Before joining the Wisconsin Supreme Court this week, Rebecca Dallet had a lengthy career in the criminal justice system. Beginning in 1996 she served variously as a county and federal prosecutor, a Judicial Court Commissioner, and a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge.  

In other words, she held key positions in the system that opponents decry for incarcerating a disproportionate number of African Americans.

Given that history, consider her comments Monday at her investiture ceremony. As reported by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Shawn Johnson, Dallet said the current criminal justice system —the one she worked in for more than two decades —puts life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at risk.

In Dallet’s own words, “we must…recognize that our state is rightly criticized for the data that shows how people of color, especially African-Americans, are being left behind. We cannot blithely accept that we incarcerate a much higher percentage of our black neighbors.”

I don’t have a copy of Dallet’s remarks. News accounts don’t say whether she identified who “blithely accepts” the African American incarceration rate. Nor do they say what she believes is the role of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in addressing that issue. Nor do they say if she acknowledged her longstanding, prominent role in the system that charges, convicts, and sentences African American offenders. Did she, for example, accept personal responsibility? Did she acknowledge wrongly bringing charges against or sentencing African Americans? Or did she blithely skate by that history?

Harvard Law School Professor Randall Kennedy has written extensively about the issue of race, crime, and incarceration. An African American, Kennedy is a Rhodes Scholar who served as a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. He is described as “controversial” for  accurately pointing out that Blacks are imprisoned at a high rate because they commit a disproportionate number of crimes. He has further detailed the resulting high victimization rate among Black citizens.  

Articles here and here explore Kennedy’s work. He provides the context Dallet and her ilk ignore in considering levels of crime and resulting incarceration in the African American community.