Pepperdine Law Review

Symposium Explores the Most Maligned Decisions in Supreme Court History

This Pepperdine Law Review symposium brought together some of the nation’s top legal scholars to discuss the most widely criticized decisions in Supreme Court history. Scholars such as Akhil Reed Amar of Yale, Daniel Farber of Berkeley, Erwin Chemerinsky of UC Irvine, and Suzanna Sherry of Vanderbilt debated Erie, Dred Scott, Buck v. Bell, Plessey, and Korematsu.

Each symposium presenter articulated exactly why he or she nominated a particular case for the Supreme Court’s “Hall of Shame.” Another presenter then had the opportunity to redeem the Court’s reasoning or at least put the case in its historical context.

Pepperdine’s Ed Larson, University Professor of History and Hugh and Hazel Darling Chair in Law, explained, “The underlying goal of the symposium was not to criticize the failings of the Court over its history, but rather to take a serious and scholarly look at the limits of judicial power and discretion through a historical lens.”

In his remarks, Amar presented the idea that these cases could be categorized into an “anti-canon” of legal history. Legal historians Ted White and Paul Finkelman spoke to the historical context and elaborated on the idea of the anti-canon. White gave a framework on how to identify a “notorious” decision, and explained why he would put Dred Scott, Plessey, and Korematsu in the anti-canon.

Finkelman stressed the importance of examining these cases. “Whether you teach history to third graders or third-year law students, you face the question: do you teach a history that is simply patriotic or one that is troubling, one that opens their eyes?”

The event was covered in the Los Angeles Times and on C-SPAN.  For more information visit: law.pepperdine.edu/supreme-mistakes.

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