Kids, Cops, and Sex Offenders: Pushing the Limits of the Interest-Convergence Thesis
40 Pages Posted: 2 May 2014
Date Written: 2013
Sex offenders are today’s pariahs – despised by all, embraced by none. During the past twenty years, society’s dislike and fear of sex offenders has resulted in a flood of legislation designed to protect communities from them. These laws include residency restrictions, which bar convicted sex offenders from living near places where children are expected to be found. Given this climate, do lawyers who for sex offenders have any hope of winning justice for their clients?
In 2005, the Ohio Justice & Policy Center (“OJPC”) began a three year-advocacy campaign against Ohio’s residency restrictions. At first OJPC lost badly – in both the courts of law and public opinion. But after losing the initial legal challenge, OJPC transformed its seemingly lost cause into a winning effort. It did so by borrowing an idea from Professor Derrick A. Bell.
Professor Bell is famous, among other things, for his interest-convergence thesis. According to Bell, blacks achieve racial equality only when such progress it is in the interests of whites. The classic example of Bell’s theory is his explanation of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. According to Bell, the Court desegregated public schools not for moral reasons but because doing so would improve America’s credibility on racial issues during the Cold War.
OJPC eventually prevailed in its challenges to residency restrictions because it aligned the interests of sex offenders with society’s interests in protecting children from sexual abuse. Not only did OJPC win two important legal challenges but it also transformed the local media narrative about residency restrictions.
Kids, Cops and Sex Offenders: Pushing the Limits of the Interest-Convergence Thesis begins by telling the story of OJPC’s advocacy – both before and after employing an interest-convergence strategy. The article then poses and answers three questions: (1) whether it is appropriate to attach the “interest-convergence” label to OJPC’s sex offender advocacy given that Bell’s thesis is “historically descriptive rather than a recommendation for future-oriented strategies,” according to Professor Stephen Feldman, a leading scholar; (2) whether interest-convergence theory explains the victories OJPC won for its clients; and (3) assuming that interest convergence has value as an advocacy tool, whether it potentially presents a downside for the marginalized clients the lawyer seeks to serve. I conclude the article with a discussion of a course I developed called Complex Problem Solving for Lawyers, which teaches law students to incorporate Bell’s interest-convergence theory into advocacy on behalf of despised groups like sex offenders.
Keywords: sex offender, residency restriction, Ohio Justice & Policy Center, interest-convergence
JEL Classification: K10, J78, K14, K42, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation