“You Write in Cursive, I Write in Graffiti”: How #BlackLivesMatter Reorients Social Movement Legal Theory

This Comment compares and contrasts: (1) analyses and recommendations posited by longstanding Constitutional scholars discussing social movements, with (2) the efforts and achievements by the Black Lives Matter movement. Using the scholarship of Jack Balkin and Reva Siegel as examples, this Comment argues that their prescriptions for social movements that seek to affect changes in constitutional interpretation ignore the tactics and strengths used by social movements with antiracist aspirations. Moreover, this Comment illustrates how their prescriptions are often in direct contradiction to principles that antiracist social movements adhere to. One step short of producing a new framework for social movements to rely on when aiming to create constitutional change, this Comment calls on scholars to consider in its future formulations two important features that were important to Black Lives Matter’s successes: (1) autonomous institutions and (2) culture. This Comment argues that these two focal points for the Black Lives Matter movement between 2012 and 2018, which are rooted in Black history and intellectual traditions, helped advance our contemporary understandings of the U.S. Constitution and how it is used to uphold racist, capitalist structures and how it might be reimagined to achieve antiracist aspirations. This Comment then points out that these advanced constitutional understandings materialized in Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s Dissenting Opinion in Utah v. Strieff and the Massachusetts Supreme Court Decision Commonwealth v. Warren. It is important to note that this Comment was written before the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in 2020 and the protests that ensued shortly thereafter. I hope this Comment can supplement the important scholarship that emerges next.

About the Author

Sean Flores graduated from UCLA School of Law in 2018, where he was the Chief Comments Editor for the UCLA Law Review.