Cornell Law Review Volume 93 Issue 6

Prosecuting the Jena Six

This Essay explores the racial norms animating the prosecution of the Jena Six in LaSalle Parish, Louisiana, a set of norms I will call Jim Crow legal ethics. By Jim Crow legal ethics, I mean the professional norms of practice in a time of de jure or de facto racial segregation. Historically segregated since the nineteenth century, the town of Jena is divided culturally, socially, and geographically along a postbellum color line. That line informed the practice norms of LaSalle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters in prosecuting the Jena Six.

The prosecution of the Jena Six, and the legal-political controversy that ensued, implicates themes deftly parsed in David Luban’s new book, Legal Ethics and Human Dignity. An elegant and prolific scholar of legal ethics, Luban’s work is distinguished equally by its keen moral discernment of the lawyering process and by its clear-eyed embrace of the legal profession, notably including clinical legal education. In Legal Ethics and Human Dignity, Luban links the profession to the preservation of dignity in the relationships defined by law, legal agents, and sociolegal institutions, relationships forged in the context of the criminal justice system discussed here.

 

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