social justice on behalf of the poor and people of color: the school integration cases under the Equal Protection Clause, a series of cases under the Fourth Amendment which sanctioned the police tactic of stop-and-frisk, and attempts to secure economic security for the poor through the Constitution under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. I find that the Warren Court, which is widely considered the most progressive court in U.S. history, failed in several respects. It damaged, rather than abetted, the cause of economic justice. And what it gave to Black children in terms of educational opportunity, it took away from their future selves, their adult community members, and their caretakers by facilitating the mass incarceration of Black men through the practice of stop- and-frisk. I also show how the conservative Courts that followed diluted any gains from this era. I conclude that the Supreme Court has been more foe than friend, and has abandoned, rather than protected, the poor and racial minorities. I draw from this history lessons for the present, including strategies for advancing social justice in the current political and legal environment.