• June 9, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    Anyone who has attended law school is well aware of the fanatical attention that is paid each spring to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings.  Law students fret over what the rankings mean for their employment opportunities, administrators consider how the rankings will affect their current positions and salaries, and prospective applicants categorize their “reach” and “safety” schools based on the numbers.  If a school’s ranking takes a substantial tumble, it’s not unheard of for the top students to jump ship, transferring to higher-ranked schools.  And although everyone plays along with this annual ritual, most know that U.S. News rankings are not necessarily the best indicator of a quality legal education.

    In an article for Washington Monthly, Alan B. Morrison of George Washington Law argues that the influence wielded by U.S. News rankings “might be warranted if the ratings were based on solid methodology, but they are not.”  For example, he questions the soundness of valuing a “3.4 [GPA] in electrical engineering from MIT as . . . worse than a 3.8 in the history of cinema from Podunk State,” as well as of the assumption that undergraduate institutions use the same curve for grading.  Further, he criticizes the lack of consideration of certain factors, such as location, that may be very important to some students but wholly irrelevant to others.  “The goal of any information system about educational institutions should not be just to provide students with facts,” he asserts, “but also guidance to help them think through the decisional process, including what factors may be important to at least some applicants and why.”

    One of the most fundamentally flawed aspects of the system, Morrison says, is that it assumes there is a “uniformly agreed upon definition of law school quality and that U.S. News uses it in creating its rankings.”  Because there is no acknowledgment of subjective measures of value, there is bound to be disagreement about the rankings ‒ particularly among similarly ranked institutions.  To see what a more practical set of guidelines would look like, check out Morrison’s own list of relevant factors for law school applicants to consider.

  • February 11, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Jennifer Carreon, M.S.C.J., Policy Researcher, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, and Sarah Bryer, National Juvenile Justice Network

    *This post is part of our two-week symposium on racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.


    In the past decade, there has been a lot of good news in the field of juvenile justice reform – not least the series of four landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that, beginning with Roper v. Simmons in 2005, recognized the developmental differences that separate children and teens from adults, including their lessened culpability and enormous capacity for change.  At the same time, most states have significantly cut the number of youth they incarcerate.  Between 2001 and 2011, the number of youth confined in the U.S. declined by 41 percent.

    What’s more, new data from Texas shows that incarcerating fewer youth and serving more of them in the community makes communities safer.  Since 2007, the state has closed nine youth prisons, even as the juvenile arrest rate fell to a 30-year low.  In a report released at the end of January, the Council of State Government’s (CSG) Justice Center analyzed 1.3 million individual case records spanning eight years and assembled from three state agencies.  CSG found that youth who were incarcerated were 21% more likely to recidivate than youth handled locally.

    But it’s not time to break out the champagne yet: In spite of a decade of reform, racial disparities are worse than ever.  A new national study looking at racial and ethnic disparities between 1980 and 2000 found that Black and Hispanic boys were far more likely to be sent to a secure facility than white boys for similar behavior.  In the U.S. in 2011 (the most recent year for which data is available), Black youth were incarcerated five times as often as White youth; Latino youth twice as often; Native American youth three times as often.  If we think of the juvenile justice system as a maze with pathways in and out, it’s clear that youth of color have far more pathways into the maze than White youth do, and they’re lucky to find a pathway out.

    Even in states where significant juvenile justice reforms have been undertaken, the ratio of youth of color receiving dispositions in juvenile court has gotten worse, not better.  In Texas – where the CSG report provides powerful evidence that youth justice reform has produced promising results – one sees disproportionate numbers of youth of color at every decision point in the system, and with Black youth in particular, who appear at almost twice the rate one would expect compared to their numbers in the general population.

  • February 10, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    In recent years, there has been much discussion about whether America is now a “post-racial” society.  The introduction of the first non-white family into the White House was accompanied by some enthusiastic declarations of victory over the scourge of racism.  Observers looked to the president and to other successful minorities and decided that yes, racism is indeed over.

    But focusing on the most successful elements of any demographic group proves little, for wealth has the ability to elevate and to insulate.  One area where this is most evident is in the American criminal justice system.  When navigating the justice system, the ability to hire top-notch legal counsel or to post a significant bond drastically affects the outcome of a case.  This is true for both white citizens and for citizens of color.

    Unfortunately, however, racial inequality in this country remains tightly intertwined with economic inequality, and aspects of the criminal justice system that disadvantage poor people disproportionately disadvantage people of color.  There also exists implicit racial bias, if not outright prejudice, in the hearts of some police, prosecutors, judges and jurors which can manifest itself during any phase of a criminal case.

    The result is that Americans of color face disadvantages at every stage of the criminal justice system.  From arrest to sentencing, obtaining bail to obtaining a lawyer, plea bargaining to jury selection, and even in being put to death, criminal defendants consistently fare better when they are white.

  • January 28, 2015
    Cases on Reproductive Rights and Justice
    Melissa Murray and Kristin Luker

    by Melissa Murray, Professor of Law and Faculty Director of the Berkeley Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice (CRRJ), University of California, Berkeley

    I must admit that for much of my academic career, I never thought of myself as someone who “did” reproductive rights.  When asked at dinner parties, I volunteered that I taught criminal law and family law.  When pressed ― “what on earth do those subjects have to do with each other?” ― I would explain that I was interested in the regulation of sex, sexuality and family formation.  Criminal law and family law, I would explain, were principal sites in which this sort of regulation took place.

    It was not until my colleague, Kristin Luker, a well-known sociologist and scholar of the abortion rights movement, nudged me to view my work more expansively that I began to see it fitting comfortably within the rubric of reproductive rights and justice.  As she reminded me, limitations on access to contraception and abortion are, by their very nature, efforts to regulate sex and sexuality by curtailing women’s efforts to control reproduction.  The legal regulation of reproduction is merely part of a broader story of efforts to discipline and regulate sex.

    My interest in reproductive rights and justice piqued, I joined Berkeley Law’s newly-formed Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice (CRRJ) as an affiliated faculty member in 2012 and assumed the role of Faculty Director in 2015.  Before its official founding, CRRJ hosted a meeting with staff from Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) where we discussed the state of the field, including the availability of law school courses on reproductive rights and justice.  As I learned, although there was huge demand from students for such classes, many interested professors were reluctant to teach reproductive rights and justice courses because there was no casebook.  Because of the lack of a casebook, those willing to teach the subject were forced to compile their own materials ― a burdensome task, even for the most enthusiastic teacher.

  • August 29, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Arit John reports for The Wire that six plaintiffs are suing the police forces in Ferguson and St. Louis County for civil rights abuses.

    In The New York Times, Julia Preston writes on a new immigration policy that permits asylum to foreign women who are victims of severe domestic violence.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center reports on its efforts to stop the jailing of those unable to pay probation fees in Alabama.

    Conor Friedersdorf writes in The Atlantic on police harassment in light of a controversial video showing a man arrested while picking up his kids from school.

    In Politico, Maggie Severns explains how a ruling in Los Angeles on Thursday sets up a battle over teacher protections.