CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Johnson on White Supremacy from the Bench

Vida Johnson (Georgetown University Law Center) has posted White Supremacy from the Bench (Lewis & Clark Law Review, Vol. 27, No. 39, 2023) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Judges make important decisions in millions of cases a year across the country. Unlike other institutional players and unlike parties and their attorneys, judges are the only player in our adversarial legal system that are by design ostensibly neutral, impartial, and without bias.

Unfortunately, that legal fiction is not fact. Some judges hold racial biases. A judge in Texas used racial slurs to describe Mexicans in his state in 2020. A white judge in Louisiana in 2020 referred to a court deputy by the N-word, a white Colorado judge also used n-word in a conversation with court staff in 2020. A federal judge in Texas stated publicly that Black and Latinos are more violent than whites. A Jacksonville, FL judge said that Black people should go “back to Africa”. An Ohio judge referred to SARS-COVID-2 as the “China Virus”. In this article, I have documented scores of instances of racial bias by judges since the year 2000.

Most judges, with years of education beyond that of the average American and with knowledge as to how racial discrimination gets litigated, would not be so careless as to say explicitly racist things so that members of the public can have access to their words. We have to assume that the distressing stories of racism by judges represent the feelings of many more judges.

That members of the bench harbor racist views should not come as a surprise. Judges preside over deeply racists systems. We have long known, for example, that judges sentence Black defendants more harshly than their white counterparts, even controlling for criminal record, employment, and education. There are deep inequities in the legal system. The bench needs to be viewed critically as a tool and enforcer of racial oppression. Deep racial inequities have persisted in our country and the law has addressed only some of the most egregious. Worse, judges have created legal doctrines to get around legal remedies offered by our elected representatives to keep people of color from recovering in court. White supremacy from the bench is an integral part of our legal system and an integral part of our legacy of racism in the United States.

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