Implicit Bias and the Law


You may have encountered the new Open Your Mind: Understanding Implicit Bias exhibit on your way into the library over the past few days.  The traveling exhibit, which was previously at the Storrs campus, arrived at the Law School on March 3, 2017, and will be staying in the Slate Foyer until the end of the month.  A reception and panel discussion about the exhibit will be held on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, from 5:00 to 6:30pm, in the lounge off of the Library’s Slate Foyer.  Thomas Craemer (UConn Public Policy) will give opening remarks, followed by a moderated discussion between Professor Craemer and Professors Jill Anderson (UConn Law), Colin Leach (UConn Public Policy), and Lisa Werkmeister-Rozas (UConn Social Work).

The interactive exhibit promotes awareness of implicit bias and discussion of the effects of implicit bias on individuals and society as a whole.  You can even take the Implicit Association Test for race, developed by researchers at Project Implicit, on dedicated iPads.  If you want to take the test at home, or check out the tests created for other forms of implicit bias, such as sexuality and disability, you can do so at Project Implicit.  New features have been added to make this exhibit particularly relevant for the law school community, including a display concerning implicit bias and the “impartial” juror. 

In conjunction with the exhibit, our librarians have put together a research guide on Implicit Bias and the Law.  There, you can find out more about implicit bias and its effect on the law as well as on different parts of the legal system. 

What is Implicit Bias?

According to the National Center for State Courts, “Unlike explicit bias (which reflects the attitudes or beliefs that one endorses at a conscious level), implicit bias is the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes (e.g., implicit attitudes and implicit stereotypes) that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control.”

Discussion of implicit bias in legal scholarship primarily began with criticisms of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Washington v. Davis, which held that the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits actions taken with a discriminatory purpose, not those with only a discriminatory impact.  In 1987, Professor Charles R. Lawrence III urged scholars and law makers to understand that “requiring proof of conscious or intentional motivation as a prerequisite to constitutional recognition that a decision is race-dependent ignores much of what we understand about how the human mind works. It also disregards both the irrationality of racism and the profound effect that the history of American race relations has had on the individual and collective unconscious.”  Charles R. Lawrence III, The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious Racism, 39 Stan. L. Rev. 317, 323 (1987).

Twenty years later, the Connecticut Law Review was honored to have Professor Lawrence as a keynote speaker for a symposium entitled Unconscious Discrimination Twenty Years Later: Application and Evolution.  In this issue, Professor Lawrence revisited his influential article to discuss the progress that has been made and express his concerns about the direction of current scholarship.  Other articles in the Symposium issue address the evolution and applications of Professor Lawrence’s theories.  One article even discusses how implicit bias can be measured, with reference to the Implicit Association Test.  You can see pictures and posters from the symposium in the glass display cases in the Slate Foyer and find copies of the Symposium issue to browse on tables nearby.

Also featured in the glass display cases are articles written by UConn Law faculty related to the topic of bias:

Diversity Week

The last week of the implicit bias exhibit will coincide with UConn Law’s 7th Annual Diversity Week program, which “showcases the Law School’s commitment to offering a safe and diverse environment’ and “offers ALL members of the community a chance to celebrate the many differences that make each of us unique.”  Although details are still pending, some events will include conversations about implicit bias, the impact of immigration reform, and non-binary gender identities and sexualities.  Check the event calendar for more information.

For more assistance, ask a reference librarian!

Tanya Johnson
Reference Librarian,University of Connecticut School of Law