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Truth crushed to the earth will rise again.

~ Dr. Martin Luther King

Veritas ~ Harvard’s coat of arms and motto

Laurence Tribe (1941- ) has been the Carl M. Loeb professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School since 1968.



My dear professor Laurence Tribe,

For 20 years I wanted to write you this letter, but I didn’t have the gravitas to do so coherently. Instead, I read, I listened, I observed, I sat patiently, I sat silently until now.

For 20 years I read your books, your law review articles, your op-eds, studied your treatise on Constitutional Law (including the footnotes), read your numerous appellate and Supreme Court opinions and your amicus briefs. Why? So I could deliver to you and to the academy this most prescient message.

It was 20 years ago when I first heard your name during news reports of the contentious Supreme Court nomination of conservative jurist Judge Robert Bork. With exceeding interest I read that your critics had credited your behind-the-scenes lobbying efforts of key liberal senators on the Judiciary Committee with scuttling the nomination of Robert Bork, for liberals remembered Bork’s role as “Nixon’s hatchetman” of the “Saturday Night Massacre” in the firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating President Nixon’s involvement in the infamous Watergate scandal. But you went further. Your polemical book, “God Save This Honorable Court” (1985), embolden these senators ever more and put the nail in the coffin of the Bork nomination.


By the words you spoke and the words you wrote, October 1987 saw Ronald Reagan’s nominee to the Supreme Court go down in flames as in Brunhilde’s immolation scene of Wagner’s “G?tterd?mmerung.”

If I were Socrates, I’m sure he would pose these prescient questions to you: Professor Tribe, how does your tactics of politicizing the judicial process used against Robert Bork line up with Veritas? Professor Tribe, how does your oeuvre line up with Veritas? How does your collected works contribute to the “cultivation of the soul,” as Socrates would say?

For example, of the over 35 cases you argued before the Supreme Court, of the many infamies, one above all was the notorious case Bowers v. Hardwick in 1986, holding that a Georgia state law criminalizing sodomy, as applied to consensual acts between persons of the same sex, did not violate fundamental liberties under the principle of substantive due process. You almost won that case, losing in a contentious 5-4 decision. However, you were vindicated 17 years later in 2003, when the Supreme Court overruled Bowers in Lawrence v. Texas, a case that ironically carried your name for posterity to forever remember this ignominy.

I remember your words at a Senate subcommittee hearing regarding the question of who will define marriage: the people or the courts? The narrative reads:

Legal experts across the political spectrum agree the Lawrence decision presents a federal judicial threat to marriage. Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe has said, “You’d have to be tone deaf not to get the message” that Lawrence renders traditional marriage “constitutionally suspect.” According to Tribe, the defense of marriage is now a “federal constitutional issue,” and he predicts the U.S. Supreme Court will eventually reach the same conclusion as the Massachusetts court.

If law has any moral content, professor Tribe, which I argue that it does in my law review article, “Reply to Judge Richard A. Posner on the Inseperability of Law and Morality,” then how could you in good conscience persuade the Supreme Court that homosexual sodomy is a legitimate constitutional right? That traditional marriage between a man and a woman is now in 2007 “constitutionally suspect”? That literally 400 years of American history and the rule of law can be turned on its head to legalize the perverse and to outlaw the moral, virtuous and biblical? Is this Veritas, professor Tribe?

Professor Tribe, in many ways we are diametrical:

  • I am black and you are white.

  • You are a Jew; I am a gentile.

  • You are venerated scholar of constitutional law known and loved by all the great legal scholars all over the world. I am an anonymous, self-appointed scholar without an academic home, rejected by the law academy – though I have written five books on constitutional law, jurisprudence and political philosophy. Mocked and ignored by the academy, although I have edited 11 law review articles of noted legal scholars like Derrick Bell, Toni Massaro, Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda and many others, edited 20 books, written over a dozen law review articles and over 150 columns and Socratic dialectical essays.

Also, like you I have argued before the Supreme Court; my books and articles are in the Chambers Library and in the collected papers of all three ideological branches of the Supreme Court, including my two law review articles on Brown v. Board of Education that foresaw three years before the constitutional defects of using race discrimination to fight race discrimination.

My ideas were even vindicated in the recent Supreme Court case, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 (2007), an opinion that didn’t overturn Brown v. Board of Education, but did reject the state of Washington’s school diversity plans. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion:

For schools that never segregated on the basis of race, such as Seattle, or that have removed the vestiges of past segregation, such as Jefferson County, the way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis … is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

Professor Tribe, I have different (not inferior) skills, education and expertise from yours, yet to date in this Land of Liberty I cannot secure employment to feed my children with my skills as you have done for over 40 years.

Professor Tribe, to the above discourse I ask this question: Have you or any other law professor, judge or justice of the Supreme Court that you know of served as an editor on one of the top three law reviews (Michigan Law Review) two years before being admitted to law school? Probably not. Yet, this is my legacy, but it is ignored until this day.

Professor Tribe, I don’t want your pity or your affirmative action. This melancholy discourse is only addressed to you as a symbol of an academic class that has long since aborted Reason, Equity, Justice and Truth by separating law from morality; replacing the philosophy of the Constitution’s framers, Natural Law, with its secular humanist counterfeit, Positive Law. Under your jurisprudence, professor Tribe, a philosophy of law that mandates a strict separation of law and morality, not only are unborn babies a contemptible, dispensable commodity, but my people, black people, could theoretically be enslaved yet again and my Jewish friends sent back to Hitler’s crematoria.

To you, my dear professor Laurence Tribe, in the dialectical manner of Socrates, I reiterate this simple question: How does your life’s work measure up to Veritas (Truth)?

Shalom,

Ellis Washington



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