I often read books outside of my own discipline. It helps me gain perspective and understanding about the world. Often, those books do not bring me joy. Just heartache. Regardless, I cherish them all. I’m suggesting these books to you. Please read them, and cry with me.
Jody Armour’s Book. Just, yeah. Blank theory. Yeah, I can’t say the title, but this book is amazing. Start with the preface: “This book is titled N*gga Theory because I do not want to encourage non-black people to say the word “[deleted]” out loud, and because I recognize that some black folk also feel uncomfortable publicly uttering the troublesome epithet. I address these concerns within.”
It’s a tough read. In part, because Professor Armour is very much in your face from start to finish. From the hypocrisy of prosecutors seeking reform to his strong indictment of capital punishment, Armour does not let you off the hook. In his conclusion (coda), he continues to bludgeon you. “My analysis of the ubiquitous and undeniable phenomenon of moral luck raises serious doubts about the rationality, legitimacy, and reliability of our moral condemnations not just of black wrongdoers, but of all wrongdoers.” Jeez.
I hope Armour does not hold this against me and takes it as the compliment I mean it to be, but I have not felt this way since reading Eldridge Cleaver’s “Soul on Ice.” That book screwed me up for months.
Carissa Hessick’s Book. “Punishment Without Trial: Why Plea Bargaining Is a Bad Deal,” is a great companion to Armour’s book. I’m a fan of saying the game is rigged. But that’s for academia. Professor Hessick writes about a realm with higher stakes. “Why no reading?” starts Chapter 6. I’m torn between that and “the process is the punishment” as my favorite quotes of the book. If we learn that the game is rigged, perhaps justice would no longer be broken as badly? (It would still be broken.)
As with Armour’s book, you will feel sickened. The notion that innocent people will plead to things they did not do as a part of the cost/benefit equation. Justice is not served. And it all exists in a fit of irony. “The process that he tells us defendants were trying to avoid exists, in large part, to protect those defendants.” The costs of being a defendant, whether guilty or innocent, is extraordinary.
There are plenty of fixes, but none of them likely to happen. Hessick speaks of the harsh sentencing laws, the risk of juries convicting; all this “deterrence” has a perverse effect. As an economist, I can’t help but think that the deterrence creates an externality that causes innocent people to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. That’s one of Hessick’s points, as is clearly made from her use of the term “opportunity costs.”
There is no easy fix here. “If we got rid of plea bargaining without changing those sentencing laws, then we would not fix the criminal justice system. In fact, we would probably make it worse.” Eliminating plea bargaining only eliminates the carrot. The stick would very much remain. And Hessick is quite aware that both go hand in hand.
Meera Deo’s Book. “Unequal Profession” is the book I hoped would drop. In the realm of academic hiring, it is EXHAUSTING to argue why it should not be the case that yet another white male from Yale should be hired. Elitism is the addiction of legal academia, the anti-intellectual drug that ruins its aspirational goals of being taken seriously by other disciplines. Deo’s book is haunting from preface to finish. I have been in every faculty meeting she describes. From the stolen thoughts of colleagues credited to white males, the ugly encounters with entitled and privileged students, the struggle to balance the excessive requirements of service with the requirements of scholarship that are all too easily conferred upon white male counterparts. It is a frustrating read. But, at the end, you again realize the game is rigged. And very little has been done to change that. “Institutional struggles are unfortunately more common than institutional support.” That takeaway is all you need to know about why the faculty profile pages are typically very white and very male.
Sahar Aziz’s Book. “The Racial Muslim” is a thought-provoking book that makes me think the good professor has a black belt in intersectionality. “[R]ace played a crucial role in determining which religions were afforded social and legal protections from discrimination.” Once you realize that religions are also a construct of race, easy to see why the white religion of Protestant settlers have “manifest destiny” to eliminate the Native Americans. The nonwhite becomes the terrorist, and the religion of the nonwhite becomes a religion of terrorism. Again, I’m angered reading Professor Aziz’s book. But the chapter that did me in was “Chapter 9: Criminalizing Muslim Identity.” Aziz explains in this chapter that the relationship with Islam and the U.S. is exclusively one of security. And that security interest is in part propelled by the massive Islamophobia inherent in our society. “Otherwise, the government would be accused of eroding religious freedom rights.” The anti-Muslim discourse perpetuates hate-filled crimes against Muslims. A cycle of violence perpetuated.
NOTE: I have not done any of these books the justice they deserve. Some of these books I’ve read a while ago. And yet, I cannot summon the ability to write a full-blown review that would do them justice. Others I’ve read recently, and they have yet to settle. They distracted me from my research and writing interests and kept me up at night. They all, quite frankly, pissed me off to no end. Not because I did not know of the injustices of which they spoke. But because they reminded me of the nuances of those injustices. I’m a better person for having read them. You should read them as well.
LawProfBlawg is an anonymous professor at a top 100 law school. You can see more of his musings here. He is way funnier on social media, he claims. Please follow him on Twitter (@lawprofblawg). Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.