Jones Walker housing attorney, Toni Jackson, served as a panelist during a symposium sponsored by the Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law on February 19, 2016. The title of the symposium was The Civil Rights Agenda, The Roberts Court, and the last Three Years of Challenges: What Now? This panel was very timely as it was held just days after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The symposium covered Supreme Court decisions in the areas of Housing, Voting Rights, Education and Affirmative Action. The panels also discussed the impact of the recent vacancy on the Court, the impact of Justice Scalia’s influence and the importance of the upcoming nominee.
One of the highlights of the symposium was the Heman Sweatt Panel which included the nephew of Heman Sweatt recalling stories of his uncle and his battle to enter the University of Texas (UT) School of Law. Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL) was founded in 1947 after Heman Sweatt sought to integrate the UT School of Law. The UT president, Theophilis Painter explained to Mr. Sweatt that he was “qualified for admission to UT Law in every respect but for his race.” Mr. Sweatt, with the representation of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund director Thurgood Marshall filed the case of Sweatt v. Painter where the landmark 1950 decision found that segregation at UT was unconstitutional. This lawsuit, along with other legislative efforts, eventually led to the opening of the Texas State College for Negroes which was later renamed Texas Southern University. In 1976, the law school was renamed the Thurgood Marshall School of Law with the blessing of the Supreme Court Justice. Today, TMSL is regarded as the most racially and ethnically diverse law school in the nation.
Ms. Jackson, along with Professor Tim Iglesias of the University of San Francisco School of Law served on the housing panel which was moderated by TMSL Professor Asmara Tekle. The housing panel naturally discussed the recent Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project ruling. Professor Iglesias discussed the role of the court and its obligation to teach along with declaring what is the law. He went on to explain that in this case which was a landmark ruling for the housing industry, the Supreme Court failed to fulfill its duty to teach and leaves it up to the lower court to clarify its ruling. Ms. Jackson expanded on the discussion by introducing the concept of how the case impacts the issue of race and whether it was injected into the decision. The conversation further expanded on how the make-up of the Supreme Court (and other courts) impacts decisions when the sitting justices do not have a broad range of experiences, or at least a colleague that can provide that perspective, that allow them to appreciate the impact of their decisions.
Overall, the symposium was very informative and provided insightful and thought provoking discussions on the issues that have been recently decided by the Roberts Court. It also highlighted the importance of having broad perspectives and experiences on the Court and the how this will be a focus for the next nominee.