Washington, D.C. (August 3, 2021) – The following is a statement by the Association of American Law Schools:
The central mission of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), as stated in its Bylaws, is “to uphold and advance excellence in legal education, by promoting the core values of excellence in teaching and scholarship, academic freedom, and diversity, including diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints.” The AALS, through its Executive Committee, condemns the efforts in many states to ban the use or teaching of Critical Race Theory. The attacks on Critical Race Theory and the censorship of those who have developed and teach it not only devalue academic freedom, diversity, and excellence in teaching and scholarship but imperil them.
The AALS is compelled to denounce these attacks because Critical Race Theory—though widespread and used in many disciplines for over four decades—originated in the legal academy. Beginning in the 1970s, a racially and ethnically diverse group of legal scholars, called Critical Race Theorists, created frameworks for understanding how race and racial subordination have shaped and continue to shape law and society. Our colleagues have sought to explain and illustrate how structural racism produces racial inequity within our social, economic, political, legal, and educational systems. And they have detailed how this can occur even absent individual racist intent. Furthermore, these pioneering legal scholars have addressed the ways in which racism is interwoven with sexism, classism, and homophobia, among other exclusionary systems. Finally, our colleagues have challenged the substance and the style of conventional legal scholarship. They have employed methodologies for producing legal scholarship, such as storytelling and narrative, to draw on their lived experiences with racial inequality and injustice, among other experiences, and to center the voices of marginalized peoples. All the while, they have made the law, legal scholarship, legal debate, and legal outcomes stronger with their contestations. The AALS supports their right to produce and disseminate knowledge—not only because they have academic freedom to do so, but because our democratic institutions depend on their voices.
As with most issues worthy of scholarly debate, members of the legal academy hold divergent opinions about Critical Race Theory, just as they do with a range of other theoretical frameworks. As a community of scholars, the AALS recognizes that our organization, the legal academy, the legal profession, and our society are stronger and better because of the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints. Critical Race Theory represents one example of the importance of the AALS core value of diversity. For this reason, the AALS reiterates the benefits to our profession when our colleagues have the freedom to write and teach without politics dictating that some ideas cannot be considered. This is true when teaching about issues related to race, just as it is with every other area of subject matter expertise.
Efforts to remove Critical Race Theory from our educational system, just like any other attempt to ban or censor ideas based on ideology, are deeply problematic. Banning Critical Race Theory or censoring those who write about or teach it risks infringing on the right of faculty and students to engage in the free exchange of ideas; it also sets a dangerous precedent that the government gets to decide what ideas or theories are good or bad. This danger is even greater when those ideas and theories are distorted or mischaracterized for political ends. The efforts to ban critical theories, just like other attempts at censorship, undermine one of the primary purposes of education: teaching students how to think for themselves.
The laws proposed or passed in states to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory are designed to stifle a full exploration of the role of race and racism in United States history and, in so doing, they also erase some people from the very classrooms in which they have a right to be full participants as students and as educators. These legislative enactments also substitute political ideology for the considered judgment of professional educators, who have a duty to impart knowledge to their students and facilitate students’ opportunities to learn from each other. The efforts to restrict teaching and learning about ideas derived from Critical Race Theory are inimical to the most basic notions of academic freedom. Worse, they undermine a pillar of legal training: promoting critical thinking by exploring competing perspectives.
The prohibitions on using or teaching Critical Race Theory are an affront to the values of the Association of American Law Schools and a threat to excellence in legal education and scholarship. The AALS denounces attacks that distort or mischaracterize Critical Race Theory. And finally, the AALS condemns those who have made targeted personal attacks on individual scholars who are our colleagues and friends.
The Association of American Law Schools (AALS), founded in 1900, is a nonprofit association of 176 member and 17 fee-paid law schools. Its members enroll most of the nation’s law students and produce the majority of the country’s lawyers and judges, as well as many of its lawmakers. The mission of AALS is to uphold and advance excellence in legal education. In support of this mission, AALS promotes the core values of excellence in teaching and scholarship, academic freedom, and diversity, including diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints, while seeking to improve the legal profession, to foster justice, and to serve its many communities—local, national and international.