criminal law, abolition, municipal courts, local government
If we are serious about disrupting the generational reproduction of the racial social order, we are going to have to learn to let go. Taking up the legacy of criminal municipal courts and racial control, this Response argues against the practice of prescribing from the traditional “medication list” of liberal reforms (substantive, procedural, and “democratizing”) without grappling with whether a system or apparatus is so inextricably bound up with the maintenance of race and class hierarchy that it should be demolished. I assert that we should always ask whether something is redeemable before we ask whether it is reformable. In the case of criminal municipal courts, their past and their present dictate that abolition is the only practical approach.
This Response proceeds in three Parts. In Part I, I provide some brief thoughts on abolitionism as praxis within law. In Part II, I lay out a history of local courts as imbricated with racial capitalism. In Part III, I argue that municipal courts today are best understood not as a democratic juridical
apparatus but as a part of modern police bureaucracy.
Roediger, Brendan, Abolish Municipal Courts: A Response to Professor Natapoff (February 20, 2021). Harvard Law Review, Vol. 134, No. F, p. 213, 2021, Saint Louis U. Legal Studies Research Paper 2021-08.