Category: Race


Cynthia Lee on Trayvon Martin, Self-Defense, Implicit Bias, and Making Race Salient

I attended a fantastic colloquium talk yesterday at which Cynthia Lee (GW) presented on her forthcoming article about the Trayvon Martin case. (The TJSL colloquium committee, including my colleagues Alex Kreit and Meera Deo, have done a fantastic job of bringing speakers to campus.) Professor Lee drew on her own prior work as well as groundbreaking new research, and used the Martin case as a lens:

This Article uses the Trayvon Martin shooting to examine the operation of implicit racial bias in cases involving claims of self-defense. Recent research on race salience by Samuel Sommers and Phoebe Ellsworth suggests that individuals are more likely to overcome their implicit biases if race is made salient than if race is simply a background factor, known but not highlighted. Sommers and Ellsworth demonstrate through empirical research that making race salient, or calling attention to the relevance of race in a given situation, encourages individuals to suppress what would otherwise be automatic stereotypic congruent responses in favor of acting in a more egalitarian manner. Building on these insights, Professor Lee suggests that in the run of the mill case, when an individual claims he shot a young Black male in self-defense, the police, the prosecutor, the judge, and the jury are likely to find reasonable the individual’s claim that he felt he was being threatened by the young Black male unless mechanisms are in place to make the operation of racial stereotypes in the creation of fear salient. In the Trayvon Martin case, race was made salient by the huge public outcry over the Sanford Police Department’s failure to arrest Zimmerman and extensive media coverage. Most criminal cases, however, do not receive the kind of media attention received by the Trayvon Martin case. In most interracial criminal cases, race is a background factor but generally is not something either party tries to highlight. Professor Lee concludes with some suggestions as to how prosecutors and defense attorneys concerned about the operation of implicit racial bias can make race salient in the criminal courtroom.

Professor Lee’s previous scholarship has explored in some detail the ways in which racial biases can infect verdicts, especially in areas like self-defense where subjective intent can be important. Her article Race and Self-Defense is foundational, and I assign it every year in my Critical Race Theory class (along with other important work in this area, like Paul Butler‘s writings on jury nullification and on mass incarceration). It was a delight to hear Professor Lee present about her new work, and I’ll absolutely be using this as I teach in the fall. And Professor’s Lee’s talk illustrated one silver lining to the Trayvon Martin case: The intense media scrutiny focused public attention on possible racial biases, and this created a public awareness which may ultimately lead to a more just criminal justice system.


Fortune’s Bones: Is There Dignity after Death?

In 1995 Gunther von Hagens presented his Body Worlds exhibit, described as a collection of real human bodies that have been “plastinated” to prevent their decay and make them more malleable. Some of these plastinated bodies were cut open to reveal their inner organs and then positioned in lifelike poses. The exhibit toured the world and was wildly popular.

Body Worlds also generated some criticism. Canadian social scientist, Lawrence Burns, argued that “some aspects of the exhibit violated human dignity.” (7(4): 12-23 Amer. J. Bioethics 2007)  Although touted as an educational experience Burns and others worried that the bodies were being used as “resources to make money from the voyeurism of the general public.” A key concern was that the bodies were denied burial and that this was a dignitary affront. Burns conceded, however, that the concept of human dignity as applied to deceased individuals is unclear.

I started to think about whether there is dignity after death and, if so, what are its parameters, when I read a news article from the New Haven Register, about the skeleton of an enslaved man that was being studied by the anthropology faculty and students at Quinnipiac University prior to burial.

The enslaved man who died in the 1798 (slavery was not abolished in Connecticut until 1848), was named Fortune. At the time of his death Fortune was the human chattel of a Waterbury Connecticut physician who upon Fortune’s death boiled his body to remove the flesh keeping his skeleton to study human anatomy. Fortune’s body remained unburied and was on display as late as 1970 at the Mattatuck Museum where until recently it was still housed. Read More


Free speech rights and free speech pedagogy

I am working on a paper about student speech rights in public school that has me vacillating about whether the classic Supreme Court case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) is a brilliant exercise in linedrawing or an utter failure. Many readers will remember that Tinker held that students could wear black armbands to school in silent protest of American involvement in hostilities in Vietnam; school officials may interfere with or punish speech only if  they reasonably forecast that it will “materially or substantially interfer[e] with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school or collide with the rights of others.”  The Tinker rule has the nice feature of explaining why a student cannot answer a teacher’s question “What were the results of Irish potato famine?” with “US Out of Vietnam!” while she can say the same thing in the hallway. More broadly, Tinker establishes a certain kind of pedagogical regime for the hours that students spend in-school-but-not-in-class, one where students can learn how to exercise constitutional rights by practicing them, up to the point of disruption.

Tinker’s flaws were made vivid once again this week by yet another case, this one from the Fourth Circuit, involving students being prohibited from and punished for wearing to school clothing that bears the likeness of Confederate flags. Such behavior seems initially very similar to wearing a black armband to protest Vietnam; but the courts of appeals have fairly consistently held that such speech can be barred under Tinker because histories of racial tension make it reasonable for school authorities to expect disruption to result from such displays. The new case, Hardwick v. Heyward, is quite emphatic on this score, emphasizing that the mere fact that the shirts did not lead to disruption is immaterial, because it was reasonable for school officials to predict disruption; moreover past racial disputes in the school were material, because they made the prediction more reasonable. The Hardwick rationale pretty clearly means that, had there once been fistfights in the Des Moines schools about the Vietnam War, or perhaps even World War II, then the armbands could have been banned in the present. Thus Tinker is deployed to create a particularly strong kind of hecklers’ veto.

My gut reaction to this case is — who is fooling whom? Read More


Volume 60, Issue 3 (February 2013)

Volume 60, Issue 3 (February 2013)


Urban Bias, Rural Sexual Minorities, and the Courts Luke A. Boso 562
Private Equity and Executive Compensation Robert J. Jackson, Jr. 638
The New Investor Tom C.W. Lin 678


The Fate of the Collateral Source Rule After Healthcare Reform Ann S. Levin 736
A New Strategy for Neutralizing the Gay Panic Defense at Trial: Lessons From the Lawrence King Case David Alan Perkiss 778

Does Blind Review See Race?*

In a comment to my earlier post suggesting that law review editors should seek out work from underrepresented demographic groups, my co-blogger Dave Hoffman asked an excellent question: Would blind review remedy these concerns? It seems to me that the answer here is complicated. Blind review would probably be an improvement on balance, but could still suffer from — err, blind spots. Here are a few reasons why.

The paradigmatic case for the merits of blind review comes from a well-known study of musician hiring, published about a decade ago by Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse in the American Economic Review. Goldin and Rouse gathered data on symphony auditions, and found that blind auditions — that is, ones which concealed the gender of the auditioning musician — resulted in a significantly higher proportion of women musicians auditioning successfully. As Rouse commented,

“This country’s top symphony orchestras have long been alleged to discriminate against women, and others, in hiring. Our research suggests both that there has been differential treatment of women and that blind auditions go a long way towards resolving the problem.”

The Goldin-Rouse study shows that blind review can be a useful tool in combating bias. Would a similar review system work in the law review context?

Well, maybe. Read More


Emory’s slave history: One step forward, three-fifths of a step back?

Among the many institutions tainted by historical association with slavery are a number of universities, including Emory. This is clear from the historical record; both the University itself and many of its employees used slave labor, while the school also served as a focal point for important intellectual defenses of slavery.

In recent years, the University has taken steps to recognize and take responsibility for this history and move forward in positive ways. The school issued an official statement of regret for its involvement in slavery; launched the Transforming Community Project; and held a fantastic conference on Slavery and the University which focused on groundbreaking work from Mark Auslander, Al Brophy, and other scholars. (Full disclosure: I was a speaker at this event.)

All in all, Emory has been moving in a very positive direction over the past few years. Which makes the latest column from University President James Wagner such a head-scratcher. Read More


In Defense of Law Review Affirmative Action

As you may have seen, the new Scholastica submission service allows law reviews to collect demographic information from authors. A flurry of blog posts has recently cropped up in response (including some in this space); as far as I can tell, they range from negative to negative to kinda-maybe-negative to negative to still negative. The most positive post I’ve seen comes from Michelle Meyer at the Faculty Lounge, who discusses whether Scholastica’s norms are like symposium selection norms, and in the process implies that Scholastica’s model might be okay. Michael Mannheimer at Prawfs also makes a sort of lukewarm defense that editors were probably doing this anyway.

But is it really the case that law review affirmative action would be a bad thing? Read More


Expanding Bob Jones University v. United States

In Bob Jones University v. United States, the IRS revoked the tax exempt status of two religiously affiliated schools because they discriminated on the basis of race. One school (Goldsboro Christian Schools) refused admittance to black students, the other (Bob Jones University) barred interracial dating and marriage. Both schools claimed that the discrimination was religiously mandated, and that the loss of their tax exempt status violated the Free Exercise Clause. The schools lost. The Supreme Court characterized tax exemptions as a taxpayer subsidy for charitable organizations that, at the very least, do not contravene fundamental public policy like our commitment to racial equality, and held that racist schools did not satisfy that requirement: “[I]t cannot be said that educational institutions that, for whatever reasons, practice racial discrimination, are institutions exercising beneficial and stabilizing influences in community life or should be encouraged by having all taxpayers share in their support by way of special tax status.” In addition, the Court held that eliminating race discrimination in education was a narrowly tailored and compelling state interest. The bottom line is that a university may discriminate based on race, but it should not expect to be considered a beneficial organization entitled to tax subsidies.

Assuming Bob Jones was correctly decided, should its holding be limited to discrimination in education, or discrimination on the basis of race? I think not. In fact, the IRS denies tax exempt status to any nonprofit organization, religious or not, that invidiously discriminates on the basis of race. If you are a church that excludes blacks, or won’t let blacks become ministers, you may have the constitutional right to exist, but you won’t get any government money to help you prosper. Should the same policy apply to organizations, religious or not, that invidiously discriminate on the basis of sex?


Professor Sherrilyn Ifill on Fisher v. University of Texas: Still Litigation Without Minority Representation

My colleague Sherrilyn Ifill has generously offered to share her insights on the Fisher case.  Professor Ifill is a nationally recognized expert on civil rights litigation: we are lucky to have her aboard as a guest commentator.  Here is Professor Ifill’s post:

Since the Bakke v. California case, higher education affirmative action cases have largely been litigated between white applicants who claim they were excluded from university admissions as a result of affirmative action, and historically white universities who have in the last 30 years sought to diversify their student bodies.  Minority students, whose interests are deeply affected by the litigation in these cases, are often relegated to the sidelines.

This troubling phenomenon was first the result of the federal court’s interpretation of intervention of a right under Rule 24 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A year after the Bakke case, Professor Emma Coleman Jordan (nee Jones)  wrote powerfully about the refusal of the federal trial court in that case to allow black students to intervene in her Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review article Litigation Without Representation:  The Need for Intervention to Affirm Affirmative Action.

Post-Grutter, the exclusion of minority students as parties at trial may be even more firmly fixed. By grounding affirmative action’s constitutionality in the First Amendment rights of universities, the Court saved affirmative action in higher education, but may also have further reinforced the redundancy of minority student participation as full litigants in these cases.

 The result is that the Fisher v. University of Texas case was litigated at trial almost entirely between white applicants and a majority white public university.  No lawyer arguing the case in the Supreme Court represents the interests of minority students.  Certainly it’s true that civil right litigators at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund were permitted to file briefs and to present oral argument in the Court of Appeals in the Fisher case. But the real issue is the refusal of courts to allow minority students party status at trial.

The exception was the University of Michigan case, Grutter v. Bollinger, where black, Latino, Asian-American and Arab-American students were permitted to intervene at the trial phase of the case.  Their robust defense of the school’s affirmative action policy included strong and direct testimony and evidence about the school’s history of discrimination against blacks.  Strikingly, in contrast to the law school’s defense, the minority students challenged the University’s over-reliance on the LSAT in its admissions decisions, to the detriment of minority students, describing the LSAT as providing a “sharp, undeserved, disadvantage for minority LSAT-takers, and a sharp unearned advantage for white LSAT-takers.”

The participation of minority students as parties at trial is important because we can only expect universities like Michigan and Texas to defend their affirmative action initiatives in the furtherance of their own interests and goals.  Thus, the University of Michigan was unlikely, in the Grutter case, to explore its strong reliance on applicant LSAT scores in admissions.  Nor does the brief filed by Texas lay out in detail the history of discrimination at the University of Texas, and the ongoing alienation experienced by black students at the state’s flagship university, as set out in a recent article co-authored by Professor Lani Guinier.

Although some of the most compelling arguments advanced in this case are contained within the amicus briefs filed in the Fisher case, including one filed by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. on behalf of black students, another by the Advancement Project highlighting the history of discrimination by the University of Texas, and still another filed by the family of the man who challenged and defeated segregation at UT 60 years ago, amicus status is no substitute for party status at the trial phase.  All good litigators know that the ability to shape and develop a cause of action at trial, first by the allegations advanced in the complaint, then by the information sought on discovery and finally by the theory of the case advanced at trial – determines the substantive scope of the findings ultimately made in the case.  Thus, party standing in these cases is particularly important.

In fact, the trial judge in Fisher permitted the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the NAACP to submit amicus briefs at trial “in lieu of intervention,” and expressly denied permission to LULAC to submit any evidence in the case.

It’s certainly true that despite the party status of minority students in Grutter, the Supreme Court in its majority opinion appeared to ignore the students’ contribution to the case, not even mentioning the intervenors’ participation in the  recitation of the procedural history of the case. Some suggest that this demonstrates that even when intervention is permitted, courts may ignore the presentation made by minority students. But the mere fact that an appellate court fails to acknowledge the contribution of intervenors, is not evidence that those intervenors did not play an important role in shaping the record to which the appellate court was bound for its review.

There’s something deeply disquieting about higher education affirmative action cases in which blacks and Latinos are virtually litigation bystanders.  More than thirty years after the Bakke case, affirmative action in higher education has survived and may yet survive this latest challenge in Fisher, but the voice of racial minorities in shaping the presentation of these issues is at a low ebb.


The Yale Law Journal Online: New Essays

The Yale Law Journal Online has recently published two essays, one discussing the legacy of the Supreme Court’s decision in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937), and the other providing insight into the Court’s upcoming argument in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, 132 S. Ct. 1536 (Feb. 21, 2012) (No. 11-345), granting cert. to 631 F.3d 213 (5th Cir. 2011).

In West Coast Hotel’s Place in American Constitutional History, G. Edward White shows that the conventional narrative about West Coast Hotel, which many view as representing “the Supreme Court’s abandonment of a constitutional jurisprudence featuring aggressive scrutiny of legislation that regulated economic activity or redistributed economic benefits,” is misleading. Instead, West Coast Hotel’s significance comes from its place in a “different narrative, one featuring clashing views on the issue of constitutional adaptivity: how the general provisions of the Constitution are adapted to new controversies and whether the meaning of those provisions change in the process.”

Turning to the present, Adam D. Chandler writes in How (Not) To Bring an Affirmative-Action Challenge about the “grave defects” in Fisher, a much-hyped affirmative action case concerning the use of race as a factor in undergraduate admissions at the University of Texas at Austin. Chandler’s argument “boils down to this: The only relief still available to Fisher is a refund of her application fees (Part I). Texas could therefore moot the case for a tiny sum (Part II). Regardless, the Eleventh Amendment and Title VI jurisprudence bar recovery of the fees (Part III). In addition, there are three defects in Fisher’s standing to claim the fees (Part IV). The potential recourses for resuscitating the case are fraught and unconvincing (Part V). And if, despite all that, the Court reaches the merits, the Justices will find the case a much narrower dispute than they might have expected (Part VI).” Chandler’s essay presents a number of ways that the Court could “exercise its passive virtues” and retreat from deciding a case that threatens its institutional legitimacy and legacy.

Preferred citations:

G. Edward White, West Coast Hotel’s Place in American Constitutional History, 122 YALE L.J. ONLINE 69 (2012),

Adam D. Chandler, How (Not) To Bring an Affirmative-Action Challenge, 122 YALE L.J. ONLINE 85 (2012),