Fair Use Blog

Archive for January, 2017

“The role of nonlegal actors in the legal construction of race can be understood as a question about whether people obey or acquiesce to the law.” (Haney Lopez)


Judges and legislators continue to participate in the legal construction of race, if for some only through the internalization [147] of socially prevalent racist beliefs. But what of non-legal actors? The role of nonlegal actors in the legal construction of race can be understood as a question about whether people obey or acquiesce to the law. To obey suggests a rational, considered relation to law in which the law coerces through threats and rewards that are evaluated and form the basis for decisions about how to act. Acquiescence suggests a more complex relationship with law, one in which the actor accepts the norms and assumptions underlying law as legitimate or at least binding, leading to behavior conditioned, not just through a rational calculus of rsisk and rewards, but through subscription to the normative world of the legal regime.[67] This question of obedience or acquiescence among nonlegal actors is central to assessing the intractability of existing racial categories. If people merely obey the law, then altering laws might promise quick changes in racial construction; however, change might be more difficult if through a lifetime of acquiescence people have fully embraced the assumptions about races embedded in current laws. Questioning whether people obey or acquiesce to law takes on a significantly different character, however, when posed in a discussion about the role of people of color in the legal construction of race. In this context, the question becomes one of complicity: If rather than simply obeying the law we have acquiesced to it, are we complicitous in our own oppression?

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 146-147.


“In the western states, racial discrimination against Mexicans shares an almost equally long history, appearing for example in California’s 1855 ‘Greaser Act’” (Haney Lopez)

California 1855 ‘Greaser’ Act — [using a Texas-origin ethnic slur… -CJ]

It may be that those who draft or support such laws are unconscious racists in the sense that they operate under the influence of prevalent social prejudices but cannot admit even to themselves the racial antipathies that rule their fears and desires. Racial prejudice against immigrants is a long tradition in the United States, evident [145] certainly in the prerequisite cases. In the western states, racial discrimination against Mexicans shares an almost equally long history, appearing for example in California’s 1855 “Greaser Act,” an antiloitering law that applied to “all persons who are commonly known as ‘Greasers’ or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood . . . and who go armed and are not peaceable and quiet persons.”[65] Prejudice forms an established part of the contemporary social fabric, even as it stands in contradiction to society’s expressed disapproval of racial discrimination. Racial prejudice, though not consciously recognized as such, exists at a level that motivates and directs social hostility, giving it rhetorical and, more importantly, legal form.

The relative lack of intentional racial animus behind Proposition 187 and similar anti-immigrant legislation does not reduce the effect such laws have in maintaining and deepening racial hierarchies. […] Anti-immigrant laws, drawing on deep social beliefs in racial hierarchy, give effect to and entrench those same social beliefs.

The prevalence and daily material reinforcement of racist beliefs in our society ensure the continued legal construction of race in the form of ostensibly neutral but [146] actually discriminatory laws put forward by those who assure us, and are genuinely convinced of, their own good intentions.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 144-146.


  1. [65]Act of April 30, 1855, ch. 175, § 2, 1855, Cal. Stat. 217, excerpted in ROBERT F. HEIZER and ALAN J. ALMQUIST, THE OTHER CALIFORNIANS: PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION UNDER SPAIN, MEXICO, AND THE UNITED STATES 151 (1971).

“The issue was not immigration, it was Mexicans…” – demography, fertility, “mongrelization” (Haney Lopez)

WBL p. 142ff

The racial animus behind Proposition 187 is painfully evident in the imagery and language used by the proponents of the measure. Consider the questions posed in rhetorical support of S.O.S. in the official state ballot pamphlet:

Should those ILLEGALLY here receive taxpayer subsidized education including college?

Should our children’s classrooms be over-crowded by those who are ILLEGALLY in our country?

Should our Senior Citizens be denied full service under Medi-Cal to subsidize the cost of ILLEGAL ALIENS?[56]

Even in the context of a ballot pamphlet, where one might expect carefully considered advocacy, the structure and language of these questions betrays the stark us-versus-them distinctions that mark racial divides, creating an unbridgeable gulf between “them,” the illegal aliens, and “us,” the taxpayers, parents, and senior citizens. Undocumented people, whether tourists who overstayed their visas or wage laborers who crossed the border for work, are cast as a single, homogenous, undeserving, uppercase [143] OTHER bent on victimizing the variegated but relatively defenseless and lowercase “we.”

Not surprisingly, the less-restrained public campaign for Proposition 187 echoed and amplified these overtones of racial bias. In the public campaign, the issue was not immigration, it was Mexicans. In television commercials linking his bid for reelection to support for S.O.S., California Governor Pete Wilson repeatedly ran prime-time images of people running in pandemonium through a Tijuana-San Diego border checkpoint, powerfully transforming the anti-immigrant initiative into an anti-Mexican campaign.[57] As Elizabeth Martínez writes, “Wilson has almost single-handedly made the word ‘immigrant’ mean Mexican or other Latino (and sometimes Asian). Who thinks of all the people coming from the former Soviet Union and other countries?”[58] Wilson is not alone in race-baiting through the language of immigration reform. Evidence of racial bias also abounds in the comments of others who support restrictionist immigration policies. One grass-roots organizer argues that with immigrants, “[i]t’s like animals. When there’s scarcity, they don’t breed. When there’s plenty, they breed.”[59] A founder of the prominent restrictionist lobby, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, asks: “Will the present majority peaceably hand over its political power to a group that is simply more fertile? . . . On the demographic point, perhaps this is the first instance in which those with their pants up are going to get caught by those with their pants down!”[60] A 1992 Republican presidential hopeful stated “that immigrants ‘mongrelize’ our culture and dilute our values.”[61] The divisive rhetoric of us and them, the repeated depictions of Mexicans rushing across the border, and the invective about breeding and mongrelization all slander the reality of immigration to this country in the hostile terms of racial inferiority. This language completely disregards the reality [144] Gerald López seeks to remind us of, that when it comes to immigration, “They are we.”[62]

In light of these xenophobic comments and the long history of nativism in the United States, it is difficult to conclude that anything but racism provides the primary force behind anti-immigrant measures such as Proposition 187. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the vast majority of those supporting such legislation insist that they are not driven by racism. Thus, the proponents of the S.O.S. initiative stress that race is irrelevant to their concerns, and that they are solely interested in curtailing the flow of undocumented migration. […]

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996) Haney López, White By Law  , 141-143.
  1. [56]Illegal Aliens, Ineligibility for Public Services. Verification and Reporting. Initiative Statute, CALIFORNIA BALLOT PAMPHLET, GENERAL ELECTION, NOVEMBER 8, 1994, at 54.
  2. [57]Elizabeth Kadetsky, Bashing Illegals in California, THE NATION, Oct. 17, 1994, at 416, 421.
  3. [58]Elizabeth Martínez, Seeing More Than Black and White: Latinos, Racism, and Cultural Divides, Z MAGAZINE, May 1994, at 56, 58.
  4. [59]Amy Chance, Controls Defended as Economic, Not Racist, SACRAMENTO BEE, Jan. 24, 1993, at A10, quoted in Kevin Johnson, Los Olvidados: Images of the Immigrant, Political Power of Noncitizens, and Immigration Law and Enforcement, 1993 B.Y.U. L. REV. 1139, 1165 n.95.
  5. [60]Amy Chance, Illegal Aliens Increasingly Blamed for State’s Problems, SACRAMENTO BEE, Jan. 24, 1993, at A1 (quoting John Tanton), quoted in Johnson, supra, at 1165 n.95.
  6. [61]Bill Ong Hing, Beyond the Rhetoric of Assimilation and Cultural Pluralism: Addressing the Tension of Separatism and Conflict in an Immigration-Driven Multiracial Society, 81 CAL. L. REV. 863, 870 (1993) (quoting David Duke) (citation omitted).
  7. [62]Gerald López, Undocumented Mexican Migration: In Search of a Just Immigration Law and Policy, 28 UCLA L. REV. 615, 713 (1981).

“to deny birthright citizenship … exemplifies current efforts to write facially neutral laws with racially discriminatory effects” (Haney Lopez)

Immigration laws targeting presumptively Latinx immigrants serve as Haney Lopez’s chief example of facially neutral laws that nevertheless have a racially disparate impact. / WBL 141ff

The proposed constitutional amendment to repeal the [142] Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in order to deny birthright citizenship to children born in the United States to undocumented persons exemplifies current efforts to write facially neutral laws with racially discriminatory effects.[54] So does California’s Proposition 187, the “Save Our State” (S.O.S.) initiative, which makes undocumented persons and their children ineligible for public social services ranging from primary education to non-emergency doctor’s visits and prenatal care.[55] Approved in 1994 by a two-to-one margin but currently blocked by a series of court challenges, S.O.S. is being hailed by some national leaders as a model for the entire country. Its success dramatically confirms the role of unconscious racism in the legal construction of race.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996) Haney López, White By Law  , 141ff.


  1. [54]H.R.J. Res. 129, 103d Cong., 1st Sess. (1993). See chapter 2.
  2. [55]Proposition 187: Text of Proposed Law, CALIFORNIA BALLOT PAMPHLET, GENERAL ELECTION, NOVEMBER 8, 1994, at 91.

“this sociohistorical boundary crossing is normal to law” (Haney Lopez)

Evolution of ‘white’ from 1790s to 1890s – ‘sociohistorical boundary crossing’ of legal terms. / WBL 126-7.

In addition to legitimating race, legal rules operate as an idea-system to construct races in a second way. Though race as a social concept has some autonomy, it is always bounded in its meanings by the local setting. Laws help racial categories to transcend the sociohistorical contexts in which they develop. For example, the original prerequisite statute was written in 1790, when popular conceptions of race on the eastern seaboard of North America encompassed only Whites, Native Americans, and Blacks. As a legal restriction on naturalization, however, the “white person” prerequisite of 1790 was imposed on Bhagat Singh Thind on the West Coast of the United States in 1920. It is most unlikely that those who wrote the first prerequisite law intended either to include or to exclude South Asians, for that group almost certainly existed outside the realm of their world knowledge. […] Nevertheless, partially by its institutionalization in law, the category of ‘white persons’ transcended the local boundaries of time, place, and imagination in which it had one meaning, persisting and expanding into [127] remarkably different locales, where, though with a facade of continuity, it took on various new definitions.

This sociohistorical boundary crossing is normal to law.. One of the defining elements of law is its universal aspiration, its will to apply equally in all cases and across all situations. However, the pursuit of universality in law can make it a profoundly conservative force in racial construction. Here, the role of precedent is particularly important. Racial lines are prevented from shifting to the extent that past racial definitions control decisions about race in the present. “Reasoning by analogy to precedent cases creates a false historicity in that it perpetually reclaims the past for the present: in theory a dispute in 1989 can be resolved by reference to cases from 1889 or 1389.”[23] Of course, the dead hand of the past does not completely control the present; precedent is often manipulated, and such manipulation is central to legal change. Nevertheless, by giving great weight to superannuated racial definitions, precedent keeps alive restrictive notions of race.

Consider the Mashphee Indian case. [… difficulty of proving they were a “tribe” according to Supreme Court standards from 1901…] [128] In this way the use of precedent in law provides a conserving, stabilizing force in racial construction by preserving the relevance of past racial definitions, thereby allowing such categories to transcend their local settings.

Law frees racial categories from their local settings in another, quite distinct sense, as well: it occasionally provides new language with which to construct racial differences. Legal terms that do not refer explicitly to race may nevertheless come to serve as racial synonyms, thus expanding in often unpredictable ways the form and range of racial categorization. This possibility is evident in the prerequisite cases, though it is much more relevant to the legal construction of race today. The prerequisite laws spawned a new vocabulary by which to mark racial difference, the phrase “alien ineligible to citizenship.” Congress and a number of states used this phrase to avoid the Fourteenth Amendment’s bar against invidious race-based discrimination. In 1922 Congress proscribed the marriage of U.S. citizen women to non-White aliens by providing that “any woman citizen who marries an alien ineligible to [129] citizenship shall cease to be a citizen of the United States.[28] Two years later Congress relied on the same phrase to ban unwanted races from the country, mandating that “[n]o alien ineligible to citizenship shall be admitted to the United States” except under restrictive circumstances.[29] [… use in alien land laws, struck down eventually in Oyama …] Legal language can allow ideas of race to transcend their historical context through precedent, and also can contribute to the construction of race by providing a new vocabulary with which to take note of, stigmatize, and penalize putative racial differences. Law thus frees racial categories not only from contextual bounds, but also from the bounds society places on the use of race. […] As will be emphasized later, the law’s ability to provide seemingly neutral synonyms for race may be one [130] of the most important legal mechanisms in current processes of racial construction.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996) Haney López, White By Law  , 126-130.


  1. [23]Carol Greenhouse, Just in Time: Temporality and the Cultural Legitimation of Law, 98 YALE L.J. 1631, 1640 (1989).
  2. [28]Act of Sept. 22, 1922, ch. 411, § 3, 42 Stat. 1021.
  3. [29]Act of May 26, 1924, ch. 190, § 13(c), 43 Stat. 153.

“some may suggest that legal rules patrol only the borders between races” — “construct races only at the margins” (Haney Lopez)

Irrespective of the use of violence, however, it may seem that at this coercive level laws construct races only at the margins. Granting that races are social constructions, some may suggest that legal rules patrol only the borders between races, resolving just those rare cases not already clearly defined within the underlying social systems of racial division. Arguably, only the person not clearly White or Black has her race determined in a prerequisite case or by her neighborhood. However, a focus on the coercive aspect of law seems to explain more than just the legal construction of race at the margins. Certainly the prerequisite cases legally established the legal identity of groups we now regard as firmly at the core of racial categories, for example the Japanese, and Jim Crow laws were indispensable in maintaining and even extending the social differentiation established through the slave codes and threatened during Reconstruction. Nevertheless, the explanatory power of this model should be questioned. How does law-as-coercion explain the continuing significance of race in a [123] postsegregation era? If races have been created through coercion, why hasn’t the end to the legal enforcement of racial differences been followed by a collapse in racial systems? Or, what can such a model tell us about the prevalent belief that races are legally fashioned? If races have been imposed, why is it that the vast majority of people embrace race so willingly? And why do these same people so vigorously deny that they have been coerced into a racial identity? Races are much more deeply embedded in our society than a theory of law-as-coercion would seem to explain. If law is a full participant in the construction of races, it must fashion races through some additional mechanism besides simple direct behavioral control.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996) Haney López, White By Law  , 122ff.

“It is crucial to note that, in constructing race, legal rules operate through violence” (Haney Lopez)

It is crucial to note that, in constructing race, legal rules operate through violence. The legal system enforces rules occasionally through rewards but most often through the threat of application of harm. Such potential or actual harm is often difficult to see. For example, the prerequisite cases seem at first glance to be nothing more than dry exegetical readings of ambiguous legal texts in which it is impossible to find even obscure allusions to coercive force. Nevertheless, violence is there. “A judge articulates her understanding of a text, and as a result, somebody loses his freedom, his property, his children, even his life,” Robert Cover correctly insists, adding, “[w]hen [judges] have finished their work, they frequently leave behind victims whose lives have been torn apart by these organized, social practices of violence.”[11] In the prerequisite cases, we may assume violence, probably literally in the corporeal forms of immigration officers and border guards, certainly figuratively in the form of constrained lives and truncated hopes, and occasionally obviously in the form of suicide. [122] In the law of race more generally, violence is manifest in slavery, in Jim Crow segregation, in police brutality, in the discriminatory enforcement of criminal laws, in the dispossession of Native American land rights, in the internment of people of Japanese descent, in the failures of the law to provide equal justice or to protect against discrimination. In all of this violence, the law not only relied on but also constructed racial distinctions. To say that law constructs races is also to say that races are the product of, not just the excuse for, violence. James Baldwin remarks that “no one was white before he/she came to America. It took generations, and a vast amount of coercion, before this became a white country.”[12] Courts may have been the principal institutional forum for that vast coercion, and laws its principal form of civilized expression.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996) Haney López, White By Law  , 121ff.


“The Secession Theory” (Madison Wisconsin Daily State Journal, November 17, 1860)

60. The Secession Theory

(Madison Wisconsin Daily State Journal [Lincoln], November 17, 1860)

The present ebullition of disunion feeling at the South is reviving the old discussions, so general during nullification times when General Jackson issued his famous proclamation against the nullifiers of South Carolina, respecting the limits of State and federal authority under the Constitution.

Such discussions can only result in good. They lead to a study both [180] of the fundamental law, and of the early history of the Republic, too much neglected by a people who are themselves the source of all political power, and who, under the Constitution, are “the rightful masters of both Congress and courts.”

Our whole system of Government is founded upon the supposition that the majority of the people are not only just and honest, but intelligent. Yet it must be conceded there are too many who exercise the right of suffrage without that knowledge of the government and its history essential to enable them to cast an intelligent vote.

Whatever tends therefore to turn the attention of the reading public in the direction of the Constitution and its history, must produce, in this respect at least, beneficial results.

The particular point which is now most discussed, is the right of a State to withdraw from the Union without the consent of the other States, and to set up an independent nation. It might in some cases be just and politic to permit such a secession. But this is not the question.–It is whether, upon some alleged grievance, or on account of some fancied good to be obtained, a State has the right to dissolve the bonds of the Union.

The great majority of the Northern press take ground against this right. Madison, who was better entitled, perhaps, to the name of the Constitution than any other man, denied it in the most explicit language. Such was Webster’s interpretation. Such is the view taken by President Jackson in his proclamation already alluded to. That document contains an admirable summary of the argument against the alleged right. It is yet more fully argued in Webster’s celebrated speech in reply to Hayne. The other side of the question is presented most fully and ably by the writings of John C. Calhoun.

The whole question depends for its solution upon the manner in which we understand the character of the Union. If it be a mere loose league of confederated sovereignties, the right to secede undoubtedly exists. If it be more than that, if it be a government, if the states are not complete sovereignties, the right to secede undoubtedly exists. If it be more than that, if it be a government, if the states are not complete sovereignties but have given up a portion of their sovereignty to a national government for the sake of mutual protection and benefit, then that right must be denied, although it would still remain a question of policy whether, in a particular case, force should be employed to restrain a state attempting to cut loose from the Union.

Some of the disadvantages which would result from the right of secession, if granted, will readily suggest themselves:

1. The people of the United States have bought and paid for Florida, Louisiana, and other states. Under the secession theory these may step [181] out of the Union to-morrow without any obligation to refund the money they have cost us.

2. Texas was an independent sovereignty. But she was overwhelmed with debt. She asked and was admitted into the Union. The Union has paid her debts; it has defended her territory at the sacrifice of both blood and treasure. Wisconsin contributed of her means and men; so did New York, Massachusetts, and every State in the Union. Having got rid of her debts, upon this theory of secession, Texas has the right, at any time, to cut loose and set up for herself again.

3. The Union may buy Cuba to-morrow, at a cost of $200,000,000, of the common treasure of the States. The next day she may assert her right of secession. Spain will have the $200,000,000. We shall have nothing but an illustration of the beautiful results of the Calhoun construction of the Constitution.

4. The Atlantic States may, under this doctrine, secede, and set up an independent confederacy, or confederacies, compelling the interior States to pay to them, for their sole benefit, a duty upon all their imports and exports, while Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and the other interior States, now prone to suspect that they have some little interest in the Atlantic ports, must quietly submit.

5. If the Union is involved in war with some foreign power, and becomes plunged in debt by a heroic struggle for her existence–no matter how just her cause–any craven and selfish state, under the doctrine of the right of secession, may abandon the Union at the beginning and thus avoid the dangers which the others meet, or, at the close of the struggle, and thus avoid the payment of her proportion of the debt incurred.

These are but a few of the evil consequences which attend this theory. We believe it is alike without foundation in the Constitution or in common sense and we have no doubt but it will find in Abraham Lincoln as prompt and decided an opponent as it found in Andrew Jackson.

Howard Cecil Perkins, ed. Northern Editorials on Secession, Volume I (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964), 179-181.

Law as coercion creates racial categories in three chief ways (Haney López)

According to Haney López, pp. 116-123, “Law as Coercion,” in its coercive aspect law serves to create racial categories in three chief ways:

  1. Legal rules have shaped physical appearances
  2. Positive law has created the racial meanings that attach to physical features
  3. Positive law establishes the material conditions which often code for race.

[WBL p. 119]

“In the name of racially regulating behavior, laws CREATED racial identities” — Tennessee use of “mulattoes, mestizos, and their descendants” (Haney Lopez)

Second, positive law has created the racial meanings that attach to physical features. In a sense, this is the heart of the prerequisite cases, which at root embody the efforts of the courts to inscribe on the bodies of individual applicants the term “White” or “non-White.” These cases established as legal precedent the racial identities of the various faces and nationalities entering the United States at the turn of the century. Again, however, the racial prerequisites to naturalization are not the only laws that explicitly defined racial identities. Almost every state with racially discriminatory legislation also established legal definitions of race. It is no accident that the first legal ban on interracial marriage, a 1705 Virginia act, also constituted the first statutory effort to define who was Black.[6] Regulating or criminalizing behavior in racial terms required legal definitions of race.[7] Thus, in the years leading up to Brown, most states that made racial distinctions in their laws provided statutory racial definitions, almost always focusing on the boundaries of Black identity. Alabama and Arkansas defined anyone with one drop of “Negro” blood as Black; Florida had a one-eighth rule; Georgia referred to “ascertainable” non-White blood; Indiana used a one-eighth rule; Kentucky relied on a combination of any “appreciable admixture” of Black ancestry and a one-sixteenth rule; Louisiana did not statutorily define Blackness but did adopt via its Supreme Court an “appreciable mixture of negro blood” standard; Maryland used a “person of negro descent to the third generation” test; Mississippi combined an “appreciable amount of Negro blood” and a one-eighth rule; Missouri used a one-eighth test, as did Nebraska, North Carolina, and North Dakota; Oklahoma referred to “all persons of African descent,” [119] adding that the “term ‘white race’ shall include all other persons”; Oregon promulgated a one-fourth rule; South Carolina had a one-eighth standard; Tennessee defined Blacks in terms of “mulattoes, mestizos, and their descendants, having any blood of the African race in their veins”; Texas used an “all persons of mixed blood descended from negro ancestry” standard; Utah law referred to mulattos, quadroons, or octoroons; and Virginia defined Blacks as those in whom there was “ascertainable any Negro blood” with not more than one-sixteenth Native American ancestry.[8]

The very practice of legally defining Black identity demonstrates the social, rather than the natural basis of race. Moreover, these competing definitions demonstrate that the many laws that discriminated on the basis of race more often than not defined, and thus helped to create, the categories they claimed only to elucidate. In defining Black and White, statutory and case law assisted in fashioning the racial significance that by themselves drops of blood, ascertainable amounts, and fractions never could have. In the name of racially regulating behavior, they created racial identities.

Ian F. Haney López, White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race (New York: New York University Press, 1996) Haney López, White By Law  , 118-119.
  1. [6]Finkelman, supra, at 2088. According to Finkelman, “This act also made the first stab at defining who was actually black. The law declared that anyone who was a child, grandchild, or great grandchild of a black was a mulatto under the statute. this meant that persons who were of one-eighth African ancestry were black for purposes of Virginia law.” See generally A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., and Barbara K. Kopytoff, Racial Purity and Interracial Sex in the Law of Colonial and Antebellum Virginia, 77 GEO. L. J. 1967 (1989).
  2. [7]See Raymond T. Diamond and Robert J. Cottrol, Codifying Caste: Louisiana’s Racial Classification Scheme and the Fourteenth Amendment, 29 LOY. L. REV. 255, 265 (1983) They argue that “[s]tate supported or initiated discrimination required racial definitions. The law could not separate what it failed to categorize.”
  3. [8]Paul Finkelman, The Color of Law, 87 NW. U. L. REV. 937, 955 n. 96 (citing PAUL MURRAY, STATES’ LAWS ON RACE AND COLOR [1950]).