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Professor Alexis Hoag-Fordjour Receives AALS Honor for Critical Race Lens Research

01/11/2023

Professor Alexis Hoag-Fordjour, co-director of the Center for Criminal Justice, was named a runner-up in the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Criminal Law Section’s Junior Scholars Paper Competition, for her article, forthcoming in the NYU Law Review, White is Right: The Racial Construction of Effective Assistance of Counsel

Hoag-Fordjour’s scholarship examines the role whiteness plays in determining whether a defendant received effective legal representation and outlines a structural framework for understanding ineffective assistance of counsel jurisprudence.  

The article focuses on the racialized presumption of reasonableness and competency that the law extends to defense counsel when determining ineffective assistance of counsel claims. In applying a critical race lens, it examines the racialized construction of the criminal legal system and the legal profession.  

For her research, Hoag-Fordjour examined a 1955 Jim Crow–era U.S. Supreme Court case, Michel v. Louisiana which “laid the foundation for the presumption of counsel’s reasonableness and competency.”  It reveals how the Court relied on Michel to solidify these racialized presumptions in 1984’s Strickland v. Washington effective assistance of counsel standard. “This historical context helps explain why all defendants encounter difficulty when seeking relief from defense counsel’s poor performance,” Hoag-Fordjour writes. 

When the abstract for the article was first published, Hoag-Fordjour shared on Twitter that the goal of the research is to provide a path toward change. “Interrogating the role of whiteness in the Court’s criminal procedure jurisprudence can inspire interventions better suited to address its deep-seated problems,” she tweeted.  

The honor was presented Jan. 6 at the AALS annual meeting, which was held Jan 3-7 in San Diego, Calif.