UC Berkeley Law School Dean Says Reparations Based On Lineage Have Better Chance With Legal Challenge

UC Berkeley Law School Dean Says Reparations Based On Lineage Have Better Chance With Legal Challenge


Photo: Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University California, Berkeley law school, Oct. 3, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In a debate that threatens to divide the reparations movement, some advocates want reparations to be distributed based on race, going to all Black people in the U.S. Others, like reparations scholar Dr. William Darity, insist reparations must be based on lineage, paid only to descendants of enslaved people in the U.S.

Reparations based on lineage have a better chance of overcoming political and legal challenges, according to Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California Berkeley Law School.

The city of Berkeley has hired a consultant to develop a reparations process and may explore making reparations to Black residents.

It all depends on how the city council votes on next year’s budget. The vote is set for March 22. If the council approves to allocate $350,000 in next year’s cycle, Berkeley will be one of the few U.S. municipalities to set aside money to repair the legacy of enslavement, Berkeleyside reported.

“While federal and state reparation proposals are moving through the legislatures, it is time that municipalities also address the injustices, brutality, racism, and discrimination that the Black community has faced in the past and the present,” Berkeley City Council members and Mayor Jesse Arreguin wrote in March 22 report

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City Council member Ben Bartlett is spearheading the measure and Mayor Jesse Arreguín and City Council members Terry Taplin and Sophie Hahn are co-sponsoring the budget item. 

“Berkeley City Council must join the conversation and take responsibility to adopt programs, policies, and practices that effectively bridge the generational wealth gap and boost economic mobility and opportunity in the Black community,” Barlett told Berkeleyside.

“The goal for Truth, in a Berkeley context, is to establish a common understanding of the history of Black Americans in Berkeley,” according to the report.

If the measure goes ahead, Berkeley will have to decide who gets reparations. This is the same issue the California Reparations commission is struggling with. 

In June 2021, the California Assembly passed its own reparations bill approving a task force to study the need for reparations and how reparations would be carried out. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on the historic bill in November 2021.

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In February 2022, the task force debated who should receive reparations and decided to delay its vote on eligibility.

Reparations based on lineage, as opposed to race, are less likely to be overturned in court, Berkeley Law School Dean Chemerinsky said during testimony in early March 2022 at one of the commission’s hearings, The New York Times reported.

Chemerinsky has long pushed this point. He said the same thing in 2021 at a reparations forum held at a UC Berkeley event he facilitated, “A discussion on reparations: California and beyond.”

And in 2019, he told The Washington Post that reparations could be constitutional if framed as an award to descendants of slaves — not to African Americans. 

Photo: Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University California, Berkeley law school, discusses the issues of balancing free speech and public safety in the face of clashes between supporters of controversial right-wing speakers and left-wing “anti-fascist” demonstrators during the first of several legislative hearings planned to discuss balancing free speech and public safety, Oct. 3, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)