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Prof. Angela Allen-Bell Publishes Op-Ed in the Washington Post on Criminal Justice Reform

Prof. Angela Allen-Bell recently published a guest column in The Washington Post titled These Jury Systems are Vestiges of White Supremacy, which critiques the justice system of some states that requires less than a unanimous jury verdict for a felony conviction that does not involve the death penalty.

Bell writes: “The historical reasons behind the jury systems in Louisiana and Oregon offend our democratic values. Louisiana required unanimous verdicts when it became a territory in 1803, but non-unanimous verdicts were formally adopted as law during Louisiana’s 1898 constitutional convention, where lawmakers declared that their ‘mission was . . . to establish the supremacy of the white race.’ At the same convention, Louisiana adopted literacy tests for voting and one of the South’s first ‘grandfather clauses,’ which exempted white voters whose father or grandfather had previously voted from taking literacy tests.”

In the piece, Bell explains that “[e]liminating unanimity accomplished two things. First, the change paved the way for quick convictions that would facilitate the use of free prisoner labor as a replacement for the loss of free slave labor. Second, it ensured that African American jurors could not use their voting power to block convictions of other African Americans. An 1870 editorial in the New Orleans Daily Picayune posited that the recently emancipated were ‘wholly ignorant of the responsibilities of jurors, unable to discriminate between truth and falsehood in testimony, and capable only of being corrupted by bribes.'”

Prof. Bell is a leading voice in social justice issues in the United States, and she was recently named a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Her research focuses on civil rights, restorative justice, social justice, and the interplay between race and justice. She has the distinction of having been selected for membership in the National Black Lawyers-Top 100, an invitation-only organization.In addition to being a recurrent speaker in the community, as well as in the legal arena, Prof. Allen-Bell is frequently interviewed and quoted by local, national, and international media. She has twice submitted written testimony to the United States Senate’s Judiciary Committee on the Constitution and has served as an expert reviewer of solitary confinement teaching materials that are available through the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). Click here to view her research.