By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The racial composition is probably one of the first things we notice when venire members file in before jury selection. When recruiting for a mock trial, we will try to match the composition of the venue. Along with other demographics, race is not nearly as predictive as some might think. As a result, race is not used by trial consultants nearly as much as some critics of the field would think. Still race is part of the overall picture of knowing your trial venue, a salient aspect of one's lived experience; and race is changing. That occurred to me at a recent mock trial when I noticed that nearly a third of our recruits were identifying as "Other" when asked to identify their race in the initial questionnaire. I had seen this before on other projects, and it gave me a sense that something was going on; many were broadly rejecting the categories we had given them.
That rejection is not limited to my mock trial sample. News in the last few weeks indicates that the U.S. Census Bureau is looking at revising the race question. Apparently, "Other" has been the third largest racial group in America for the past 20 years. With the goal of reducing that proportion, the Census hopes to develop a sharper and more comprehensive understanding of the complexity of America's racial background. Others who analyze groups of people for the purpose of research or persuasion should take notice. When we are picking jurors, sampling for mock trials, or finding participants for community attitude surveys, it helps to know what we should be looking for when it comes to race. This post will take a look at the changes being considered, along with implications for litigators and researchers.