Joy Milligan, Expert on Race-Based Inequality, To Join Faculty

Berkeley Law Professor Studies History of Discriminatory Government Policies
Joy Milligan

Joy Milligan recently won the Emerging Scholar Award from the Association of American Law Schools’ Section on Administrative Law. Photo courtesy of University of California, Berkeley School of Law

May 7, 2021

Joy Milligan, who studies the intersection of law and inequality, will join the University of Virginia School of Law faculty in the fall.

Milligan comes to UVA from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, where her focus has been on race-based economic inequality and, most recently, how government has perpetuated discrimination. She teaches the courses Civil Rights and Anti-Discrimination Law, as well as Critical Theories of Law and Legal Education, and Civil Procedure.

She said law students increasingly want to see core questions of inequality addressed throughout the curriculum. “And I think there’s amazing potential to do that. It may not be what every professor decides to do, but the opportunity to get students engaged with topics that otherwise strike them as ancient history, to kind of wake them up and draw connections with issues many of them care most about — I think it’s exciting.”

Before teaching at Berkeley, she was a fellow with the school’s Warren Institute on Law & Social Policy, and a Skadden Fellow at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. A graduate of Harvard-Radcliffe College and the New York University School of Law, she was articles editor on the law review and a summer clerk for the ACLU’s Immigrant Rights Project. After law school, she clerked for Judge A. Wallace Tashima of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Milligan also holds a Ph.D. in jurisprudence and social policy from Berkeley, and an M.P.A. in economics and public policy from Princeton University.

She recently published two pieces looking at how segregation has been perpetuated, through housing and education respectively: “Plessy Preserved: Agencies and the Effective Constitution,” in the Yale Law Journal last year, and “Subsidizing Segregation,” in the Virginia Law Review in 2018.

In January, “Plessy Preserved” won Milligan the Emerging Scholar Award from the Association of American Law Schools’ Section on Administrative Law. The paper looks at how and why federal administrators, in orchestrating a federal plan for public housing, created — and legally defended over time — a regime based on the outdated “separate but equal” doctrine birthed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson.

“Why did an agency led by liberal reformers and dedicated to serving the poor do this?” Milligan asks in her abstract. “Administrators believed the public-housing program was politically unsustainable without racial segregation, while agency lawyers argued for preserving the older framework, which had once been understood as a progressive triumph in its commitment to racial ‘equity.’”

“Subsidizing Segregation” investigates why the federal government subsidized racially segregated schools after the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“Much of the federal administrative state was initially intended to coexist with discrimination, not combat it,” Milligan notes in the paper.

A forthcoming article in the University of Chicago Law Review details how civil rights lawyers gained ground in rights battles by making Fifth Amendment “equal protection” arguments in the courts, and through lobbying the executive branch. The article also looks at why Fifth Amendment arguments eventually fell to the wayside, and examines what obligations government has to repair racial segregation today.

She said she hopes the trio of articles, along with additional case studies, will the form the basis of a book project.

The professor is looking forward to working alongside her new colleagues, including legal historians and those focused on anti-discrimination law, as she develops her scholarship, she said.

Dean Risa Goluboff, whose work also focuses on civil rights, said she’s pleased to welcome Milligan to the UVA Law faculty.

“Joy’s work brings into focus why racial inequality is so hard to uproot, despite laws and legal decisions that would seem to promote change,” the dean said. “I have already learned so much from her, and I know that her future work will be equally illuminating and important.”

For Milligan, the feeling is mutual. Goluboff has been “fundamental in shaping my understanding of civil rights history,” Milligan said.

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