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What does it mean to contextualize legal doctrine and how does contextualization matter? This essay explores a general pedagogy of contextualization within the particular context of a class on race and the death penalty. Teaching the Supreme Court's infamous 1987 opinion in the case of McCleskey v. Kemp within its historical, doctrinal, cultural, and human contexts--rather than as a self-explanatory pronouncement--provides a deeper understanding of America's death penalty system, its connection to America's racial caste system, and the Supreme Court's role in each. These multiple contexts provide a foundation for comprehension and critique of values served by conventional legal methods. They also create conditions for progressive insights about what law enables and what it elides.


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7 Sep 2022
140 kB



  • Subject
    • Civil Rights and Discrimination

    • Constitutional Law

    • Human Rights Law

    • Legal History

  • Journal title
    • New York University Review of Law & Social Change

  • Volume
    • 31

  • Pagination
    • 547-562

  • Date submitted

    7 September 2022

  • Keywords