John Hope Franklin Prize Winners



Basis for the Award

2017 Matthew Clair and Alix S. Winter
Harvard University

How Judges Think About Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System
Criminology 54 (2):332-359

Nominated by Lawrence D. Bobo, Harvard University

In How Judges Think About Racial Disparities: Situational Decision-Making in the Criminal Justice System, Clair and Winter take on the timely question of how judges’ beliefs and decisions affect observed levels of racial disparities in the criminal justice system.  The authors utilize in-depth interviews with judges and field observations in upper and lower courts to help us better understand (1) how judges think about and understand racial disparities in the legal system and (2) how such beliefs may influence their decision-making at various stages of the court process including arraignments, plea hearings, jury selections, trials, sentencing, and parole hearings.  This research reveals that judges who routinely impose sentences with a differential racial impact sometimes intervene to mitigate the effects, and in many cases, justify decision making that continues to perpetuate disparities.   This article provides valuable new insights into the legal consciousness of elite actors and their thinking about the discriminatory impact of their decisions.  Well conceptualized, theoretically rigorous, and analytically nuanced, the article makes a critical contribution to the literature and also sets up clear questions for future research.
2016 Len Albright
Northeastern University

Douglas S. Massey
 Princeton University

Jacob S. Rugh
Brigham Young University

Race, Space, and Cumulative Disadvantage: A Case Study of the Subprime Lending Collapse
May 2015 issue of Social Problems (Volume 62, Issue 2, Pages 186-218)

Race, Space, and Cumulative Disadvantage: A Case Study of the Subprime Lending Collapse written by Jacob S. Rugh, Len Albright, and Douglas S. Massey considers how the housing meltdown’s aftermath impacted black households in Baltimore, Maryland.  The authors show 1) approximately $2.1 billion of wealth was lost to foreclosure, 2) about $2 billion of this wealth loss came from high-income black households, and 3) over 90 percent of all black wealth lost derived from majority black neighborhoods. Using a novel dataset that fuses census information with individual-level lending records from Wells Fargo Bank, an institution that agreed to a $175 million settlement for allegations of subprime lending practices in 2012, the authors uncover how African Americans were disproportionately likely to receive higher cost and higher risk loans, which in turn lowered their disposable incomes and put them at greater risk of foreclosure and repossessions.  In many ways, the contribution of Rugh, Albright, and Massey speaks to the legacy of John Hope Franklin and his long career of publicly engaged, socially responsible research.

2015 D. Wendy Greene
Samford University-Cumberland School of Law

Categorically Black, White, or Wrong: ‘Misperception Discrimination’ and the State of Title VII Protection, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 2013

In this novel and important article, Professor Greene exposes an inconspicuous, categorically wrong movement within anti discrimination law. Federal courts have denied Title VII protection to individuals who allege “categorical discrimination,” people who suffer differential treatment because they were misidentified as belonging to a protected group.  Under these guidelines, a self-identified Christian who experiences discrimination because she is misperceived as a Muslim, say, cannot assert an actionable claim under Title VII.  In these cases, discriminating actions are seen as beyond the scope of Title VII protections. Professor Greene advances a rigorous, well-reasonsed, and convincing cases adjuring that  the judicially created prerequisites to Title VII protection are misguided because they impose an unnecessary “actuality requirement” on Title VII plaintiffs who unambiguously suffered differential treatment. 

2014 Matthew Desmond
Sociology and Social Studies, Harvard University
Eviction and the Reproduction of Urban Poverty
American Journal of Sociology 118 (2012): 88-133

In his article, Professor Desmond combines a rich array of empirical evidence to generate novel insights into the role of civil law and procedure (housing law) in reproducing racial inequality and deepening urban poverty. This study combines statistical and ethnographic analyses based on court records of roughly 30,000 eviction cases, in-person surveys of 251 tenants appearing in eviction court, and a year of ethnographic fieldwork among evicted tenants and their landlords in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to assess the frequency, mechanisms, and consequences of eviction. Recent research on race, racism and law emphasizes the impact of criminalization and incarceration on the life chances of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, yet Desmond’s study illustrates that eviction has become the corollary, common-place and socially disintegrative sanction facing women from these same neighborhoods. This richly layered analysis is impressive for both its analytic rigor and practical contributions. His findings compel us to "think differently about old problems," including the role of civil law and legal processes in reproducing racial inequality and generational urban poverty. As he writes, “even laws intended to protect the city’s most defenseless renters can have unintended negative consequences and are rendered impotent against the cold face of severe deprivation in the low-income housing sector.” Viewed alongside the more documented and inter-twined consequences of racialized criminal sanctions, this study provides a deeper and rather daunting but ultimately constructive understanding of the role of law in the social organization of enduring inequality. 

2013 Ada Ferrer
New York University

Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic
117 American Historical Review 40 (2012)

In her article Haiti, Free Soil, and Antislavery in the Revolutionary Atlantic, Ada Ferrer provides an excellent example of how Haitian legal institutions and principles influenced the Atlantic world, including discussions of human rights and emancipation. Specifically, Ferrer presents a case study in the application of the Haitian Republic’s Constitution of 1816 to create a safe-haven territory to which slaves and even free blacks could escape or migrate with the expectation of living as free people, and she traces the effect of this law, and more generally the Haitian Revolution, on the slave societies that surrounded Haiti in the Caribbean and Atlantic, and even the effect of these factors in Europe, the United States and South America.

2012 Elise C. Boddie "Racial Territoriality"”  58 U.C.L.A. L. Rev. 401 (2010) In her article, Professor Boddie articulates a theory of racial territoriality that would remedy anti-discrimination law’s insistence on discriminatory intent, and its inattention to issues of race and place. Professor Boddie first conceptualizes what she terms “racial territoriality,” which she defines as a practice that occurs when the state excludes people of color from—or marginalizes them within—racialized white spaces that have a racially exclusive history, practice, and/or reputation. The article introduces a novel and very useful theoretical tool (racialized space), and Professor Boddie uses this to illuminate some existing blind spots in antidiscrimination law and set out ways to potentially address them. This framework allows scholars to better see how locations become racialized, and how their racial identity affects people within that space. It's an excellent theoretical contribution to understanding both the case law and the larger social dynamics, and it goes very well with other work on the construction of race.

Professor Boddie then offers two reform proposals aimed at integrating the concept of racial territoriality into antidiscrimination law. The first approach requires courts to take the racial meaning of the subject space into account as circumstantial evidence of racial intent in a discrimination claim. The second approach – a more radical option -- focuses on the legislative process. Under this approach, states would adopt laws treating the exclusion of people of color from white-identified space as prima facie evidence of unlawful discrimination.

Professor Boddie’s winning article presents all the best features of a Law and Society race analysis article. It adeptly deploys social science literature along with doctrinal analysis of constitutional law cases. It is centrally concerned with the marginalization of people of color and creatively conceives of a new cause of action to reinvigorate anti-discrimination law. It is a rich and highly valuable contribution to the literature.

2011 Osagie K. Obasogie  In “Do Blind People See Race? Social, Legal and Theoretical Considerations,”  44 L. & SOC. REV. 585 (2010) Professor Osagie Obasogie examines how race is socialized and communicated in our society by studying the significance and meaning of race outside of vision. Using the results of an original empirical study, in which blind and sighted subjects are interviewed about their visual understanding of race, he challenges the popularly held notions that race is “primarily a matter of visually physical features” and that people without vision "have a diminished understanding of race.” Blind individuals, in fact, “see” race not through obvious physical difference, but through “the social processes outside of vision that constitute racial categories’ perceptibility and salience.” Not only was the thesis of the article thought-provoking, the supporting analysis is rich, well-conceived, relies upon original empirical data, and has interesting implications for how we see and theorize racial identity in legal and other contexts