Civil Rights


Our Broken Death Penalty

The Honorable William A. Fletcher

Madison Lecture

This lecture is titled Our Broken Death Penalty. But the title is misleading, for it suggests that our death penalty might, at some earlier time, have been something other than broken. It has always been broken. And, as you will hear tonight, it cannot be repaired.

Prison Health Care after the Affordable Care Act: Envisioning an End to the Policy of Neglect

Evelyn Lia Malave

Inadequate prison health care has created a health crisis for reentering prisoners and their communities—a crisis that is exacerbated by barriers to employment and other collateral consequences of release. This Note will first examine how current Eighth Amendment doctrine has failed to sufficiently regulate prison health care so as to have any significant effect on the crisis. Next, it will argue that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) alters the Eighth Amendment analysis by triggering a change in the “evolving standards of decency” that guide the doctrine. Specifically, this Note will argue that, after the passage of the ACA, releasing sick, Medicaid-eligible prisoners without enrolling them in the federal benefits program violates the Eighth Amendment.

Devaluing Death: An Empirical Study of Implicit Racial Bias on Jury-Eligible Citizens in Six Death Penalty States

Justin D. Levinson, Robert J. Smith, Danielle M. Young

Stark racial disparities define America’s relationship with the death penalty. Though commentators have scrutinized a range of possible causes for this uneven racial distribution of death sentences, no convincing evidence suggests that any one of these factors consistently accounts for the unjustified racial disparities at play in the administration of capital punishment. We propose that a unifying current running through each of these partial plausible explanations is the notion that the human mind may unwittingly inject bias into the seemingly neutral concepts and processes of death penalty administration.

To test the effects of implicit bias on the death penalty, we conducted a study on 445 jury-eligible citizens in six leading death penalty states. We found that jury-eligible citizens harbored two different kinds of the implicit racial biases we tested: implicit racial stereotypes about Blacks and Whites generally, as well as implicit associations between race and the value of life. We also found that death-qualified jurors—those who expressed a willingness to consider imposing both a life sentence and a death sentence—harbored stronger implicit and self-reported (explicit) racial biases than excluded jurors. The results of the study underscore the potentially powerful role of implicit bias and suggest that racial disparities in the modern death penalty could be linked to the very concepts entrusted to maintain the continued constitutionality of capital punishment: its retributive core, its empowerment of juries to express the cultural consensus of local communities, and the modern regulatory measures that promised to eliminate arbitrary death sentencing.

White Like Me: The Negative Impact of the Diversity Rationale on White Identity Formation

Osamudia R. James

In several cases addressing the constitutionality of affirmative action admissions policies, the Supreme Court has recognized a compelling state interest in schools with diverse student populations. According to the Court and affirmative action proponents, the pursuit of diversity does not only benefit minority students who gain expanded access to elite institutions through affirmative action. Rather, diversity also benefits white students who grow through encounters with minority students, it contributes to social and intellectual life on campus, and it serves society at large by aiding the development of citizens equipped for employment and citizenship in an increasingly diverse country.

Recent scholarship has nevertheless thoughtfully examined the negative effect of the “diversity rationale”—the defense of affirmative action policies based on a compelling interest in diversity—on minority identity when that identity is traded on by majority-white institutions seeking to maximize the social and economic benefits that diversity brings. By contrast, little has been said about whether and how the diversity rationale impacts white identity. Consideration of how the diversity rationale influences white identity formation is particularly timely in light of the Supreme Court’s most recent pronouncement on affirmative action in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

This Article begins to fill that gap, ultimately concluding that the diversity rationale reaffirms notions of racial superiority among Whites. Unlike the jurisprudence of seminal civil rights cases, such as Brown v. Board of Education, that rejected old narratives about the legitimacy of subordinating Blacks, the diversity rationale does not promote progressive thinking about race and identity. Rather, it perpetuates an old story—a story about using black and brown bodies for white purposes on white terms, a story about the expendability of those bodies once they are no longer needed. Moreover, by reinforcing the “transparency” and “innocence” of white racial identity, as well as by emphasizing hyperindividualism, the diversity rationale stunts the development of antiracist white identity.

By cultivating white identities grounded in a sense of entitlement and victimhood relative to people of color, the diversity rationale, ironically, perpetuates the subordination of people of color by prompting the elimination of affirmative action programs. It also distracts Whites from addressing the ways in which their own presence at elite institutions of higher education is genuinely undermined, especially in the case of working-class Whites who are consistently underrepresented at such institutions. Given this reality, institutions of higher education committed to diversity must account for the diversity rationale’s effect on Whites through more honest and substantive explanations of the value placed on diversity in admissions.

Durbin’s Defect: The Impact of Post-Recession Legislation on Low-Income Consumers

Arin H. Smith

In 2010, the economy was reeling from an economic recession that particularly affected low-income consumers. One law, known as the Durbin Amendment, sought to protect consumers by regulating the fees that financial institutions charge merchants each time a customer uses a debit card. This Note examines the amendment’s effects, arguing that it has ultimately raised the costs of banking for low-income consumers. Due to complex banking disclosures and the structure of the regulations, these increased costs have not been offset by increased transparency or lower retail prices. This Note recommends specific changes to the Durbin Amendment that will better support its stated goals. However, because these changes cannot entirely mitigate the negative effects, this Note recommends that Congress also pass legislation to improve access to banking for low-income consumers.

Anti-Subordination in the Equal Protection Clause: A Case Study

Abigail Nurse

In recent years, many scholars have argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has moved away from following an anti-subordination approach to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and toward an anti-classification approach. In turn, advocates have shied away from anti-subordination arguments in the equal protection cases that are brought before the U.S. Supreme Court. Discussing the briefs and oral argument from Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin as an example, this Note argues that underemphasizing anti-subordination principles is detrimental to equal protection doctrine because these arguments help steer the Court in the right direction. When historical context and ongoing inequitable realities are not incorporated into the doctrine, equal protection moves further from its core mission—ensuring equal treatment under the laws. In addition, the gains for people of color and other marginalized communities will be on tenuous ground without full emphasis on inequality. Advocates must use anti-subordination arguments in order to engage the Court and Justices in the slow process of struggling for a more just world.

We Tried to Make Them Offer Rehab, but They Said, “No, No, No!”: Incentivizing Private Prison Reform Through the Private Prisoner Rehabilitation Credit

Cassandre Monique Davilmar

Mass incarceration in the United States has led many state governments to hand over the management and construction of prisons to private corporations, which are able to meet demand more quickly and are perceived as more cost-effective. There are approximately 100 private prisons housing about 62,000 inmates today, and this number is expected to increase to 360,000 in the coming decade. Unfortunately, private prisons have failed to effectively address many of the issues pervasive in public prisons—namely recidivism, violence, and poor living conditions. Furthermore, the government-customer has failed to effectively hold private prisons accountable for their failures. As a solution this Note proposes the Private Prisoner Rehabilitation (PPR) credit: a performance-based, refundable tax credit that incentivizes private prisons to address some of the key issues plaguing the criminal justice system.

Aligning “Educational Necessity” with Title VI

Brence D. Pernell

An Enhanced Regulatory Role for Executive Agencies in Title VI Disparate Impact Enforcement

Title VI charges the federal government with removing discrimination in our public institutions. In light of disparate impact claims concerning a range of racially discriminatory education practices, this Note makes the case for the benefit of an official regulation from the U.S. Department of Education—as a federal arm—that more specifically informs the disparate impact framework’s educational necessity standard. This regulation would not only aid plaintiffs seeking to challenge harmful educational practices, but also provide courts with more specific and authoritative guidance in adjudicating Title VI disparate impact claims. This Note argues that a beneficial starting point for such a regulation would make clear that a discriminatory school policy should be evaluated based on whether a school policy advances equal educational opportunities and whether the school is in the best position to remedy a policy that does not. A regulation guided by this standard comports with Title VI’s original intention of rooting out discrimination against protected minority groups as well as helps to ensure minorities’ full access to a high quality public education.

Referees of Republicanism: How the Guarantee Clause Can Address State Political Lockup

Jarret A. Zafran

Our Government derives its legitimacy from the consent of the governed, generally measured through our elections. When incumbent powers create structures and rules for our politics that entrench the status quo and limit voter control, however, the legitimacy of that consent is tested. For more than fifty years, and in spite of the “political question doctrine,” the Supreme Court has adjudicated challenges to franchise restrictions, gerrymandering, ballot access provisions, and more. In doing so, the Court utilizes doctrinal frameworks that focus on harms to individual rights and not on structural harms to the competitiveness, accountability, and responsiveness of our politics. This myopic view leaves systemic entrenchment and political lockup largely untouched. Scholars have identified these doctrinal deficiencies, but have not suggested an alternative textual basis for judicial intervention in these cases. This Note offers a potential solution in the Guarantee Clause. It argues that the Clause embodies a promise of popular sovereignty in the states. I contend that the Guarantee Clause can and should be revived to unburden the courts from the deficiencies of existing doctrine and provide a textual basis for addressing the problems of political malfunction.

Once More unto the Breach: The Constitutional Right to Informational Privacy and the Privacy Act

Caleb A. Seeley

With the rise of the internet and computer storage, the loss and theft of individuals’ private information has become commonplace. Data breaches occur with increasing regularity, leading some to question if the current statutory and regulatory schemes properly incentivize the maintenance of adequate security measures amongst federal agencies. This Note argues that inadequate data security practices by government agencies implicate the constitutional right to informational privacy. While the Court has previously upheld intrusive personal information collection programs, the Privacy Act, which plays an essential role in the Court’s decisions, has been weakened significantly by recent interpretation of its damages provision. Given this change in the effectiveness of the statutory protection of private data, lawsuits alleging a violation of the constitutional right to informational privacy might succeed and could help incentivize optimal levels of data security amongst government agencies.