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Transylvania announces lecture series named in honor of U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, an 1852 graduate of Transylvania’s law department

John Marshall HarlanLEXINGTON, KY.—President R. Owen Williams announced today the creation of the John Marshall Harlan Lecture Series at Transylvania University, made possible by the generosity of McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC.  Harlan, an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1877-1911, was a Kentucky lawyer and politician and an 1853 graduate of Transylvania’s law department. An early champion of civil rights, he is most notable as the lone dissenter in the Civil Rights Cases (1883) and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which, respectively, struck down as unconstitutional federal anti-discrimination legislation and upheld Southern segregation statutes.

There are intriguing coincidences—one involving Harlan—between Williams’s scholarly interests and the history of Transylvania. His Yale dissertation, “Unequal Justice Under Law: The Supreme Court and the First Civil Rights Movement, 1857-1883,” has Justice Harlan as one of its primary protagonists.

“John Marshall Harlan is my hero and the central figure in my dissertation,” Williams said. “So I felt as if there were a spiritual connection between Transylvania and me even before coming here.”

Transylvania will launch the series this fall. William Wiecek, legal and constitutional historian and professor of public law and legislation at Syracuse University, will give the inaugural Harlan Lecture on September 26, followed by a spring 2012 lecture presented by Akhil Reed Amar, professor of law and political science at Yale University.

“We created this lecture series to bring to campus highly esteemed legal figures of national or international prominence who have distinguished themselves in constitutional law or history,” said Williams. “We are delighted to have William Wiecek and Akhil Amar as our first two speakers.”

William Wiecek

Wiecek is currently serving as the Lassiter Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Kentucky Law School. He is the author of numerous books. His most recent, “The Birth of the Modern Constitution: The United States Supreme Court, 1941–1953” (volume 12 of the Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court of the United States), won the John Phillip Reid Prize awarded by the American Society for Legal History for the best book in legal history published in 2006.

Akhil Reed Amar

Amar teaches constitutional law at both Yale University and Yale Law School. He earned his B.A from Yale University and his J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as an editor of The Yale Law Journal. After clerking for Judge Stephen Breyer, U.S. Court of Appeals, 1st Circuit, Amar joined the Yale faculty in 1985. He is the co-editor of a leading constitutional law casebook, “Processes of Constitutional Decisionmaking” and the author of several books, including “The Constitution and Criminal Procedure: First Principles” (Yale Univ. Press, 1997), “The Bill of Rights: Creation and Reconstruction” (Yale Univ. Press, 1998), and most recently, “America’s Constitution: A Biography” (Random House, 2005).

“We are very grateful to our friends at McBrayer, McGinnis, Leslie & Kirkland, PLLC,” said Williams. “Their generosity reaches far beyond the Transylvania campus. Many people in the Lexington community and surrounding areas will be interested in hearing some of the country’s brightest constitutional law historians, authors and scholars.”

All the lectures will be free and open to the public.