Design Justice in Municipal Criminal Regulation

34 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2020 Last revised: 6 Apr 2021

Date Written: July 10, 2020


This Article offers a model for addressing current inequities in U.S. municipal criminal regulation through design justice theory. Historically, municipal courts in the United States have been the arbiter of minor crimes, processing traffic tickets and other low-level criminal charges. They have also served to uphold Black Codes, segregation, anti-protest laws, and “broken windows” criminal regulation. Enhancing equality in municipal courts requires meaningful participation from across the city’s populace. Participatory design- a framework within urban planning, architecture and design fields- is a practice with honed protocols for implementing meaningful participation from “users” of a place or product. The goal of participatory design is to seek out and implement guidance from the people most affected. Design justice, a modern refinement of participatory design, prioritizes perspectives marginalized in local planning and decision-making. Municipal courts have had a disproportionate and deep impact on the advancement of minorities and poor people. This Article proposes that municipalities implement design justice processes in municipal criminal regulation.

In this piece, I analogize the use of design justice in contemplating Confederate monuments and other public sites of exclusion to the redesign of municipal criminal regulation. Design justice has emerged as a practice centered on the re-envisioning sites of exclusion and recognizing the invisible power hierarchies that undergird public uses of space. I emphasize that participatory design, and design justice in particular, provides critical tools for meaningful change in municipal criminal regulation. Applying design justice to the reform of local criminal regulation involves three precepts: grappling with the historic role of municipal courts, creating tools for public participation, and articulating clear and shared understandings of the spatial impacts of municipal criminal regulation.

Critical uses of design justice allows municipalities to subvert traditional roles of insider and outsider, disenfranchised, and expert in criminal regulation. Ultimately, design justice offers a path towards a broader understanding of court experiences and is adaptable to the work of deconstructing criminal municipal regulation and rebuilding more equitable laws.

Keywords: Confederate monuments, municipal law, misdemeanors, criminal law

Suggested Citation

Baylor, Amber, Design Justice in Municipal Criminal Regulation (July 10, 2020). New Mexico Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 1, 2021, pp. 163-195, Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 20-21, Available at SSRN: or

Amber Baylor (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th St
NEW YORK, NY 10027

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