Campus & Community

Tanner Lectures: Rights in crisis

4 min read
Kathleen Sullivan

Former Harvard Law School Professor Kathleen Sullivan returns to Cambridge Nov. 7, 8, and 9 to deliver the 2001 Tanner Lectures on Human Values.

Sullivan, currently dean of Stanford Law School, will speak on the general topic of “War, Peace, and Civil Liberties.” Her first lecture is titled “Constitutionalism,” and her second, “American Identity.” Both lectures will be delivered in Lowell Lecture Hall at 5 p.m. On Friday from 10 a.m. to noon she will participate in a seminar at the Center for European Studies to discuss the issues raised in her lectures.

Sullivan, an expert on constitutional law, said the topic of her lecture was influenced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and that she plans to explore the ways in which the civil liberties guaranteed by the Constitution may be affected by a period of national emergency.

Sullivan will compare the present situation with earlier crises during which civil liberties were curtailed, such as Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the Red Scare in the wake of World War I, and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Sullivan believes that the government has demonstrated greater restraint in responding to the present crisis than during earlier periods. She attributes that restraint to a greater sensitivity to racial profiling and a feeling of remorse for former actions such as the forced removal of Japanese Americans to relocation camps in the 1940s.

“There’s a greater consciousness about racial and religious discrimination today. We can also look back at these earlier dragnet operations now and see them as ineffective,” Sullivan said.

On the other hand, if the crisis deepens, the response of the government may become more extreme. Ironically, “the popular will to enforce restraints tends to evaporate when they are most needed,” she said.

Sullivan noted that the United States affords far more constitutional protection to people who foment hate than most other countries.

“However,” she added, “these legal protections may depend on the fact that the U.S. has never before had a major security threat on its own soil, or a sustained terroristic movement that couldn’t be contained – on the scale of the IRA or Hamas.”

Sullivan compared the constraints built into the Constitution to Odysseus tying himself to the mast so that he couldn’t respond to the song of the sirens.

“We have a very robust set of constraints,” she said. “I think they will be tested by this crisis in a way they’ve never been tested before.”

Sullivan is the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Stanley Morrison Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. She received a B.A. in 1976 from Cornell University, a B.A. with first-class honours in 1978 from Oxford University, which she attended as a Marshall Scholar, and a J.D. in 1981 from Harvard Law School, where she won the Ames moot court competition.

She practiced constitutional and criminal law in Cambridge and Boston for two years, working extensively with Laurence H. Tribe, the Ralph S. Tyler Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law, before joining the faculty of Harvard Law School. At Harvard, she served as assistant professor from 1984 to 1989 and as professor of law from 1989 to 1993, when she joined the Stanford faculty.

She is co-author with Gerald Gunther of the 14th edition of the classic casebook “Constitutional Law” and the casebook “First Amendment Law.” She is also a co-author of “New Federalist Papers: Essays in Defense of the Constitution.”

In addition to publishing articles on constitutional law and theory in a wide range of law reviews, she has contributed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, The American Prospect, and The New York Review of Books. She has also commented on legal matters on television news programs, including the “News Hour With Jim Lehrer,” “Nightline,” “Crossfire,” and “This Week.” In June 2000 she was named to the National Law Journal’s list of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.”

The Tanner Lectures on Human Values is a nonprofit corporation administered at the University of Utah. It is funded by an endowment and other gifts received by the University of Utah from Obert Clark Tanner and Grace Adams Tanner.

At the request of a founding trustee of the Tanner Lectures on Human Values, these lectures are dedicated to the memory of Clarence Irving Lewis ’06, Ph.D. ’10, who served on the Faculty of Arts and Sciences from 1920 to 1953.

Co-sponsored by the Office of the President and the University Center for Ethics and the Professions, the series is designed to advance scholarly and scientific learning in the field of human values, and the purpose embraces the entire range of moral, artistic, intellectual, and spiritual values, both individual and social.