Racial Justice Amicus and Appellate Strategies October 2023

Constitutional Challenges to Racial Disparities and Bias in the Juvenile and Criminal Legal Systems

Below is a guide to amicus and appellate arguments Juvenile Law Center has set forth in recent years challenging racially biased laws and practices as unconstitutional. This resource for attorneys seeking to bolster their appellate and amicus arguments will be updated with some regularity, and all of Juvenile Law Center’s briefs can be found on our Legal Docket. Our attorneys are also available to help you think through legal challenges to highlight racial impact and to provide amicus support in appeals.

Racial disparities take place at every stage of the juvenile and criminal legal systems: at stop and seizure, interrogation, arrest, adjudication, transfer, direct file, adult incarceration, and sentencing. For current data on racial disparities, see The Sentencing Project and The Burns InstituteResearch also shows that Black youth tend to be perceived as older and more culpable than their white peers, which impacts prosecutorial charging decisions and judicial findings. These disparities and perceptions do not emerge out of nowhere: as scholars have shown, the transition from slavery to Black Codes, Convict Leasing, and Jim Crow laws have shaped our criminal and juvenile legal systems.

As described below, this information can shape legal arguments to explicitly challenge racism in our system. Advocates can also expand on these arguments, applying the same theories in new contexts.

Amicus and Appellate Arguments

See our case related to First Amendment school speech.

Review Fourth Amendment cases, under which the Court must assess whether an individual’s response to police is “reasonable.”

See our cases covering the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. 

See cases related to Eighth Amendment sentencing challenges and excessive fines.

Review cases based on both substantive and procedural due process, including cases challenging the transfer of youth to adult court.

See our cases related to the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

See our cases that do not fall under one of these constitutional provisions.