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Frank Baumgartner seeks to understand if the disparate impacts of various North Carolina legislation were by design. To do so, he and his team analyzed the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts’ database and paired their findings with debates, news articles, and other sources that provide insights into the legislative intent behind laws that disproportionately impact minorities in the state. The database includes records of every person arrested, the reason for their arrest, how the case progressed through the courts, and demographic information like the offender’s race, gender, and age. From these numbers, Baumgartner and his team were able to calculate the odds that someone would be arrested based on different identity factors. When analyzing this data on a city-by-city level, the team found that black, Latinx, and Native Americans were more likely to be arrested when there were more police per capita, but the same was not true for white and Asian Americans. In Charlotte, the team was able to identify a high correlation between poverty, race, and chance of arrest. For example, wealthy white neighborhoods tallied few open containers and marijuana arrests. However, other neighborhoods told a very different story. Baumgartner and his team are now working to pair outcomes with legislative intent, looking to see if such arrest records were planned from the signing of each law. In some cases, there is no intent. For example, laws about licensing and car registrations tend to impact Hispanic individuals disproportionately, but they came into effect decades before North Carolina saw any influx of such individuals. That said, protesting laws from 1969, which disproportionately impact black individuals, seem to have been intentionally written for discrimination, as were several portions of the 1937 traffic code and 2007 gang activity laws. Determining the intent, however, is not a clear-cut project. Baumgartner and team are still digging through archives, learning when the laws were passed, and gaining an understanding of the debates, news articles, and supporting evidence that coincides with their passing. Racial disparities are not always correlated with legislative intent, but the team is working to find answers for those that were.   Click here to view the talk on YouTube.


Frank Baumgartner, Richard J. Richardson Distinguished Professor

Department: Political Science | Faculty Profile

Featured on: November 10, 2022 (Event Page)

Session Title: Navigating Politics and the Law (Event Recap

Tools, Information, and Resources:

  • Working as Intended: Race, Class, Gender and the Law: This book (under advanced contract, currently in progress; expected submission summer 2023) evaluating patterns of arrest in 13,000,000 charges from NC Courts, 2013-2019. The authors make use of this comprehensive database covering every arrest over seven years in a single state, providing a comprehensive look into a state’s criminal legal system from start to finish.
  • North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC): The NCAOC provides centralized administration and budgeting services for the state’s courts.