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Friday, September 16, 2005

Death of a Reparationist

Recently, Professor Boris Bittker passed away. A number of blogs mentioned his passing, and noted (quite correctly) that Professor Bittker was a giant of tax law.

A less-known fact is that Bittker was the father of today's reparations movement. His 1973 book The Case for Black Reparations set out the possibility of legal compensation for slavery, and ignited the modern debate about reparations. His book was reissued in 2003. Professor Bittker also contributed an essay, reiterating many of his earlier arguments, to Roy Brooks' book on reparations, When Sorry Isn't Enough.

I am very much indebted to Bittker's work for breaking ground in reparations, since this is now one of my own primary areas of writing. I wrote in 2003 that "one of the first modern legal scholars to argue for reparations was Professor Boris Bittker of the Yale University Law School," and in 2004 that "modern legal reparations literature is generally acknowledged to have begun with professor Boris Bittker's work." Those statements hold equally true today. Professor Bittker will be missed, not just by his tax law colleagues, but by reparations scholars and advocates everywhere.

Posted by Kaimi Wenger on September 16, 2005 at 03:14 PM in Current Affairs, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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you and others interested in the reparations movement might be interested in Frances FitzGerald’s feature in the New Yorker, “Peculiar Institutions: Brown University and The Slave Trade” (12 September 2005, pp. 68—77).

Posted by: Dan Markel | Sep 16, 2005 4:04:48 PM

Are you advocating reparations, or merely "interested" in the "movement"?

Posted by: Simon | Sep 16, 2005 4:29:52 PM


I'm definitely an advocate. Perhaps I'll put up a series of posts on the topic.

Posted by: Kaimi | Sep 16, 2005 9:40:53 PM

Perhaps I'll put up a series of posts on the topic.I think I'd certainly be interested to read that. Although, in the interests of full disclosure, I'm not well-disposed towards the idea as a general matter, for the reasons suggested by Justice Scalia in his Adarand concurrence:Individuals who have been wronged by unlawful racial discrimination should be made whole; but under our Constitution there can be no such thing as either a creditor or a debtor race. That concept is alien to the Constitution's focus upon the individual, see Amdt. 14, §1 ("[N]or shall any State . . . deny to any person" the equal protection of the laws) (emphasis added), and its rejection of dispositions based on race, see Amdt. 15, §1 (prohibiting abridgment of the right to vote "on account of race") or based on blood, see Art. III, §3 ("[N]o Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood")... To pursue the concept of racial entitlement--even for the most admirable and benign of purposes--is to reinforce and preserve for future mischief the way of thinking that produced race slavery, race privilege and race hatred. In the eyes of government, we are just one race here. It is American.This speaks eloquently to my view on government's role in race relations, but I look forward to reading an aloquent exposition as to why there can and should be "such thing as either a creditor or a debtor race...under our Constitution". :)

Posted by: Simon | Sep 16, 2005 10:05:05 PM

I think there is a named law in internet culture which holds that in any post where you seek to correct someone's spelling or grammar, you, too, will commit a blunder in spelling or grammar. There is likely a sub-clause, too, which holds that one will be likely to make an egregious typographic error when using the word "eloquent". ;)

(That is to say, I look forward to an eloquent exposition, not an aloquent one, which may not even exist, and certainly messes up the alliterative content of the sentence...)

Posted by: Simon | Sep 16, 2005 10:08:57 PM

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