Miller Center

Christopher Schmidt

History of American Civilization, Harvard University

Postwar Liberalism and the Origins of Brown v. Board of Education

Schmidt photo

Christopher W. Schmidt is Associate Professor of Law and Director of the Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States (ISCOTUS) at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago-Kent.

Schmidt teaches in the areas of constitutional law, legal history, comparative constitutional law, and sports law. He has written on a variety of topics, including the political and intellectual context surrounding the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Tea Party as a constitutional movement, how Supreme Court Justices communicate with the American people, the Supreme Court's decision in the health care case, and the rise of free agency in Major League Baseball. He is currently writing a book on the legal history of the student lunch counter sit-in movement of 1960.

Schmidt's dissertation followed the genesis of the 20th century American Civil Rights movement. Prior to the 1940s, the United States government had done little to promote racial equality for well over half a century, yet by the mid-1950s this situation was transformed, creating the foundations on which the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement of the late 1950s and 1960s would be built. Schmidt's dissertation explained the dramatic policy shift by analyzing the origins of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court's landmark 1954 school desegregation opinion. His project's central motivating question: why did the nine justices of the Supreme Court, whose political and ideological affinities varied considerably, decide to make, at this time and place, a statement against blatant legalized racial discrimination? His answer to this question drew on the context of liberal thought and culture in early postwar America as well as the particular legal issues confronted by the justices. Currently, Schmidt is revising his dissertation, "Creating Brown v. Board of Education: Ideology and Constitutional Change, 1945-1955," for publication.

Fellowship year: 2004

Mentor: Michael Klarman, Harvard University Law School

Selected Recent Publications

"Divided by Law: The Sit-Ins and the Role of the Courts in the Civil Rights Movement." Law and History Review (November 2013).

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