The work that Professor Carla Laroche is doing – exploring the barriers that prevent underrepresented communities from gaining access to justice – is tailor-made to her interests and passions.
It didn’t always look so obvious but her journey in law made it clear.
“For me, knowing the law was important,” Laroche said. “It’s not just the law, but the impact the law has on people that we can’t ignore. And so I try to bring in that understanding to the classroom.”
Laroche’s arrival this fall at Tulane Law adds an innovative scholar to the law school’s faculty ranks, one interested in criminal justice reform, the intersection of gender and race in the criminal justice system, implicit bias, the restoration of voting rights, and diversity in the legal profession. This fall, she is teaching a criminal justice seminar and will teach Criminal Law, Evidence, and other related courses. She also is teaching the Prison Industrial Course to undergraduate students through the Murphy Institute.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have a scholar like Carla Laroche at Tulane Law School,” said Interim Dean Sally Richardson. “Her expertise on the role that race and gender play in the criminal justice system is an invaluable resource for our students and further strengthens Tulane’s long tradition in public interest law.”
Laroche has spent the past decade or more zoning in on her legal interests, shaped by her background as the daughter of Haitian immigrants who worked long hours in factory jobs during her childhood to ensure Laroche and her brother took full advantage of educational opportunities. Laroche embraced that ethic, too. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Princeton University, a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard University, and her J.D. from Columbia Law School.
One of her mentors at Columbia Law School, in an alumni profile a few years ago, called her the “definition of a 21st century lawyer” who was “not stuck in any lane” but was led by her personal and professional values.
“I have never wanted to be stuck in a particular box if I really was interested in something unexpected,” said Laroche.
At Tulane, Laroche is the Felder-Fayard Associate Professor of Law and her scholarship addresses barriers to access to justice. Before arriving at Tulane, she was at the Washington & Lee University School of Law, where she was an Associate Clinical Professor, founding and directing the Civil Rights and Racial Justice Clinic.
In a career marked by a great variety of interests, Laroche has been an advocate for children who are incarcerated, a teacher in Tanzania, and was able to learn through different legal opportunities ways to use her legal skills effectively. She clerked for a federal judge in Florida, who “loved the law, loved what he did and hired clerks who also loved the law,” she said, and who taught her so much.
She did a brief stint in Big Law after law school, and later became a fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Tallahassee, Florida, where she focused on mass incarceration, criminal law policies, and the impact of legal systems on adults and children. She also took on Florida’s notorious laws that kept those with criminal records from voting. During her time at SPLC and the Gender and Family Justice Clinic, which she founded at Florida State University College of Law, Laroche collaborated with organizations that led the advocacy and protection of the passage of Amendment 4, a 2018 state constitutional ballot initiative that "restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation.”
In an article she wrote and published last year in the Boston University Law Review, “Black Women and Voter Suppression,” Laroche explains that voting disenfranchisement is another way that incarceration impacts families, especially Black families.
“Black women who are eligible to vote do so at consistently high rates during elections in the United States. For thousands of Black women, however, racism, sexism, and criminal convictions intersect to require them to navigate a maze of laws and policies that keep them from voting. With the alarming rate of convictions and incarceration of Black women, criminal law intersects with civil rights to bar their involvement in the electoral process. This voting ban is known as felony disenfranchisement, but it amounts to voter suppression.”
Laroche, in her writing and in her teaching, isn’t afraid to expose the difficult truths of systemic disenfranchisement of communities of color.
She was especially excited to join the faculty at Tulane, in a city like New Orleans, because of the community’s long-standing history of advocacy for criminal justice reform. She noted that Tulane’s legal clinics were looking at issues that she cared about, and that scholars in the law faculty were writing about areas of law that intersect with her own interests.
And as a Black law scholar, she understands how important it is for students to see her in the classroom, as a tenure-track professor. Laroche said has plans beyond her own courses to have an impact. Early in the semester, she attended the lunches of almost every affinity group affiliated with Tulane Law, connecting with students outside her classes.
She is active with organizations beyond Tulane as well, including the Association of American Law Schools, where she is a member of the executive committee of the Criminal Law Section, and the American Bar Association, serving on the Council of the Criminal Justice Section, co-chair of the Women in Criminal Justice Task Force, and a board member of the Center for Human Rights.
“I look forward to furthering my scholarship, teaching, and service at Tulane. I will continue to work on exposing how certain communities must access their rights differently and work with others to address these issues.”