Tennessee’s Supreme Court says it wants to eliminate racial discrimination in the state’s judicial system. A new initiative follows the recent groundswell of protests against systemic racism in policing.
But accusations of racial bias are not new in Tennessee’s court system.
As far back as 1997, a report by the Supreme Court’s Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness found multiple examples of discrimination, including harsher sentences for minority defendants.
Those findings are reflected in Tennessee’s jails and prisons: 40% of inmates are Black, though they make up just 17% of the state population, according to the Sycamore Institute.
Claims of racial discrimination are also still common in death penalty cases. Last summer, Nashville’s district attorney overturned the death sentence of Abu-Ali Abdur’Rahman, because Black residents were kept off of the jury at his trial. The state’s attorney general has since challenged that deal.
The Supreme Court’s “Access to Justice Commission” will look for ways to improve training, policies and other aspects of the court atmosphere that could unfairly impact people of color. The court says it has already started to provide implicit-bias training to judges.
The court also says racism “has no place in our society” and that it will work to ensure justice for all.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.