Tomiko Brown-Nagin, "The Honor and Burden of Being First: Judge Constance Baker Motley at the Bar and on the Bench"
Professor Brown-Nagin's talk examines the legacy of The Honorable Constance Baker Motley—and break new ground in the study of civil rights, women's rights, and the legal profession. A protégée of Thurgood Marshall, Motley litigated in southern courtrooms during the 1940s and 1950s, when women lawyers scarcely appeared before the bar. She captivated onlookers who had rarely seen a woman or a black lawyer, much less the extraordinary combination—a black woman lawyer.
In 1966 Motley then became the first African-American woman appointed to the federal judiciary. After a long confirmation battle, she ascended to the United States District Court in New York. In her new post, Motley sometimes ruled as segregationists had feared and as liberals had hoped. Typically, Motley deferred to constraints of the judicial role. Therefore, Professor Brown-Nagin concludes, Motley's judicial career demonstrates that—more often than not and regardless of who presides—courts preserve hierarchy.
Tomiko Brown-Nagin is Daniel P.S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, Professor of History at Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and Co-Director, Program in Law and History at Harvard University.
This talk, the 2014 Fulton Lecture in Legal History, was recorded on May 8, 2014.