Watsby Book Details Difficult Path to Civil Rights Court Victories

Stephen L. Wasby

Civil rights litigation has been commonly viewed as achieving success with relative ease. But a new book by Stephen L. Wasby, professor in the Department of Political Science, details how difficult, complicated and often unplanned the final path to legislation actually was.

"People always point to the Brown versus Board of Education decision in 1954 as the prototype for landmark civil rights legislation," says Wasby, whose Race Relations Litigation in an Age of Complexity was released in August. "But there was a single question to be dealt with in Brown: could a southern school district prohibit Blacks from entering its schools?

"When dealing with northern districts, the issue was more complex. Blacks were not technically prohibited from being in certain schools. The litigation involved lots of witnesses — it was 'evidence-heavy' — and took up enormous time and resources. And the judiciary was not always favorable to judgments in favor of such litigants as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or the ACLU. And their involvement in many cases came as fights to keep what you've won, what we call responsive litigation"

Wasby said the public conception of civil rights groups is that they are large organizations with ample resources. "The fact is, A), they are small. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund often had 20 to 25 people working for it. That's not a decent-sized private law firm. And B), their resources were stretched to the limit as the cases themselves became more complex. It was far from 'goal-seen, goal-attained.'"

Wasby's earlier book, Desegregation from Brown to Alexander: an Explanation of Supreme Court Strategies (1977), discussed how the Court dealt with the race relations cases brought to it between 1950 and 1969. "Here in this book, the emphasis is on the strategies of those who brought those case to the court," he said.

Wasby joined the University faculty as full professor in 1978 after 12 years in the political science department of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. In 1990-91 he was Secretary of the Navy Fellow at the U.S. Naval Academy. He has published a college text, The Supreme Court in the Federal Judicial System (1993), now in its fourth edition, and has edited a book on former Justice William O. Douglas.

University at Albany Update

University News and Information

University at Albany Home Page