Class 10: Racial Discrimination

The specter of race hovers in any discussion of the American death penalty. The history of the death penalty is closely connected with the history of slavery, lynching, and the oppression and exploitation of African Americans. There remain significant racial disparities in how the death penalty is applied. This segment examines the Supreme Court’s decision in a case challenging racial disparities in the imposition of the death penalty in Georgia. The Court rejected the challenge, 5-4, despite rigorous statistical demonstrations of the racial differences in the death penalty’s application. The question remains of whether there is a remedy for racial discrimination after the decision. Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative, reflects on the Supreme Court decision rejecting the challenge to racial disparities, and offers his insights on the continuing legacy of race discrimination in criminal justice. North Carolina lawyer Henderson Hill discusses findings of racial discrimination made by a North Carolina court under that state’s Racial Justice Act, and the prompt repeal of the Act once discrimination had been shown.


Racial Discrimination (PDF), including:

  • Introduction
  • The Baldus Study and the McCleskey decision
    • McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279 (1987)
    • Justice Scalia’s Memorandum Regarding the Statistics in McCleskey
    • Justice Powell’s change of mind
  • Is there a remedy after McCleskey?
    • Dobbs v. Zant, 720 F. Supp. 1566 (N.D. Ga. 1989), aff’d, 963 F.2d 1403 (11th Cir. 1991), rev’d and remanded on other grounds, Dobbs  v. Zant, 506 U.S. 357 (1993)
    • Green v.  State, 934 S.W.2d 92 (Tex. Cr. App. 1996)
    • Further Developments Regarding Dominique Green
    • United States v. Bass, 536 U.S. 862 (2002)
    • In re United States, 397 F.3d 274 (5th Cir. 2005)
    • State v. Dorsey, 74 So.3d 603 (La. 2011
  • Legislation
    • Kentucky Racial Justice Act
    • North Carolina Racial Justice Act
    • Litigation Under and Repeal of North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act
    • The Instruction and Certificate Required in Federal Case
Recommended Reading:

Guest Lecture by Bryan Stevenson:

Interview of Henderson Hill – North Carolina Racial Justice Act:


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