Strangers Within the Gates: Ethnic and National Stereotyping in the Sacco-Vanzetti Case
Douglas A. Hedin
The concept of stereotyping is mentioned in court rulings in all sorts of litigation today - most prominently in civil rights cases, but also in such diverse fields as family law, criminal prosecutions, even congressional redistricting disputes. But this was not always so. First introduced as a psychological concept by journalist Walter Lippmann in his classic study, Public Opinion, published in 1922, the notion of stereotyping did not receive widespread judicial recognition until almost a half century later. While there is a burgeoning literature on the subject by social psychologists and sociologists, there are few studies by legal scholars on the conditions inside and outside the courtroom which enable pernicious stereotypes to taint certain legal proceedings. The essay that follows examines how ethnic and national stereotypes permeated one of the most famous trials in American history - that of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were convicted of murder in 1921 and executed in 1927. Because the prosecutor and defense counsel, the trial judge and appellate courts, and witnesses and the two defendants were not even aware of the idea of stereotyping at the time of the trial and subsequent appeals, their arguments, conduct and testimony were unguarded and often times so crude that in hindsight - and with our growing understanding of how stereotypes operate - we see this cause célèbre in a different light. Equally important, this essay will assist students, practicing lawyers and scholars of litigation to recognize the conditions which permit negative stereotypes to flourish and influence the outcome of a criminal proceeding.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 47
Keywords: stereotyping, criminal law, litigation process, Sacco-Vanzetti
JEL Classification: K14, K41
Date posted: January 7, 2007