Author granted license

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

Document Type


Publication Date



Northwestern University School of Law




In McCleskey v. Kemp, the Supreme Court rendered statistical evidence of racial disparities doctrinally irrelevant to a criminal defendant’s equal protection claim. Fifteen years later in Grutter v. Bollinger, Chief Justice Rehnquist—part of the McCleskey majority—invoked admissions data to support his conclusion that the University of Michigan Law School had unconstitutionally discriminated against White applicants. This facially inconsistent treatment of statistical data invites the following inquiry: Why do judges (including Supreme Court Justices) rely on social science in some cases, yet reject it in others? We suggest that one answer lies at the intersection of Critical Race Theory and empirical scholarship on motivated social cognition. This “eCRT” lens illuminates how ostensibly neutral biases and heuristics, when informed by socially salient racial stereotypes, will predictably and systematically lead judges to overvalue “evidence” that rationalizes existing racial disparities and legitimizes the status quo.

Find on SSRN



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.