IIT Chicago-Kent Professor Christopher W. Schmidt Wins 2014 AALS Scholarly Papers Competition

Christopher Schmidt

IIT Chicago-Kent Assistant Professor Christopher W. Schmidt won the Association of American Law Schools’ (AALS) Scholarly Papers Competition for his paper Divided by Law: The Sit-Ins and the Role of the Courts in the Civil Rights Movement. Schmidt, whose paper was selected from among 60 entries in this year’s competition, will present his work on January 4, 2014, at the AALS annual meeting in New York.

The AALS Scholarly Papers Competition was established in 1986 to encourage and recognize excellent legal scholarship by junior law school faculty members. Schmidt and the two runners-up in this year’s competition were selected by a panel of distinguished legal scholars using a “blind-grading” process.

Schmidt’s winning article explains how the lunch counter sit-in movement of 1960 was a contest not only over access to public accommodations but also over the role of the courts in the civil rights movement. The students who led the movement envisioned their approach as an alternative to litigation-based reform tactics. Many civil rights lawyers, in contrast, felt the students’ claim was best resolved in the courts. Debates over the role of the courts also emerged among white southern politicians and businessmen. These divergent attitudes toward the courts, Schmidt argues, ultimately worked to the students’ advantage.

According to Schmidt, “Attention to the expectations diverse people placed upon the courts offers a vehicle for charting the ways law and perceptions of law shaped the sit-in movement at various levels-in the streets as well as the courts, among lay people as well as lawyers and judges.”

A member of the IIT Chicago-Kent faculty since 2008, Schmidt teaches in the areas of constitutional law, legal history, comparative constitutional law, and sports law. His research interests include the political and intellectual context behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the constitutional consequences of the student lunch counter sit-in movement of 1960, the Tea Party as a constitutional movement, and the role of government in the development of Major League Baseball. He received his Ph.D. in the History of American Civilization Program at Harvard and his J.D. from Harvard Law School.

Established in 1900, AALS is a nonprofit educational association of 176 law schools representing over 10,000 law faculty in the United States. The purpose of the association is “the improvement of the legal profession through legal education.”

Founded in 1888, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law is the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology, a private, Ph.D.-granting institution with programs in engineering, psychology, architecture, business, design and law.

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