Charles Lawrence 2019


Professor Charles R Lawrence III is a professor of law at the William R Richardson School of Law in Hawaii.  He is best known for his exceptional and prolific scholarly work in critical race theory, anti-discrimination law, equal protection and racist hate speech.

The son of Margaret, a child psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and Charles, a successful sociologist, Professor Lawrence completed a bachelor's degree at Haverford College in Pennsylvania and later a Doctor of Jurisprudence at Yale University.

His article, “The Id, The Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism,” a seminal work underlying Critical Race Theory, is considered part of “the genre’s foundational canon.”

Professor Lawrence’s views have been prominently cited in several US Supreme Court and Federal Court opinions. His work has prompted reformulations of anti-discrimination laws in numerous jurisdictions and undoubtedly played a significant role when the test for unfair discrimination in South Africa was framed. Here the impact of the discrimination on the person targeted is pivotal. His work in discrimination law and critical race theory has been especially influential the arenas of racist hate speech, affirmative action and education law.  His writings have initiated renewed and much needed attention to the problem of hate speech regulation, both in the USA and abroad. His views have played a prominent role in the development of South Africa’s free speech jurisprudence.

The predominant harm of racism, homophobia and sexism is caused not by the harm which one individual does to the other, but by society’s collective failure to see, understand and acknowledge our shared biases, he writes “We cannot heal our wounds by covering them and pretending they do not exist.  We must not be afraid to speak with one another about our wounds.  We must name racism, sexism, and heterosexism when we see and feel them without accusation or claim of innocence.” Law’s role in this project, he explains, is to provide an enabling framework for a “collective community commitment to the eradication of racism and the disestablishment of ideologies and systems of racial subordination”.  We must “know every wound upon a human heart or body as both caused by us and happening to us.  Only then will we know justice.”

He has written three books, contributed chapters to numerous books and authored scores of journal articles.

Among his many awards and honours are The Meyers Center Award for the Study of Human Rights in North America, The Society of American Law Teachers “Outstanding Teacher” Award, The University of San Francisco School of Law's "Most Distinguished Professor Award", the National Black Law Students' Association's "Paul Robeson Service Award," The Outstanding Contribution Award from the National Black Police Association, and Doctor of Law (honoris causa) degrees from Haverford College and Georgetown University. 

He has served on numerous boards including the Society of American Law Teachers, National Public Radio, the District of Columbia’s Public Schools Board of Education and the Maya Angelou Public Charter School.

He is married to Mari J Matsuda, an American lawyer, activist, and law professor at the William S Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii who specialises in the fields of torts, constitutional law, legal history, feminist theory, critical race theory, and civil rights law.  Together, they have co-authored two books: Words That Wound:  Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech and the First Amendment and We Won’t Go Back:  Making the Case for Affirmative Action.

For his scholarly work, which resonates with the Constitutional paradigm and the University’s value system, and for his advocacy towards the transformation of society and the elimination of racial oppression, it is an honour for Nelson Mandela University to confer the degree of Doctor of Law (honoris causa) on Professor Charles R Lawrence III.