Kenji Yoshino is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law at the NYU School of Law. Prior to moving to NYU, he was the inaugural Guido Calabresi Professor of Law and Deputy Dean of Intellectual Life at Yale Law School, where he taught from 1998 to 2008. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College, took a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, and earned his law degree at Yale Law School. A specialist in constitutional law, antidiscrimination law, and law and literature, Yoshino has published in major academic journals such as the Columbia Law Review, the Stanford Law Review, and the Yale Law Journal. He has also written extensively in other popular venues, such as The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. He has appeared on The O'Reilly Factor, Washington Journal, and The Tavis Smiley Show.
He is the author of Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights (2006) and A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare's Plays Teach Us About Justice (2011).
Kenji Yoshino: The one plea that I really have that we should do more of is to start trying to think about ways in which we can come together and think collectively rather than thinking in very simplistic, group-based identity politics terms. So what do I mean by that? I mean again that if we continue to think in terms of, say, racial groups . . . So if there is African Americans, and Latinos, and Asian Americans, and the various multiracial permutations . . . and Native-Americans and what have you, then it’s gonna be increasingly hard for us to make common cause. That’s just math, right? That’s just these groups are gonna proliferate. People are gonna ask for ever more fine-grained distinctions, as we see with the 63 groups on the census. I think religion is an even better example of this because we can think of an actually infinite number of religions with immigration and coming into this country. And this is the Diana Eck phenomenon I was describing earlier. So what do we do in a polity where it seems like if we affiliate ourselves along these traditional lines – like I have this race; I have this sexual orientation; I have this religion; you know I have this particular disability – we’re only gonna break apart more and more. What do we do? And I think the answer to that is to say stop thinking in terms of civil rights. Start thinking in terms of human rights. Start thinking about the things that we all need as human beings regardless of which of these groups we belong to and try to translate whatever argument you’re trying to make an equality rubric into a liberty-based argument. So don’t talk about, “Build me a wheelchair access ramp because your steps are not good for me.” Argue about how we all have a right to access the court. Don’t argue about, “Oh, gays should have the right to get married.” Argue about don’t you think everybody in this country, to live a good life, needs to be able to make a commitment to the one person they love. You know so that’s really the message that I would have, because it focuses on what binds us together as a people rather than what drives us apart. So what I would love is to see a coalition. I mean it’s not to say . . . Organizing around rights doesn’t mean that you can’t organize around groups because you could have groups that organize themselves around rights. So you could have a right to education movement in this country that cut across very many different kinds of traditional groups like individuals who are indigent; individuals who are racial minorities; individuals who are immigrants; or for other reasons who are not getting good educations. No one would be happier to see that than I would, because what that would mean is that we would understand that what we’re arguing for is something that we want by dint of the fact that we’re human beings rather than by dint of our membership in a particular subset of humanity.
Recorded on: 11/11/07
Last night three U.S. Supreme Court judges participated in the annual mock trial event in Washington D.C. Law professor Kenji Yoshino explains how these events use Shakespeare to teach us about justice.