June 11, 2020
As America and the world discuss issues related to racial justice and racial equality, judicial leaders in the U.S. have released numerous statements on racial justice and the roles that courts have played and can play in the future.
The National Center has also done work and published in the area of courts and racial justice, including:
State of the State Courts (2016). A survey conducted on behalf of the National Center found a majority of Americans (57 percent) believe the race or ethnicity of a judge has some impact on how they decide cases, but only 22 percent believe it has a major impact. As anticipated, there is a racial gap on this question, with 51 percent of whites seeing some impact (just 14 percent major impact) compared to 76 percent of African Americans (51 percent major impact) and 67 percent of Hispanics (35 percent major impact).
The survey then provided two scenarios: one where a young white male defendant was standing trial before an African American judge and other where a young African American defendant was standing trial before a white judge. Only 11 percent felt the white defendant would be less likely to receive a fair trial, but 36 percent felt the young African American would be less likely to get a fair trial. Fifty-six percent of African Americans and 44 percent of Hispanics felt the African American defendant would suffer bias at the hands of a white judge compared to 30 percent of whites.
Courting Justice (2016). Courting Justice was a multi-city town hall series broadcast on PBS. The series invited state supreme, appellate and trial court judges to step down from the bench and listen to new perspectives on how the United States court system can better deliver justice for all. The joint project of the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ), the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the State Justice Institute (SJI) and the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness (NCREF) found judges and other court officials acknowledging their concerns with how racial imbalance can play out in the courts and how they were addressing them in their states or locally.
Principles on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices (National Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices, January 2019) Produced by a National Task Force created in 2016 to address issues coming out of the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, the task force examined the impact of race and the courts and put forth the Principle (4.1) that
Courts should adopt policies and follow practices that promote fairness and equal treatment. Courts should acknowledge that their fines, fees, and bail practices may have a disparate impact on the poor and on racial and ethnic minorities and their communities.