Mehrsa Baradaran ’05 examines what makes law legitimate in Derrick Bell Lecture

On November 14, Mehrsa Baradaran ’05, a professor at University of California, Irvine School of Law and an expert on banking law and racial wealth disparities, delivered the 28th annual Derrick Bell Lecture on Race in American Society. In her remarks, Baradaran said laws must be constantly evaluated and made more just in order to maintain law’s legitimacy, citing as an illustration her family’s experience of repression in Iran in the 1980s.

Mehrsa Baradaran ’05
Mehrsa Baradaran ’05

The annual lecture is given in commemoration of the life and legacy of the late Derrick Bell, a renowned civil rights lawyer and longtime professor at NYU Law. Co-hosted by the Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, the lecture is presented by a leading scholar or activist on the future of racial justice and the law.

Baradaran has explored issues of financial inequality and race in her books How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy and The Color of Money: Black Banking and the Racial Wealth Gap. In the Bell Lecture, she called for a reevaluation of historical values that still influence many laws today, prioritizing one race over another. “We can have mutual prosperity and shared wealth but it has to be actually mutual and shared. To do that, the sins of the past... have to be remedied,” she said.  

Watch the full video of the lecture: 

Selected remarks by Mehrsa Baradaran ’05: 

“The Iranian revolution was impossible until it was inevitable. Rule of law is one of those intangible things that you don’t discover until it’s gone, and it disappears when the law’s legitimacy is gone. That gap between the spirit of the law and the letter of the law—between law and justice—that is the crack in which hypocrisy enters and is a corrosive agent that wipes out the law's legitimacy. It may not start off as a killer, but it’ll get there. The corruption of law is a one-way ratchet. It grows until it consumes everything.” (Video, 1:09:23)

“I focus on banking and financial law, and there are a lot of places where the theory is, let’s say, free market capitalism—but the law is not really that at all, but more like lobbying, favoritism, corruption. Money on the market is where a lot of the ideologies of the past have been lodged and where the sins of the past, if you will, continue to perpetuate harm.” (Video, 1:10:11)

“To maintain our democracy, we must invest in equality, or else risk losing the spirit within the law for its cold dead letter.” (Video, 1:29:29)

Posted on November 30, 2023