Using Rewritten Judicial Opinions to Teach CRT While Reinforcing Doctrinal Lessons

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These are certainly interesting times to teach and write about critical race theory. As CRT becomes the new political scapegoat, US law schools are (finally) beginning to explore how to teach students law while also teaching them about the racism (and misogyny and homophobia) embedded in the law.

The question, of course, is always how to integrate CRT. Standalone courses are great, but they reach only a handful of students. And law professors often feel like they cannot add lengthy critical scholarship readings to already overpacked doctrinal courses.

One answer to the dilemma is to use rewritten judicial opinions. The Feminist Judgments series offers opinions that look like “real” judicial opinions but include critical race reasoning (as well as other critical legal perspectives). These rewritten opinions are shorter than most scholarly articles and can be a quick and effective way to incorporate CRT into your class. Because they are relatively short, they can be assigned ahead of time along with the original opinion or can be read as part of an in-class exercise as described by Bridget Crawford in this book chapter.

Teaching sexual harassment law? Dean Angela Onwuachi-Willig’s rewritten opinion in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson uncovers the racial dynamics of sexual harassment that were obscured in the original opinion. Or maybe you are teaching employer appearance codes in your employment law class. Consider assigning Professor Wendy Greene’s rewrite of EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, in which she reveals the racism and misogyny underlying what US law considers professional or appropriate for the workplace.

Teaching battery in Torts and want to stimulate a critical discussion of the bias inherent in determinations of intent or damages? Consider Professor Alena Allen’s rewrite of Robinson v. Cutchin, in which she criticizes the argument that an African American woman subjected to an unwanted tubal ligation during her C-section had suffered “no additional physical pain, injury or illness.” Professor Allen’s opinion is the perfect vehicle to teach students about the dangers of an ahistorical approach to doctrine because it places the concept of informed consent in the context of the history of involuntary sterilization of poor African American women in the United States.

These are just a few examples. Others include Professor Marley Weiss’s rewrite of Ricci v. Distefano in the Employment Discrimination volume, Professor Jennifer Wriggins and Professor Sara Cressey’s rewrite of G.M.M. v. Kimpson in Torts, Professor David Brennen’s rewrite of Bob Jones University v. United States in the Tax volume, and Dean Browne Lewis’ rewrite of O’Neal v. Wilkes in the Trusts & Estates volume, and Professor Teri McMurtry-Chubb’s rewrite of Loving v. Virginia in the Supreme Court volume, to name just a few. Go to the Feminist Judgments website for resources about how to teach using alternative judgments.

The best part is that if your library subscribes to the electronic versions of the volumes on Cambridge Core, students and faculty can read and download individual opinions via their library websites with no extra charge. Right now, Cambridge University Press is running a promotion where readers can access free chapters and libraries (and others) can get a discount on purchases of volumes in the series.

If we are going to be criticized for teaching CRT anyway, we might as well run with it.

(cross-posted at Faculty Lounge here)

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