by Justin D. Levinson and Robert J. Smith, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 284pp. Cloth $99.00. ISBN: 978-11070-10956. Paper $33.99. ISBN: 978-11076-48180.

Reviewed by Aaron R.S. Lorenz, Law & Society, Ramapo College. Email: alorenz [at]


In this book, professors of law Justin D. Levinson and Robert J. Smith edit a series of essays that explore the cultural embeddedness of race. Presenting racism as an overt act that has defined American life, the contributing authors examine the continued subordination of racially disadvantaged groups and how the law has contributed to that inequity. Since this is an edited book with a series of contributions, a central thesis may not be as formally presented as one might see in a traditional academic piece. Levinson and Smith both provide numerous additions to the book but Levinson’s introduction is as close to a classic thesis as one might see. Levinson posits that implicit racial bias impacts all areas of the law where disparities exist.

With contributions from the leading scholars in the field on race and law, Levinson (University of Hawaii School of Law) and Smith (University of North Carolina School of Law) edit an important compilation in the field presenting racial biases as a part or American law and life. The contributors range from law professors, to retired judges, to law clerks, to medical directors.

Comprised of fifteen contributions, the first several introduce the theoretical and contextual issues surrounding racial bias and law. The diligence of the editors is clear as the reader can immediately see that the solicited work quickly addresses racial disparities in the legal system from the perspective of the social scientist. While this field is replete with work addressing inequity in the law as it relates to race and many scholarly works on this subject spend considerable time explaining how and where racial bias exists, this book shows in clear detail – with easily relatable evidence – and without using too much space, that there is implicit racial bias in the law. The contributors particularly show that this bias is present in both the procedural and substantive components of the legal system.

The first several contributors provide a “classic” law school approach as they present examples of racism in the law connected to issues of property, criminal law, and torts. These examples demonstrate how society simply accepts that a subset of the population – people of color – are the most affected by law’s inequity. The racial bias is a constant threat to those who ultimately become disenfranchised by the “bias-inspired injustice” (p.79). The authors universally agree that engaging in discourse on how, where, and why racial bias exists is the only way to advance the possibility of racial equality in the law.[*300]

The middle contributions are more narrow in their scope yet remain powerfully persuasive in convincing the reader of their theme(s). Chapters on criminal justice, employment law, torts, health law, and education law all show distinct connections to the racial bias and nuanced racism that exists within American society. Law professor and contributor Charles R. Lawrence, III states, “If black children perform less well in school, it is evidence that blacks, as a race, have fewer or weaker intelligence genes than whites” (p.117). The book shows quite clearly that many of our stereotypes have been reinforced by social learning and accommodated by the law. Essentially, much of the arguments in the middle portion of the book center on the idea that there is no such thing as neutrality regarding race, particularly as connected to employment, education, health and the law. While education may be able to function to integrate children through the law, the authors do ask how society plays a role in this transformation. That is, is the law a command or simply a guide? The lessons that the contributors provide may help the reader better understand the multifaceted nature of law, particularly in regards to the complexity of law and race.

The book closes by discussing capital punishment and reparations. It is here that the progressive nature of this work becomes all the more progressive. That is, the considerable work on race, capital punishment, and reparations is enhanced by the contributions here. The scholars here add components of class and gender to the discussion and highlight the patriarchal and systemic bias that exist within the U.S. legal system. While the research on capital punishment and race is replete with evidence, this portion of the book provides numerous examples and detailed hypotheticals which speak to the implicit racial bias in the administration of capital punishment. Robert J. Smith and G. Ben Cohen argue that race can become an “aggravating factor or the failure to find a mitigating factor” (p.243). Ultimately, they show that regardless of the procedural steps taken to modify rules, it is impossible to deal with the implicit racial bias that revolves around capital trials.

The final contribution on reparations examines various studies that have attempted to build initiatives to redress the impact of slavery and racial bias on people of color in the U.S. This contribution is especially helpful in helping the reader understand the implicit racial bias in the law because authors Eric K. Yamamoto and Michele Park Sonen provide examples of the cultural perceptions of race in society. They connect those cultural perceptions to the law and the constitutive nature of law and race becomes quite evident.

While much of societal racism is internalized, this book ends with some great detail on prescriptions for ending blatant racial bias in the law. IMPLICIT RACIAL BIAS ACROSS THE LAW is a progressive and valuable book in the field best suited for the lawyers, graduate students, scholars, and those generally interested in race and law.
For political scientists who are interested in the general topic of racial biases in the law, this book provides detailed information that is quite helpful in the field. The collection is “across the law”: tax, corporate, intellectual property, environmental, and Federal Indian law are other chapter topics. What the [*301] contributors do especially well is expose the implicit racial bias that surrounds the legal system and has infected it for centuries. The book begins with the premise that racial inequity exists in the law and simply provides evidence of the extent of that bias. For those interested in understanding the disparities of race within the law, this book is invaluable.

Copyright 2014 by the Author, Aaron R.S. Lorenz.