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STANFORD -- Yale law Professor Stephen Carter, a member of Stanford's Class of '76 and author of books that challenge conventional thinking on affirmative action and religion, will be the featured speaker at Stanford's 103rd commencement on Sunday, June 12.
Carter, who clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, whom Carter calls his "second father," was the first black tenured professor in Yale Law School's history. He may be most widely known for his 1991 book, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, which challenges the idea that "authentically black" African Americans must hold a particular set of opinions, including support for affirmative action.
His most recent book, The Culture of Disbelief: How Our Legal and Political Cultures Trivialize Religious Devotion, was hailed by the New York Times for its treatment of an "important aspect of our national life that's all too often the subject of knee- jerk thinking and reaction."
Now the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale, Carter topped a list of more than a dozen possible commencement speakers submitted by this year's student body presidents to Stanford President Gerhard Casper.
"It was really tough coming up with a list because we needed to look at the needs of parents, alumni, undergraduates and graduate students," said Council of Presidents member Dana Weeks, who first heard of Carter from a roommate.
The Yale professor, Weeks said, "seemed to satisfy a lot of needs. He's an academic, he's an alumnus and it turns out that President Casper knows him. And although he's been labeled as a conservative black man, he considers himself neutral, and that's kind of interesting.
"A lot of people may not have heard of him," Weeks added, "but I think it's important that people leave commencement with something to think about."
Casper himself praised the recommendation, noting, "I have known and respected Steve Carter in his professional role and, in fact, was interested in recruiting him when I was law school dean at Chicago.
"I was not aware that he was a Stanford alumnus and thus was surprised and delighted to find him at the top of the senior class presidents' list. It speaks well of our students that they recommended such a substantive and challenging speaker."
Carter, 39, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of an assistant secretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
After public high school in Ithaca, N.Y., he completed a bachelor's degree in history at Stanford, graduating with honors and distinction. He also wrote a column for the Stanford Daily, in which he "tirelessly took contrarian positions," according to an October 1993 Mirabella profile by Robert S. Boynton.
After receiving his law degree from Yale in 1979 (and a prize as best moot court oralist), Carter clerked for two judges, including Marshall. He practiced corporate law for less than a year and then returned to Yale as a professor in 1982. He is an authority on constitutional law, contracts and intellectual property.
Carter was appointed by President Bush to the National Commission on Judicial Discipline and Removal in 1991.
Carter's next book, The Confirmation Mess: Cleaning Up the Federal Appointments Process, is scheduled for publication this spring. In addition to many law review articles, he also writes frequently for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The New Republic and The New Yorker.
About 4,000 graduates and 30,000 guests typically attend Stanford's annual commencement ceremony, which also will feature an address by Casper and presentation of awards for outstanding teaching and service.
Stanford commencement speakers in recent years have included U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 1993, modern art authority Kirk Varnedoe in 1992, Haas Centennial Professor of Public Service John Gardner in 1991, and Children's Defense Fund President Marion Wright Edelman in 1990.
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