This article considers the significance of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on one of its signature events, the March on Washington in 1963 and the “I Have a Dream” speech that Martin Luther King gave on the occasion. Blending historical analysis with personal memory, it considers the long struggle for civil rights, the impact of both the March and the Speech, and the meaning they held for those who shared their ideals and sought to fulfill their goals. The article then traces the decline of the Civil Rights Movement in the altered political and social context of the 1970s and 1980s, examining the ideological transformation of the Republican Party, the radical shift in the Supreme Court’s membership, and the Court’s consequent about face in its civil rights jurisprudence. The article concludes with an analysis of the arbitrary and exceptionally dubious reasoning that marked the decision of the Court’s five Republican conservatives in Shelby County v. Holder, a decision -- on the fiftieth anniversary of the March and the Speech -- that invalidated a key provision of one of the Civil Rights Movement’s greatest achievements, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The article concludes by suggesting that the continuing inspiration of the March and especially the Speech will ultimately overcome the current Court’s policies weakening the civil rights laws and assisting Republican voter suppression efforts and that in the future they will once again inspire vigorous and successful efforts to make Dr. King’s dream a reality.
59 N.Y. L. Sch. L. Rev. 17 (2014-2015)