Teach the Children, Free the Land: The Political Economy of Public Education
Mari J. Matsuda, J.D., Professor of Law, William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawai’i—Mãnoa, Hawai’i
From her earliest academic publications, the prolific Professor Matsuda has spoken from the perspective and increasingly used the method that has come to be known as critical race theory. She is not only one of its most powerful practitioners, but is among a handful of legal scholars credited with its origin. Her first article, “Liberal Jurisprudence and Abstracted Visions of Human Nature,” published in 1986, boldly—albeit respectfully—took on liberal legal philosopher John Rawls’ theory of justice and in doing so announced her own philosophical orientation. Matsuda concludes her piece with an idea that informs much of her work in subsequent years: “There is, as Rawls suggests, a place called Justice, and it will take many voices to get there.” The voices she has in mind are the voices that have been left out, “outsider” voices speaking as individuals and as members of their communities of origin, voices of subordinate peoples. Voices from the bottom, Matsuda believes—and critical race theory posits—have the power to open up new legal concepts of an even constitutional dimension. Paradoxically, bringing in the voices of outsiders has helped to make Matsuda’s work central to the legal canon. Judges and scholars regularly quote her work.
Mari Matsuda is also known as a teacher. She has lectured at every major university. Judges in countries as diverse as Micronesia and South Africa have invited her to conduct judicial training and other law professors count her as a significant influence on their own work. Harvard professor Lani Guinier says, “Mari Matsuda taught me that I have a voice. I did not have to become a female gentleman, a social male. Nor should I strive to become someone else in order to be heard.” Social critic Catharine MacKinnon says of Matsuda’s book, Where Is Your Body: Essays on Race, Gender, and the Law, “Her writing shines, her politics illuminate, her passion touches and reveals…Community grow in her hands. Read her. We need this.” For Matsuda, community is linked to teaching and scholarship. She serves on national advisory boards of social justice organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Asian American Justice Center.
By court appointment, she served as a member of the Texaco Task Force on Equality and Fairness, assisting in the implementation of the thenlargest employment discrimination settlement in U.S. history. “Every one of the publications that I am known for came out of some kind of pro bono community project I was working on,” she says. Her Yale Law Journal article on accent discrimination, for example, came out of her representation of Manual Fragante, an immigrant and Vietnam veteran. For her work on such cases, A Magazine recognized her in 1999 as one of the 100 most influential Asian Americans. Judge Richard Posner in his quantitative analysis of scholarly influence lists Mari Matsuda as among those scholars most likely to have lasting influence.