Race and Justice in America

National conversation about racial bias in law enforcement has become increasingly polarized over the last year. Some deny the existence of any widespread discrimination, while others see systemic racism as an inextricable part of American criminal justice, and call for defunding or even abolishing police forces.

Professor Brandon Vaidyanathan says that racial bias in the criminal justice system is more complicated. A number of factors, including personal prejudice, laws and policies with racist origins, and broader cultural disparities that reflect the history of American racial discrimination, all contribute to a system that is neither irredeemably racist nor free from racial bias. Recognizing this complex interplay of problems, says Vaidyanathan, can help us move toward solutions.

Join IHE Fellow Brandon VaidyanathanHerschella Conyers, and Darren Davis for a conversation moderated by Cook County Judge Tom Donnelly, as they discuss race in contemporary American criminal justice and a path to equality in a fractured nation.

This event is organized and cosponsored by the Lumen Christi Institute.


Herschella G. Conyers | University of Chicago Law School

Herschella G. Conyers is a clinical professor of law and the Director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.  The clinic affords law students a supervised opportunity to provide direct client representation while working on juvenile justice issues including policy initiatives, legislation, and systemic litigation.  The clinic works with other institutional players to advance reforms in the criminal and juvenile justice arena. In recent years CJP has collaborated with the Illinois Judicial Council in presenting symposia on understanding juveniles involved in the system. In addition to her clinic, Professor Conyers also co-teaches the Intensive Trial Practice Workshop and a seminar called Life (and Death) in the Law. Before joining the law school faculty, Professor Conyers served as an assistant public defender in the First Municipal, Felony Trial and Multiple Defendants divisions of the Cook County Public Defender’s Office. During her time in MDD, she handled mostly capital cases. Before leaving the Public Defender’s Office, Professor Conyers also served as a Supervisor in the First Municipal Division and Deputy Chief of the Sixth District in Bridgeview. Professor Conyers is a graduate of both the University of Chicago’s College and Law School.


Darren Davis | Department of Political Science | University of Notre Dame

Darren W. Davis is Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame. His research interests cover most areas of public opinion and political behavior. He is the author of Negative Liberty: Public Opinion and the Terrorist Attacks on America, which examines the role of threat perceptions on the tradeoffs between civil liberties and security, political tolerance, and ideas of citizenship, and Perseverance in the Parish? Religious Attitudes from a Black Catholic Perspective, based on the first national survey of African American Catholics, the book explores the perceptions of racism and racial experiences in the Catholic Church.


Thomas More Donnelly (Officers, Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago) – The  Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago

The Honorable Thomas More Donnelly serves as an Associate Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County. He is assigned to the Law Division. Sworn in as a judge in 2000, he currently serves in the Law Division, Trial Section.  He has tried over 300 jury trials.  He currently sits on the Illinois Judicial College Board of Trustees with a term expiring 2023 and serves as liaison to the Committee on Judicial Education. From 2016 to 2019, he served as the inaugural chair of the Illinois Judicial College Board. Additionally, he serves on the faculty of the National Judicial College and teaches judges around the country. He served on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Pretrial Practices from its inception until its final report 2018-2020. The Illinois Supreme Court appointed him as one of two judicial representatives on the Statutory Court Fee Task Force and he served on the task force from its inception until its final report 2016-2019.  He has taught at Loyola Law School for the past thirty years.  While he has taught five different courses, he currently teaches Illinois Civil Procedure. He has taught or lectured at many other law schools:  Marquette, University of Chicago, Washington & Lee, DePaul.  He teaches widely with bar associations and other groups.


Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan

Brandon Vaidyanathan is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology at The Catholic University of America. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Notre Dame. His research examines the cultural dimensions of religious, commercial, medical, and scientific institutions and has been widely published in peer-reviewed journals. He is the author of Mercenaries and Missionaries: Capitalism and Catholicism in the Global South (Cornell University Press, 2019) and co-author of Secularity and Science: What Scientists Around the World Really Think About Religion (Oxford University Press, 2019). His ongoing research examines the mental health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on faith communities and among scientists.