Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Sawyer in BC Legal History Roundtable

[We have the following announcement from our friends at Boston College.]

We invite you to join us on Thursday, April 11, at 4:30 in the Rare Book Room for our third event of the spring semester of the BC Legal History Roundtable 2018-2019.   Our guest will be Logan Sawyer, Professor of Law, University of Georgia.   He will be presenting a paper, "Originalism from the Soft Southern Strategy to the New Right: The Constitutional Politics of Sam Ervin Jr."

The paper will be available soon on the Roundtable website.  (Instructions for accessing the paper are in the final paragraph of the website introduction.)
Between 1954 and 1974 there was no more prominent advocate of originalism in political life than North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin, yet he is invisible in accounts of the theory’s past. Ervin’s embrace of originalism, however, deserves more attention than this because it shows the theory is more than an academic response to the perceived excesses of the Warren Court and more than a tool to advance the constitutional concerns of the New Right. The Reagan Administration’s embrace of originalism in the 1980s undoubtedly propelled the theory to new heights, but Ervin shows how originalism helped create the New Right coalition.

As one of the primary architects of the segregationist ‘soft southern strategy,’ Ervin used originalism both to criticize the Warren Court and to justify opposition to civil rights legislation. He did not, however, find originalism an established theory of constitutional interpretation, ready-made for those purposes and he used the theory to do more than cloak white supremacy. During his first decade in the Senate, Ervin’s opposition to civil rights legislation led him to build an originalist approach to constitutional interpretation on a foundation of broadly admired American legal and political traditions, including some that were embraced by the Warren Court. He then used that theory to support a political ideology aimed to unite racial reactionaries, conservatives, and moderates from across North Carolina and the country into an anti-civil rights legislative coalition. He and his allies ultimately failed to stop the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act, but the interpretive theory Ervin developed helped construct an emerging conservative coalition by legitimating a shift by Southern conservatives to a political ideology that emphasized individualism and property rights.
Logan Sawyer is an Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Georgia. He earned his JD and PhD from the University of Virginia and is visiting at Harvard Law School this Spring semester.

Refreshments are available beginning at 4:15 pm. outside the Library Conference Room.