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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Expert Witnessing

While at Harvard in grad school, Loewen had met Frank Parker, who was in law school. A year after Loewen moved to Mississippi to teach at Tougaloo, Frank moved to Mississipi to open up an office for the civil rights law group “Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law,” sponsored by the American Bar Association, I believe. Not knowing anyone else in Jackson, he contacted me and we became friends. He also began seeing Carolyn Stephens of the Stephens Restaurant family. Within a year, they got married; I was best man. Meanwhile, Frank reached out to me to do statistics and sociology on behalf of his class-action law cases.

My first case was just an hour away, in Yazoo City, on the Yazoo River, which provides the eastern and southern edge of the Mississippi Delta. I wrote it up years ago. Very different was my experience in my second case, in Wilkinson County, southwest of Tougaloo, almost in Louisiana. Like Yazoo, it was a jury exclusion case, and the judge was equally white and equally old. However, he was intellectually curious. While I was testifying about how Mississippi made it hard for people to vote, he asked me, “Do you think illiterates should be allowed to vote?” and I had a sense he really meant the question and was not simply baiting me. I thought for a moment, then replied that I did, because no one else was likely to represent their interests and needs as well as they could. I am also mindful now, and perhaps was then, that during Reconstruction, most black voters (and many whites) were illiterate. After all, to learn how to read and write had been a felony for African Americans during slavery. Yet black voters then (now too) did a fine job of representing their own interests, helping to pass interesting new laws about homesteading, education, and many other subjects.

I testified for other civil rights lawyers, most notably Armand Derfner, for the Justice Department, the ACLU, NAACP, and eventually for defendants. I only testified for defendants, including the city of Anchorage, when I felt they were in the right, or the case was morally and sociologically a tossup. Testifying for defendants was interesting, however, because it forces one to ensure that the findings on plaintiffs’ sides are altogether correct and justified by the evidence as assessed neutrally. Kind of like walking in someone else’s shoes.

In 1979, when I lived in D.C. and worked for Bill Taylor’s Center for National Policy Review, the Department of Justice, having engaged me to be an expert witness in various voting rights cases, hired me to give a seven‑hour two‑day workshop for 35 attorneys in the Civil Rights Division on “The Use of Social Science Experts in Civil Rights Litigation.” Eventually I expanded the workshop materials and added new topics to form  Social Science in the Courtroom: Statistical Techniques and Research Methods for Winning Class‑Action Suits (Lexington, MA: D. C. Heath/Lexington Books, 1982). At the time, he had probably consulted or testified using a wider variety of statistical techniques than anyone else. Here is the entire book. Print it if you wish.