Antidiscrimination Law Through a Sociolegal Lens

14 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2022

See all articles by Anna Offit

Anna Offit

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: 2022


This Symposium invites reflection on whether the Anthropology of Law has “any space left for the content of rules” at a time when the concerns of legal anthropologists have largely shifted to processes, materials, and practices that are “adjacent to law.”[1] Taking the jury system as an illustrative case, this Essay advocates for the relevance and value of the anthropological study of rules, their content, and their effects. Looking in particular at antidiscrimination rules derived from Batson v. Kentucky,[2] decided in 1986, it argues that a sociolegal, ethnographic approach to how lawyers perpetuate discrimination in jury selection offers insight into everyday legal practice that is critical to enacting impactful jury reform—that is, to making better rules.

Part I of this Essay provides background on the Batson doctrine with attention to its misguided aspiration to race neutrality and emphasis on racial animus as the cause of disparate empanelment. Part II shows how ethnography leads to a more sophisticated, empirically grounded understanding of these issues, casting new light on racial and other forms of exclusion, including exclusion based on socioeconomic status and previous contact with the legal system. Part III makes the case that sociolegal approaches to jury selection are invaluable for illuminating the effects of, and reformative pathways for, antidiscrimination law.

Keywords: sociolegal research, empirical legal research, antidiscrimination, juries, race, prosecutors, trial strategy, legal profession, anti-racism, anthropology, jury exclusion

Suggested Citation

Offit, Anna, Antidiscrimination Law Through a Sociolegal Lens (2022). 73 Alabama Law Review 4 (2022), SMU Dedman School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 543, Available at SSRN:

Anna Offit (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

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