St. Mary's Law Journal


This Article uses the U.S. News law school rankings to illustrate how powerful, invisible, and stubborn systemic racism is. This Article does not level allegations of intentionally blameworthy conduct at U.S. News, or any person or entity. More broadly, this Article does not address conscious and deliberate racism, or the examples of this type of racism with which America’s history is replete. Nor is this Article attempting to undervalue the significant impact of deliberately racist actions in American history on the economic disparity between white people and people of color.

Instead, I make an untrue assumption: All Americans of every phenotype are anti-racist. This assumption is akin to those made in the context of a summary judgment motion. In other words, a summary judgment movant often assumes the other side’s facts are true, even when they are not, solely to eliminate factual disputes for the purpose of the motion. The movant then contends even if the facts are as the opponent states they are, the movant’s position is still valid, and the movant’s thesis of the litigation prevails.

Even if every American were consciously anti-racist and consciously desired to achieve a racially equitable society, unconscious mechanisms resulting in system justification prevent such a realization. In the context of legal education, the U.S. News rankings catalyze and illustrate these system justifying mechanisms. Without understanding these system justifying mechanisms and the conditions mitigating their operation, an anti-racist America is unattainable.

Part I of this Article briefly discusses the rankings methodology. Part II of this Article defines racism and systemic racism, and introduces system justification theory as the mechanism by which racism and systemic racism operate. Part III explains invisible, powerful system justification occurs via unconscious mechanisms among anti-racist Americans, including people of color, reinforcing the white dominant status quo in society. This occurs even though these system justifying actions are often contrary to sincere and conscious individual desires for anti-racism and equality. Part III also provides opportunities to contextualize the operation of system justification.

Once that context is created, Part IV carefully and precisely explains how the rankings invoke, utilize, and rely on systemic racism, and why we experience no dissonance about this, even if we are anti-racists.

Finally, Part V illustrates why systemic racism based on system justification is so stubborn. System justification is a global phenomenon that automates the creation of in-groups and out-groups. In America, race and whiteness is the distinction between the in-groups and out-groups. However, there are other countries where whiteness is not a distinguishing factor between in-groups and out-groups in the existing societal hierarchies. Therefore, more powerful forces, other than just race, must be at play in perpetuating inequitable social hierarchies.

Most disturbingly, Part V explains why, after the reader becomes aware of how the rankings are infected with systemic racism, we will do nothing to change the system, and the anti-racists among us will likely have a clear conscience about continuing to rely on racist metrics.

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St. Mary's University School of Law