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RACE/ETHNICITY AND THE LAW TODAY

History often repeats itself and thus helps us to understand the present and to predict the future. Even so, the past is not always prologue, as social change can and does occur, as Chapter 7 emphasized. Although law has played a fundamental role in establishing and reinforcing racial and ethnic inequality throughout American history, perhaps this role has diminished in recent decades. Perhaps American law has begun to achieve the ideal of blind justice promised by the familiar symbol of a blindfolded Lady Justice holding balanced scales. According to this symbol, the law should be impartial, and the chances of achieving justice under law should not depend on someone’s race, ethnicity, wealth, or other nonlegal attributes.

What does the social science evidence say about racial and ethnic inequality in the legal system today? The answer here is less clear than it would have been more than a half century ago, for the law has improved in this regard during the past five decades, thanks to much legislation and many court rulings. However, the picture that emerges from the social evidence is still disturbing, because race and ethnicity still matter even if law itself is “officially” now blind when it comes to race and ethnicity. To recall what we stressed earlier in this chapter, the law does not always work the way it is supposed to work. Supporting this harsh reality, there is ample evidence that race and ethnicity still influence many legal outcomes and that these outcomes in turn contribute to racial and ethnic inequality in the larger society.

 
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