October 2, 2015

LatCrit 2015 Twentieth Anniversary Conference: Critical Constitutionalism


Me with King Hall's Prof. Angela Harris and Prof. Rhonda Magee of the University of San Francisco

This year marks the twentieth anniversary of LatCrit (short for Latina and Latino Critical Legal Theory), part of the Critical Legal Studies tradition.  The theme for this year, "Critical Constitutionalism" provides an occasion for reflection and prospective planning.  I had the good fortune of moderating a powerful panel on "Mindfulness and Constitutionalism" with our very own Professor Angela Harris.  Joined by Professor Rhonda Magee of the University of San Francisco, Professors Harris and Magee opened the session with an example of mindfulness practice.  Professor Magee invited participants in the session to take a few minutes to take stock of our mental and physical states and to sit with our thoughts for a "quiet" minute.  She challenged us to consider what we teach and why to discover how mindfulness can ground us and reveal new ways of culturally evaluating constitutional democracy. The speakers urged us to incorporate mindfulness into teaching, scholarship, and the practice of law.

Professor Harris noted that mindfulness can give meaning to the Constitution, most notably, those famous three words of the preamble: "We the People."  She suggested that mindfulness unlocks possibilities for community-building and coalition formation based on recognition of our shared humanity.  She identified as problematic the "master stories" of how we become a nation, that is, those that call for "oneness" through the elimination (or masking) of differences.  Such narratives exclude those unwilling or unable to assimilate, hide, or reject those aspects of their identities that deviate from the master stories.  In turn, counter-narratives adopt "struggle" and "resistance," rather than connection, as central metaphors.  Yet understanding connection and respecting differences is possible through mindfulness.  The group then discussed the pedagogical possibilities for incorporating mindfulness into teaching.   Professors can create a shared experience of connection in the classroom where students can bring their whole selves to the analysis and application of the law.  It can be as simple as taking the first five minutes of class to sit in silence and encourage the students to identify the physical and mental state they bring to class.  Through modeling and intentional curricular design, we teach students that their diverse life experiences matter and can enhance not only their understanding of the law but expose and contest normative assumptions of "oneness" that underwrite substantive law.  

Not surprisingly, this session went over time as participants shared their reactions to the presentation as well as personal and pedagogical insights on mindfulness.  One participant noted the presence of law school courses on mindfulness signals its importance to students, the academy, and the profession.  Thanks to Professor Harris, King Hall has just such a course: "Mindfulness and Professional Identity: Becoming a Lawyer While Keeping Your Values Intact."  

I look forward to my panel tomorrow morning on "Courts and Politics" where I will discuss my current project "Sexual Citizenship, Disability, and the Dignity of Risk."