Legal scholar Melissa Murray explores the Roberts Court’s handling of race at UH

Melissa Murray Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law Faculty Director, Birnbaum Women’s Leadership Network
Melissa Murray, Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law

On April 4, legal scholar Melissa Murray spoke at the biannual Panos Family Endowed Lecture in Equity and Social Justice where she unpacked the Supreme Court’s handling of race and racial justice. The lecture series, hosted by the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Houston, brings together scholars from diverse backgrounds to critically examine topics of race, social justice and civil society.

“The Panos family lecture series is one of many ways CLASS is dedicating resources to tackling contemporary social problems,” College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Dean Dan O’Connor said. “We have nearly 12,000 students in our college, and our research is integrated, impactful and important for addressing today’s problems and developing tomorrow’s solutions.”

In a lecture entitled “Race and the Roberts Supreme Court,” Murray discussed the conservative view on equity and social justice in contemporary politics, paying special attention to how the Supreme Court has addressed these concerns and the implications for criminal justice reform. Topics addressed range from the impact of Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ conservative views on race and social justice in America to the Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“I think these are flashpoint issues in our country that are still being fought, and universities are ideal places for us to have civil conversations,” said Murray, the Frederick I. and Grace Stokes Professor of Law at New York University. “I feel really gratified that the University of Houston has invited me to speak, and this is a great opportunity for us to all learn from each other.”

Murray vividly conveyed how the court’s most conservative members have leveraged progressive strategies and language to push conservative causes such as criminal justice, reproductive freedoms, gun rights expansion and economic freedoms.

“Students will inherit the world that the court is assembling and that we inhabit,” Murray said. “The court is asking all kinds of questions that will impact the students and their future, including questions regarding climate change and climate justice, questions that will, in very real time, change how higher education operates, and they should be involved in that, whether they agree with the court or not.”

Established in 2021 by a $4.5 million endowment to the University of Houston, the Panos Endowed Lecture series provides space for in-depth, scholarly conversations that foster a diverse, compassionate and equitable civil society. Murray’s lecture was presented to a live audience and streamed online to virtual attendees. The event wrapped up with an open-floor Q&A session with discussant Elizabeth Gregory, Taylor Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies and professor of English at the University of Houston.

“These are all really interesting constitutional visions that the court is espousing,” Murray said. “Looking ahead of what all of this might be on the ground for a country that is becoming increasingly diverse in both its demographic composition and in its interests.” 

The Panos Endowed Lecture is organized by the CLASS Special Committee on Race and Social Justice each semester. Murray joins the ranks of previous series speakers such as sociologist Ruha Benjamin (Princeton University), prison scholar Ruth Wilson Gilmore (The City University of New York) and writer and activist Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (Northwestern University). Topics explored have ranged from the United States’ reliance on undocumented labor to voter suppression efforts.