Morgan Kousser’s Noble Dream

J. Morgan Kousser, professor of history and social science at the California Institute of Technology, is an unusual academic. He enjoys the respect of two quite different groups – historians and civil rights litigators. As a historian, Kousser has written a number of important works on the American South in the tradition of his mentor, C. Vann Woodward, including a foundational book on southern political history, The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910. Many of his writings have become seminal texts among election law scholars. Kousser has also used his historical skills to provide crucial assistance to civil rights plaintiffs in numerous voting cases, including Mobile v. Bolden, Shaw v . Hunt, and Bush v. Vera. Like the work of C. Vann Woodward, Kousser’s is the scholarship of the path not taken. He seeks to show that the political and racial climate at various points in our history was more fluid than we imagine in order to persuade us that the path we eventually took was not foreordained, and that changes in institutional structures or legal rules might have led to dramatically different results. His historical scholarship is thus forward-looking – the past provides a means to chart our course for the future. Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction is Kousser’s most recent effort to pursue his noble dream: “tell[ing] the truth and do[ing] good at the same time.” Its self-proclaimed goal is to employ rigorous historical analysis to uncover what Kousser believes to be the partisanship, racism, and hypocrisy underlying the Supreme Court’s racial gerrymandering decisions – Shaw v. Reno and its progeny. Throughout the book, Kousser insists that scholars abandon their isolationist impulses and join him in fighting the good fight to eliminate Shaw. One can only admire the passion and intellectual firepower Kousser brings to his role as academic warrior, his choice of interdisciplinary scholarship as a weapon, and the battles he has chosen to wage.