The COVID-19 pandemic blighted all aspects of American life, but people in jails, prisons, and other detention sites experienced singular harm and neglect. Housing vulnerable detainee populations with elevated medical needs, these facilities were ticking time bombs. They were overcrowded, underfunded, unsanitary, insufficiently ventilated, and failed to meet even minimum health-and-safety standards. Every unit of national and sub-national government failed to prevent detainee communities from becoming pandemic epicenters, and judges were no exception.
This Article theorizes and reimagines the place of courts in the contemporary struggle for the abolition of racialized punitive systems of legal control and exploitation. In the spring and summer of 2020, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other Black and Indigenous people sparked continuous protests against racist police violence and other forms of oppression. Meanwhile, abolitionist organizers and scholars have long critiqued the prison-industrial complex, or the constellation of corporations, media entities, governmental actors, and racist and capitalist ideologies that have driven mass incarceration. But between the police and the prison cell sits the criminal court. Criminal courts are the legal pathway from an arrest to a prison sentence, with myriad systems of control in between, including ones branded as “off-ramps.” We cannot understand the present crisis without understanding how the criminal courts not only function to legitimate police and funnel people into carceral spaces but also contribute their own unique forms of violence, social control, and exploitation. These mechanisms reveal the machinations of mass criminalization and the injustices operating between the police encounter and the prison cell. Our central argument is that courts—with a focus here on criminal trial courts and the group of actors within them—function as an unjust social institution. We should therefore work toward abolishing criminal courts and replacing them with other institutions that do not inherently legitimate police, rely on jails and prisons, or operate as tools of racial and economic oppression.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 contained former President Trump’s signature economic development initiative: the Opportunity Zone program. Allowing a deferral of capital gains tax for certain qualifying investments in low-income areas, the Opportunity Zone program aims to spur economic development by steering capital into economically distressed neighborhoods. The program is the latest iteration of an overly simplistic market-based approach to community development—an approach that transcends political party—based on a flawed yet enduring notion that mere proximity of capital will solve deeply entrenched issues of poverty and racial inequity. In reality, the legacy of Opportunity Zones is likely to be one of accelerated neighborhood gentrification left in the wake of wealthy taxpayer windfalls.
Pronouns are en vogue. Not long ago, introductions were limited to exchanges of names. Today, however, they are increasingly enhanced with a recitation of the speaker’s appropriate gendered forms of address: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, or neopronouns like zie/zir/zirs, xe/xem/xirs, or sie/hir/hirs. This development—like every other dimension of progress for LGBTQ+ people—has been met with fierce […]
A vast array of copyrighted works—books, video programming, software, podcasts, video games, and more—remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. International efforts to adopt limitations and exceptions to copyright law that permit third parties to create and distribute accessible versions of books for people with print disabilities have drawn some attention to the role that copyright […]
In Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, the Supreme Court recognized that racial bias influencing jury deliberations violates the Sixth Amendment’s impartial jury guarantee and is incompatible with the Fourteenth Amendment’s anti-discrimination principles. The Court therefore created a racial bias exception to the centuries-old no-impeachment rule, claiming the decision reflected “progress” in the effort to overcome race-based discrimination […]
For over a century, the Supreme Court has characterized the franchise as instrumental—a right that is preservative of all other rights. Statistics confirm that federal protection of the right to vote has produced higher levels of minority electoral participation and greater shares of minority politicians over the past half century. To voting rights advocates, indicators […]
How does the Supreme Court decide difficult questions of constitutional law? Standard accounts point to a range of interpretive approaches such as originalism, common law constitutionalism, political process theory, interest-balancing, and constitutional pluralism. And once the list of commonly used interpretive approaches is set, normative debates often follow over which is best. In this Article, […]
With the rise of extreme polarization, intense political divisiveness, and gridlocked government, many Americans are turning to reforms of the democratic processes that create incentives for candidates and officeholders to appeal to broader coalitions. A centerpiece of these efforts is ranked-choice voting (RCV). RCV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference: first, second, […]
Progressives are taking Supreme Court reform seriously for the first time in almost a century. Owing to the rise of the political and academic left following the 2008 financial crisis and the hotly contested appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, progressives increasingly view the Supreme Court as posing a serious challenge to the […]