The topic of civil rights is a topic that I have thought about for a long time and written about and feel very committed to, and I thank the editors of the St. John's Journal of Legal Commentary for inviting me to give the closing remarks. I am heartened by the commitment of our students at St. John's University School of Law in recognizing the importance of the rights of the disabled and civil rights in general.
First, I would like to place my summation in the context of civil rights, which is what I know most about. Some of our speakers today have taken us back historically; Judge Re to Roman law, another speaker to Ancient Greece, and yet another to the Thirteenth Century. What I am going to do is move us closer in time to 1954 and the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Now you might ask, "What does Brown have to do with employment rights of the disabled? Wasn't it a case about race and education?" Technically, yes but philosophically and politically it was not. In fact, Brown's central statement was about the right to be free from state action implying inferiority. In other words, for the Court in Brown, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees each of us the right to equal dignity and respect at the hands of government.
Now, despite all of the debate about judicial activism and judicial restraint, we know that courts actually frame their decisions within the cultural paradigms of the accepted social values of the day. In that sense, Brown can be viewed as reflecting what were the emerging understandings, sensibilities, and perspectives captured in the timeframe of 1954.