On Monday, March 25, 2024, Nancy Gertner, a former U.S. district judge and current senior lecturer at Harvard Law School, discussed the crucial role that judges play in eliminating racial bias and inequality in the criminal justice system at a legal conference held last month in Durham, North Carolina.

The conference, titled “Justice Unbound,” was hosted by the NC Commission on Racial & Ethnic Disparities in the Criminal Justice System (NC CRED) at Duke University School of Law. NC CRED is an organization focused on understanding and addressing racial disparities in the state’s criminal legal system. Over 40 judges attended the one-day symposium to learn about the systemic racial injustices that have led to the disproportionate representation of racial minorities in courts and prisons.

In her keynote address, Gertner reflected on her time as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011 and her efforts to bring awareness to racial disparities, such as through opinions and public comments that highlighted how mandatory minimum sentences often unduly impacted people of color. She emphasized that judges have a responsibility to rectify the biases and inequalities that exist due to past failures of the legal system.

Former North Carolina appellate judge James Andrew Wynn, who now sits on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, spoke about the critical role of judges in ending inhumane practices and changing public perspectives.

Data presented at the conference showed that Black individuals in North Carolina are still more likely to be arrested, wrongfully convicted, and face harsher penalties than whites for similar crimes. Over half of the state’s prison population of approximately 30,000 individuals are Black despite only comprising less than a quarter of the state’s population.

In summarizing the conference’s aim, NC CRED hopes conveying this information to members of the judiciary will inspire them to confront the root causes of racial disparities through their rulings and leadership roles in the legal system.

 

 

Source: NC Newsline