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Marginalized Significance: Race and Scientific Evidence in the United States Supreme Court

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Law and science are fundamental to the operation of racism in the United States. Law provides structure to maintain and enforce social hierarchies, while science ensures that these hierarchies are given the guise of truth. Biologists and geneticists

Law and science are fundamental to the operation of racism in the United States. Law provides structure to maintain and enforce social hierarchies, while science ensures that these hierarchies are given the guise of truth. Biologists and geneticists have used race in physical sciences to justify social differences, while criminologists, sociologists, and other social scientists use race, and Blackness in particular, as an explain-all for criminality, poverty, or other conditions affecting racialized peoples. Social and physical sciences profoundly impact conceptualizations and constructions of race in society, while juridical bodies give racial science the force of law—placing legal benefits and criminal punishments into play. Yet, no formal rules govern the use of empirical data in opinions of the Supreme Court. My dissertation therefore studies the Court’s use of social scientific evidence in two key cases involving race and discrimination to identify what, if any, social scientific standards the Court has developed for its own analysis of scientific evidence. In so doing, I draw on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Institutional Ethnography (IE) to develop a methodological framework for the study and use of social sciences in the law. Critical Race scholars generally argue that race is a social and legal construct and racism is endemic, and permanent, while Institutional Ethnography provides a social scientific method for rigorous study of the law by mapping and illuminating relationships of power manifested in social institutions that construct consciousness and place for marginalized groups in society. Combining methods of IE with epistemologies of CRT, I propose Critical Race Methodologies in the study of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin and Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. These two cases from recent terms of the Supreme Court involve heavy use of social sciences in briefing and at oral argument, and both cases set standards for racial inclusiveness in Texas. Throughout this dissertation, I look at how law and social sciences co-construct racial meanings and racial power, and how law and social science understand and misunderstand one another in attempting to scientifically understand the role of race in the United States.

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2017