William & Mary Law Review


Ion Meyn


This Article evaluates the constitutional feasibility of using race-based remedies to address racial disparities in the criminal system. Compared to white communities, communities of color are over-policed and over-incarcerated. Criminal system stakeholders recognize that these conditions undermine perceptions of legitimacy critical to ensuring public safety. As jurisdictions assiduously attempt race-neutral fixes, they also acknowledge the shortcomings of such interventions. Nevertheless, jurisdictions dismiss the feasibility of deploying more effective race-conscious strategies due to the shadow of a constitutional challenge. The apprehension is understandable. Debates around affirmative action in higher education and government contracting reveal fierce hostility toward race-based remedies.

This Article, however, contends that within the criminal system, strict scrutiny requirements do not pose an insurmountable obstacle to race-based policies. There is promising decisional law surrounding the use of race-conscious efforts to address criminal system challenges. Drawing on this favorable doctrine, this Article tests the constitutionality of race-based remedies in one of the most dynamic areas in the criminal system: the use of risk assessment tools, which jurisdictions are increasingly relying upon to make decisions, even as these tools reproduce racial harms. To enrich the analysis, this Article presents a case study of a jurisdiction struggling to mitigate racial harms perpetuated by its pretrial risk assessment tool.

This Article finds reasons to be optimistic about how race-based remedies might fare within the criminal system context, where courts are predisposed to granting broad discretion to the stated needs of criminal law stakeholders. Within this unique context, this Article provides a template for a race-based approach that potentially survives an equal protection challenge.