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Georgia State University




Civil rights advocates have long viewed litigation as an essential, if insufficient, catalyst of social change. In part, it is. But in critical respects that remain underexplored in legal scholarship, civil rights litigation can hinder short- and long-term projects of racial justice.

Specifically, certain civil rights doctrines reward plaintiffs for emphasizing community deficits—or what I term a “deficit frame.” Legal doctrine, in other words, invites legal narratives that track, activate, and reinforce pernicious racial stereotypes. This dynamic, even in the context of well-intended litigation, risks entrenching conditions that drive racial inequality—including the conditions that litigation is often intended to address. To concretize the theory, this Article explores how deficit frames can influence the behavior of four key constituencies who impact—and often undermine—the pursuit of educational equality.

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