We recognize that too often African-Americans, Alaska Natives, and other people of color are not treated with the same dignity and respect as white members of our communities. And we recognize that as community members, lawyers, and especially as judicial officers, we must do more to change this reality....As judges we must examine what those changes must be, what biases -- both conscious and unconscious -- we bring, and how we can improve our justice system so that all who enter are assured they will receive equal treatment. We must continue our efforts to make our court system and its judges reflect the community that we serve.
"And now, “I am privileged to serve on one of the most talented and diverse high courts in the nation—a collegial bench with a broad range of backgrounds and experience—all committed to justice and the rule of law...
"For the 17th straight year, the data shows a steady increase in the number of women and judges of color. Female judicial officers now constitute nearly 40% of all judicial officers. The percentage of Asian, Black, and Hispanic judicial officers nearly doubled since 2006 when we began keeping data. We’ve made progress and have established a solid foundation that we can continue to build on into the future."
"Last year, through a legislative bill, we included Native American Day as a judicial branch holiday. This year, for the first time, through another bill that the Judicial Council supported, we will be celebrating Juneteenth as a state holiday. This coming Friday, we recognize César Chávez Day. These and other such recognitions are reminders of the importance of the work on Access, Fairness, Diversity and Inclusion that is ongoing through initiatives across the branch."
"Last December, the Judicial Council voted to amend our Judicial Branch Strategic Plan to further elevate and embrace our representation and responsiveness to individual and group differences to leverage diversity to foster an environment of respect and engagement. And what we did was added “inclusion” to our number one judicial branch goal."
"Some may ask why I choose to emphasize diversity in my first State of the Judiciary Address as Chief Justice of California. My answer to you is because it is important."
The Judicial Council’s Advisory Committee on Providing Access and Fairness is also developing a Racial Justice Toolkit for courts. We’re working on expanding gender-neutral forms. Education on unconscious bias and the prevention of discrimination and harassment is now mandatory for all judicial officers. And we’re continuing to expand language access services."
2022 State of the Judiciary
"During and after the Great Recession, we also studied fines and fees and bail, and the impact it has on our most vulnerable populations: ...We spoke out against racial injustice; We expanded our own diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that are being replicated statewide..."
"The workgroup continues its good work, now focusing on jury service. And there are recommendations to have state-funded increases in juror pay, and to have jurors complete the questionnaires and the hardship applications online. We believe that those improvements will create a diverse, broader prospective jury pool."
We must, as a society, honestly recognize our unacceptable failings and continue to build on our shared strengths. We must acknowledge that, in addition to overt bigotry, inattention and complacency have allowed tacit toleration of the intolerable. These are burdens particularly borne by African Americans as well as Indigenous Peoples singled out for disparate treatment in the United States Constitution when it was ratified. We have an opportunity, in this moment, to overcome division, accept responsibility for our troubled past, and forge a unified future for all who share devotion to this country and its ideal
I am deeply disturbed by the tragic deaths of George Floyd and others, as well as the action and inaction that led to these deaths. Justice is the first need addressed by the People in the preamble of our nation’s Constitution. As public servants, judicial officers swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. We must continue to remove barriers to access and fairness, to address conscious and unconscious bias—and yes, racism. All of us, regardless of gender, race, creed, color, sexual orientation or identity, deserve justice. Our civil and constitutional rights are more than a promise, a pledge, or an oath—we must enforce these rights equally. Being heard is only the first step to action as we continue to strive to build a fairer, more equal and accessible justice system for all.
"As we head into the third year of our judicial diversity outreach program, we are seeing its positive impact. As I mentioned at the beginning, we gathered in person for Judicial Conference last fall. It was the first time since 2019. The room looked and felt different; we saw more women and more diverse colleagues among us... (13) Diverse law students entering the legal profession have shared with us how inspiring it is to see judges who look like them. Today, 17% of judges on the Colorado state court bench are judges of color, whereas we only had 10% judges of color four years ago. More strikingly, in 2018, we had just one Black District Court judge serving our state. Today, we have 15 Black judges—19 including Denver County Court—taking the bench each day."
"We provide experiential learning opportunities for diverse law students through our Judge Lorenzo Márquez internship program and offer networking opportunities with our judges through our popular “virtual coffeehouse” called Java with Judges. We are also encouraging diverse law students to consider legal opportunities in parts of greater Colorado through a new summer externship program." (14)
"And importantly, proactive work around diversity, equity, and inclusion will be a significant priority of this office. We are moving forward with this office not simply to implement a recommendation, but because we believe that it is the right thing to do."
2021 State of the Judiciary
"I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize another crisis around how our minority communities perceive their treatment in the criminal justice system. To that end, we also stepped up our efforts to help diversify the bench. We feel that is an important part of enacting real, lasting change. One of the best ways to ensure equal justice for all is to have judges that reflect the communities they serve. Too that end, five years ago, several of our justices formed a “Bench Diversity Dream Team” through Colorado’s Center for Legal Inclusiveness. The Bench Dream Team became a vehicle to encourage diverse lawyers to consider a career on the bench and to help them navigate the judicial application process. Bench Dream Team members have volunteered countless hours hosting informational sessions, meeting with potential applicants, and conducting mock interviews. As part of the Dream Team’s efforts, Justice Márquez teamed with the Center for Legal Inclusiveness, the diverse bar associations, judges, nominating commission members, and 9News alum Adele Arakawa to produce a training video for new nominating commission members. Among other things, that video teaches commissioners how to combat implicit bias."
"I am proud to say that Governor Polis appointed more Black women to the bench—five—in the one-year period between September 1, 2019, and August 31, 2020, than in the previous twenty-five years combined. In addition, fifty-nine percent of judges appointed by Governor Polis in that same time period were female. That has resulted in a nearly 13 percent increase in female judges in the last four years. With that said, the protest for racial justice which took place this past summer and more recent events remind us that much work remains to be done."
"Those events have led us to significantly increase our training around issues of racial equality. Judges Paul Dunkelman and Adam Espinoza—through their leadership roles as Presidents of the District Court and County Court Judges Associations, respectively—have put on a continuing series of excellent webinars on these issues."
"That court established an Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-Racism Committee to combat systemic racism and injustice by promoting acceptance, respect, and value for all persons and creating an ongoing dialogue to confront biases. To date, the Committee has undertaken a number of projects, including spearheading amendments to the Court of Appeals’ strategic plan regarding diversity and inclusion, compiling and sharing resources about DEI trainings, and facilitating discussions inside and outside the court, including with regional law schools and law students on these issues."
2020 Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson, June 9
I must make it clear that I am not disparaging law enforcement or our judicial systems, but I am saying that they are not perfect institutions. I am outraged by some of the things that I have seen and heard. With each new revelation my heart breaks even more and like many of you, I have long since reached the point that, as Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” The existing imperfections in our justice systems have profound and lasting effect on all of us, but it is more severe on those of us who are the most vulnerable. There is a need for real and immediate improvement. America can - and must - do a better job of providing “equal justice under law,” the very words that are engraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. I believe that our justice system is one of the best in the world, however, to quote Victor Hugo “Being good is easy, what is difficult is being just.”
As judges, we take an oath to do justice equally to the rich and to the poor regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other demographics and our oath requires us to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. We hold sacred the rights guaranteed by our Constitution and as judges, we must listen and do justice to the cases that people bring before us people from all walks of life. Our judges and dedicated court staff take seriously our responsibility to administer justice we work hard to ensure access to justice for all and to make sure our courts are the best they can be to serve our community.
2020 Chief Justice Harold Melton, June 5
The prominence and horror of the George Floyd murder does point to continued divisiveness. But, at the same time, it also points to unparalleled unity as exhibited by unprecedented numbers of people of all ages, races, and walks of life who are: (1) expressing outrage at the continued unnecessary violence by some police officers against African Americans; and (2) asking ‘What can we do to make things better going forward?’...We are grieving right now. And that is proper and healthy. I don’t know if we have ever grieved like this before. But by grieving together, coming together, and supporting one another through all of this, I know that we will come out of this better than we were before. And for that I am encouraged.
"I am pleased to report, that as of today, 49 percent of our full-time judges are women. And, our judges reflect Hawai’i’s rich diversity of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. In cultivating the values of diversity and inclusion, our website contains demographic information about our judges, and we require implicit bias training for all judges and staff."
"In order to build trust in the justice system, we must acknowledge and address systemic inequities, and we have redoubled our efforts to ensure the Judiciary lives up to the promise of equal justice for all. Hawaiʻi is far from immune from the racial inequity that spurred this summer’s protests, across the country and at home. We have already taken some important steps: by reforming bail and other aspects of our criminal justice system that may have disproportionate impacts by training our judges and judiciary staff on how to recognize and address implicit bias and by increasing access to our civil justice system. Moreover, the newly created Criminal Justice Research Institute will leverage data to identify inequity within the criminal justice system."
The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, within months of each other, have been tragic reminders of the reality that many face every day across our nation. For those of us who work in the justice system, which promises equal justice for all, this is a time of reckoning that requires careful listening, increased education and self-reflection, and, most importantly, action. We have a collective responsibility to hear the voices that have been raised, and to address deeply rooted and systemic problems within the structures of our institutions.
Racism exists, whether it be actualized as individual racism, institutional racism or structural racism, and it undermines our democracy, the fair and equitable administration of justice, and severely diminishes individual constitutional protections and safeguards of full citizenship with the attendant rights and benefits sacred to all. People of color have no less expectation of fairness, equity and freedom from racial discrimination than others, yet they are continually confronted with racial injustices that the Courts have the ability to nullify and set right.
"Complacency can never be the norm in providing justice. We need to constantly be more attuned to the needs of those who stand before our benches daily. Our courts work to provide equal justice just as the constitution promises. But despite all we are doing, the notion of equal justice for all remains elusive to some persons of color in matters across the legal spectrum. What we strive for and what we have reached can be two different things. There’s much work to be done. Our judges around the state are taking the lead and convening community forums to tackle issues of race and equity in the justice system."
Despite all we have worked to pursue, justice remains elusive to many persons of color in matters across the legal spectrum. There is a disconnect between what we aspire for in our justice system and what we have achieved. That may be hard to hear for all of us who work every day for fairness, but we must hear the voices that cry out in our streets and towns. We must acknowledge and confront the reality that our fellow community members say is their experience. And it is imperative we take action to change that experience—not ignore, justify, or disparage it.
"In 2021, we recognized that in order for us to continue to properly serve the people of this great state, we need to develop a more comprehensive educational curriculum for judges and judicial branch employees. These educational opportunities would embrace a full range of adult learning. Issues related to race and disproportionality will remain critical components of our educational curriculum."
"The Kansas judicial branch established a Racial Justice Education Advisory Team in 2020. The team includes leaders from judicial districts of varying sizes who are working to recommend a scalable, ongoing racial justice education program for the entire branch. In its initiatory year, the team completed an extensive review of relevant materials on the topic of racial justice and compiled a library of related webinars. The team promoted implicit bias training for all judges and court leaders in November. That training remains available on-demand for all staff to watch when schedules allow. Employees and judges in four of the state’s largest judicial districts also received a three-part diversity, inclusion, and sensitivity training. This resource will be shared with the remaining judicial districts as time and funding allow. The team has identified a local provider for cultural competence workshops that can be delivered either in person or by webinar. They are currently seeking grant funding to offer these workshops branch-wide."
2020 Chief Justice John D. Minton Jr., June 4
As a justice system, we must be willing to recognize our failures. And we must be willing to not only listen, but to actually hear the very valid concerns raised by people who have been marginalized, degraded, or made to feel less than. The court system and the legal profession must continue to advocate for a diverse bench and bar to reflect the communities that we serve. We must continue to improve communication between the courts, justice partners, and court participants. And we must constantly evaluate and address institutional racism and our own implicit biases. I recognize that we—all of us—have a long way to go. But I am pleased with the progress the court system has made over the past few years to provide diversity and cultural collision trainings to all judges, clerks, specialty courts staff, and pretrial staff across the state.
As Chief Justice and chief administrator of our state’s courts, I readily admit our justice system falls far short of the equality it espouses. And I see many of its worst injustices meted out in the criminal legal system. Inequities there range from courts being funded with fines levied on poor, disproportionately African American defendants, to our longtime use of Jim Crow laws to silence African American jurors and make it easier to convict African American defendants. We need only look at the glaring disparities between the rate of arrests, severity of prosecutions and lengths of sentences for drug offenses in poor and African American communities in comparison to those in wealthier White communities, to see how we are part of the problem. Is it any wonder why many people have little faith that our legal system is designed to serve them or protect them from harm? Is it any wonder why they have taken to the streets to demand that it does?
"We are working hard at increasing diversity and inclusion and decreasing implicit bias in the Judicial Branch through educational programing and outreach. For example, we have a new initiative which started in Lewiston to hire court interns born in Somalia. There is now a standing court committee to address these issues; we expect to engage more broadly with our justice partners to expand efforts out into the communities we serve and to try to become a much more diverse and inclusive organization."
"We are deeply committed to equal justice for all. We have spoken loudly and clearly on the critical need for justice systems to operate free from the scourge of racial bias and discrimination. Justice and the rule of law demand no less. The Judicial Branch has conducted critically important in-house educational programs on implicit racial bias in the past. Our current and future educational efforts, including a three-component series on racial justice, will continue to focus upon diversity, equality, and inclusion issues. In addition to continuing educational efforts, we will be embarking on a comprehensive, introspective study to identify and address systemic racial bias within the judicial system. We need to gather and analyze the data and, where any racial inequity appears, ask the question, “Why?” and implement systemic changes as necessary to alleviate disparate treatment. We have been gathering information on resources and seeking knowledgeable consultants to help us plan for this major initiative. We will be moving to the actual planning stages in the very near future."
2020 Supreme Judicial Court, June 8
"The courts have a direct and fundamental responsibility to dispense justice without any hint or even appearance of racism or other bias in all of their insidious forms. Freedom from disparate treatment based upon race is not only a constitutional right—it is a basic human right. The mission of the Maine Judicial Branch is to “administer justice by providing a safe, accessible, efficient and impartial system of dispute resolution that serves the public interest, protects individual rights, and instills respect for the law.”
Judges swear to be fair and impartial, to do justice in every individual case. That cannot change, but we, together, as members of the system of justice, must re-examine how we administer justice. We must determine, along with the other branches of government, how to ensure that the protections and rights under law are afforded equally to all of us. We must assure that our courts do not suffer bias, conscious or unconscious. We must examine, together, the reasons for disproportionate impact upon people of color, and address those reasons.
"As we emerge from the pandemic, we also need to do more to fight another kind of virus that has affected our legal system for far too long – the problem of racial and ethnic inequities. Even as we were battling COVID over the last year-and-a-half, the repeated, tragic and unjustified deaths of Black men and women in police encounters across the country sparked a national reexamination of the role of race in our legal system. Here in Massachusetts, the long-awaited Harvard Law School study on racial disparities in our criminal justice system that was released last fall concluded that Black and Latinx people are overrepresented in the criminal caseload compared to their population in the state, and that Black and Latinx people are given longer sentences than their similarly situated white counterparts. And another report issued by the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being last February called attention to how attorneys of color and from other historically excluded populations often experience differential treatment in our courts. Although issues of racial and ethnic inequities in our legal system are longstanding problems, these recent events and reports have reminded us that they are no less urgent than dealing with the pandemic. Left unchecked, they undermine the fundamental principle of equal justice for all. Within the courts, we have made this issue a top priority. We have begun convening quarterly meetings of the Chief Justices of each court and the Commissioner of Probation to discuss what each court is currently doing, and to share new proposals, to combat racial and ethnic inequities."
As judges, we must look afresh at what we are doing, or failing to do, to root out any conscious and unconscious bias in our courtrooms; to ensure that the justice provided to African-Americans is the same that is provided to white Americans; to create in our courtrooms, our corner of the world, a place where all are truly equal.
"Our Committee for Equality and Justice is tackling several important issues as part of its current strategic plan, including developing recommendations to ensure our juries are selected from lists that represent the communities they serve, and exploring how our courts can eliminate disparities in probation revocation."
"Over the past two years, the Judicial Branch’s Committee for Equality and Justice has done outstanding work in support of those important ideals. As part of its most recent strategic plan, the CEJ developed new tools to help educate jurors about implicit or unconscious bias, helped support expanded community outreach by our courts, and developed recommendations and strategies for increasing diversity in our Judicial Branch workforce. The Committee also began longer-term efforts to help ensure that the racial composition of our juries reflects the diversity of our state, and to develop recommendations to address disparities found in a recent report on probation revocations by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission. The Committee’s work on those two issues, along with a host of other important initiatives, will continue as part of the CEJ's next two-year strategic plan. That plan was just approved by the Judicial Council last week."
"I understand your 101st General Assembly is the most diverse in history, more closely representing the Missourians back home you are here to serve. In the judiciary, our diversity is improving as well. Of the judges recently appointed under Missouri’s nonpartisan court plan, 14 have been women, judges of color, or both. However, as events from the Ferguson protests through the racial unrest during the past year have shown, we still have work to do as a society. As designed, our legislative and executive branches are where we can take our arguments for changes in law and policy, and our judicial branch is where we take our legal disputes for a peaceable resolution. But our judicial branch does not work as intended if we are not trusted to provide a fair and impartial forum for all people to have their cases heard and decided. In recognition of this constitutional imperative, we also continue the courts’ efforts to address implicit bias and institutional racism that exist systemically throughout our country. As of July 2019, all lawyers licensed in Missouri are required to include at least one hour of implicit bias training in their 15 hours of annual continuing legal education. Missouri judges and court staff already were required to complete annual implicit bias training."
"In early June of 2020, many Chief Justices across the nation addressed the civil unrest stemming from incidents of racial injustice. My message, directed to the public and to our court community, is available in the Supreme Court’s Annual Report provided to each of you in the packet you received today. No institution in this State plays a more pivotal role in ensuring equal access to justice than Nebraska’s courts. There is no place in our court system for racial discrimination or inequality. We have recently begun a Racial Equity Initiative through our Access to Justice Commission. This three-phase process is designed to engage court users and the public in determining equal access deficiencies in our courts. In phase one, we surveyed court users in November and, based on those survey results, we are reviewing the barriers the marginalized populations in our State have said that they face in our courts. Phase two will involve focus-group sessions with community leaders across the State, and in phase three, we will host larger public-listening sessions, giving Nebraskans another opportunity to reflect on access and fairness within the justice system."
Our judicial branch has the sacred duty of achieving the lofty goals professed in our State’s motto and Constitution. I am proud of the significant role Nebraska’s courts have had in carrying out this duty, including some of our recent accomplishments recounted below. But this is a time when we must ask ourselves, “Is there a way we can do this better?” The answer to that question is yes. Yes, we must find ways to recognize deficiencies in equal access to justice in our courts, and yes, we must find ways to address those deficiencies.
Justice and fairness lie at the heart of our legal system. And those standards must apply equally to all. Wherever it exists in the criminal justice system, we must identify and root out bias in all forms. The courts must be a place where court users, attorneys, and court employees can all expect to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect, regardless of their race or background.
"In 2020, in the wake of social unrest, the Supreme Court created the Commission on Equity and Justice. This commission has been hard at work studying issues related to race and bias in our justice system and is working to promote diversity among judges and judicial employees. The Commission’s goal is to give New Mexicans equitable access to the state’s justice system through training and education of judges and staff, conducting a review of case outcome data, creating a diverse pipeline to the Judiciary, reviewing and reforming all policies, procedures, and jury instructions, and focusing on the courthouse experience for litigants."
"We have also continued to address the problems highlighted in the Equal Justice Report by increasing and mandating anti-bias training for judges and court personnel. In our Family Courts in particular, we have mandated that mediators undergo domestic violence training similar to the biennial training required of our judges.”
"Through a public awareness campaign and the posting of notices in our courthouses, we have encouraged and educated litigants on how to report concerns of bias or unfair treatment. Responses indicate that court users are now more aware of their rights, responsibilities, and avenues for recourse."
"Consistent with recommendations from Secretary Johnson’s Equal Justice Report, we have created and distributed mandatory bias training for judges, nonjudicial staff, court officers, and uniformed personnel."
"We have similarly adopted anti-bias training requirements for mediators, arbitrators, and neutral evaluators involved in court-sponsored alternative dispute resolution programs, which will increase awareness and equip these professionals with tools to combat bias and promote inclusivity."
"Responses to the juror orientation video rolled out last year to educate jurors on the dangers of bias have been overwhelmingly positive. And our courts have engaged directly with their communities to learn and improve, as reflected particularly well by the Seventh Judicial District’s “Judicial Observation Project,” a unique initiative in which specially trained community “observers” monitor courtrooms to help judges better identify and guard against unconscious bias."
"Our Office for Justice Initiatives, local Equal Justice Committees, judges, court officers, and staff have participated in career fairs, school visits, student tours, and civic engagement programs throughout the state."
"Initiatives such as these [Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission] ensure that underrepresented populations are provided career advancement support and strengthen ties between our courts and their local communities."
"Finally, we are pleased to observe that, in 2022, we welcomed more judges of color to the bench and witnessed several historic moments."
"In May, the Appellate Term of the 2nd, 11th, and 13th Judicial Districts, held oral arguments for the first time before a panel of judges who are all women of color — Justices Michelle Weston, Wavny Toussaint, and Cheree A. Buggs. Just a few months later, in the Second Department, Justices Valerie Brathwaite Nelson, Cheryl E. Chambers, Paul Wooten, and William G. Ford comprised the first all African American appellate panel in that Court’s history."
"The Unified Court System continues to support measures that enhance judicial diversity with respect to nationality, ethnicity, race, gender identity or expression, and other aspects of background and identity."
"Based on his findings, Secretary Johnson issued a comprehensive report that, while commending the Court System’s judges and staff for their commitment to equal justice, identified significant issues in need of reform, including the “second-class” treatment of people of color in the State’s high-volume courts, and the need for greater diversity and inclusion within the judiciary and Court System workforce. The Chief Judge dedicated much of this year’s address to the courts’ efforts to remedy such inequities."
"Our work is just beginning … And for so long as I have the privilege of serving as Chief Judge, we will not rest on … empty platitudes … We will work tirelessly … on changing the identified institutional policies, rules and practices that perpetuate inequities in our courts."
"In late 2019, I asked the New York State Justice Task Force, which is dedicated to addressing the systemic causes of wrongful convictions and the fairness of our criminal justice system, to examine the bases for apparent racial disparities at key stages of the criminal justice process, from arrest to sentencing. After analyzing available statewide statistics, the Task Force focused on the disproportionately high rate at which felony charges against Black and Hispanic defendants are dismissed, and whether unjust charges are being filed at inception in those cases. The Task Force heard presentations from a host of agencies on this issue and quickly concluded that data regarding the underlying reasons for dismissal of felony charges was not being accurately or consistently captured, preventing a reliable assessment of the factors driving the high dismissal rate."
"Concurrently, the Office of Court Administration (OCA) began implementing legislation enacted last year requiring the publication of monthly statistical reports on the race, ethnicity, sex, age, disposition, sentence and other data concerning individuals charged with criminal offenses in our courts. Upon reviewing this data, the Justice Task Force again concluded that the standards and protocols used by different agencies to report case dispositions was in need of improvement. The Task Force formed a Working Group to partner with OCA to address statewide data collection and reporting practices, and this initiative is moving forward on a fast-track, with recommendations expected by June."
"Secretary Johnson and his team conducted an intensive four-month study, interviewed hundreds of individuals and issued a comprehensive report with a set of practical recommendations that we have fully embraced and are now in the process of implementing in an open and transparent manner. And while we are encouraged by his finding that our judges and court professionals are striving to get it right when it comes to equal justice, we have accepted our shortcomings and our responsibility to do better in a number of areas, including the ways in which we serve minority litigants in our high-volume courts; how we investigate and prosecute complaints of racial bias and discrimination within our ranks; and the need to strengthen our commitment and support of meaningful inclusion and diversity at every level of our court system."
"Providing equal justice under the law is at the very heart of our mission as a court system. It is our very reason for being, and it is incumbent upon each one of us -- judges, court professionals and public servants -- to ensure that every person who appears before us, and every colleague we work with, is treated with fairness, dignity and respect. There can be no higher priority for us, and we will lead by example at every level, and from every position we hold. And that commitment starts at the top."
The death of George Floyd, and the issues it has brought into harsh focus, are a painful reminder of the repeated injustices and institutional racism that have long undermined the values and unity of our nation. The court system’s commitment to these values is especially vital. Their preservation is a cornerstone of the rule of law, the subject of sacred oaths taken by all judges and lawyers, and the daily endeavors of the thousands of court employees around the State who work tirelessly to advance the cause of justice.
As the mother of twin sons who are young black men, I know that the calls for change absolutely must be heeded. And while we rely on our political leaders to institute those necessary changes, we must also acknowledge the distinct role that our courts play. As Chief Justice, it is my responsibility to take ownership of the way our courts administer justice, and acknowledge that we must do better, we must be better.
2022 State of the Judiciary
"This year, I brought a new dimension to the Court in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Dr. Adrianne Fletcher joined the Court from Case Western Reserve University. And one of her first projects is working with the judiciary, the bar, and community partners to ensure we consider a diverse candidate pool for positions at the Court, to ensure no qualified person is overlooked. Competency should drive hiring decisions. And there should be no barriers for qualified individuals seeking employment at the courts or anywhere else. Adrianne is working with the Judicial College to raise awareness of inherent bias, and ensure legal access is not denied or defined by the color of a person’s skin, their background, disability, gender, age, religion, or any distinguishing characteristics. This is the next step for the Court to examine how we do things. And this is a resource available to you and your courts, as well."
Courts, by their creation and purpose, are to be unbiased, and must treat all equally under the law. Despite the good that courts have done over the past 230 years, for some, courts are not to be trusted. The perception is that the system is rigged against minorities and people who are poor, and that there is an unequal application of justice. The judiciary can address its trust problem. It starts with every judge, individually, in every county and city. It is imperative that every judge embrace the truth that we are ‘public servants’ and not imperious panjandrums.
As members of the judicial branch, we are cautious – always careful not to prejudge situations. But we cannot ignore the risks that African Americans, Blacks, and other people of color face as each day dawns. The urgency for action has long been upon us, but the immediacy of the need is even more apparent today. We must ensure that the lives of African Americans, Blacks, and people of color are valued and respected and that the color of peoples’ skin does not affect their rights to justice or the treatment they are afforded by our system of justice...Our courts are an integral part of the justice system and have an essential role to play in ensuring justice for all. We must stand firm against racism and oppression. We must be intentional in our efforts to move in a different direction. We must examine our individual thoughts and beliefs, as well as our professional approaches, processes, and environments to address the impact of our own biases. We must examine, anew, what we are doing, or failing to do, to root out conscious and unconscious bias in our legal system.
Our goal must be to achieve a system of justice that is accessible to all and treats all persons equally. We ought not lose sight of the fact that our courts are largely populated by dedicated attorneys, efficient court personnel, honest jurors, and fair-minded judicial officers. Yet bias does exist, and we all must remain vigilant to recognize it and ensure that it plays no role in our court proceedings.
Racism still exists and has no place in our society. Upon entering service in the judiciary, we swore to uphold the constitutions of the State of Tennessee and the United States. Thus, it is our moral obligation and our sworn duty to ensure that the people of Tennessee receive equal protection of its laws. Justice must be for all.
Critical conversations are taking place in communities across Texas about equality and justice under the law. The Supreme Court of Texas and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, with support from the Children’s Commission, spearheaded efforts to facilitate these discussions in their Beyond the Bench: Law, Justice, and Communities Summit. All Texans may find videos and resource materials from the summit here, as well as a toolkit for fostering dialogue throughout the state about solutions for enhancing the public's trust in our justice system.
We are painfully aware that municipal courts like ours have historically been situated on, or at least very near, the tip of systemic racism’s spear. See, e.g., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Civil Rights Div., Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, (March 4, 2015), at 42-61 (detailing how the practices employed by the Ferguson Municipal Court exacerbated existing racial disparities). Although our court has made a deliberate and concerted effort to reverse these practices, we understand—as Malcolm X did—that there is a significant difference between retracting an injurious blade just a little bit and bringing about the complete healing of a long-standing wound.
“[O]ur branch is strongly committed to ensuring that our initiatives, projects, programs and research are planned and conducted with an equity lens — making sure to consider the disparate treatment of and outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities throughout the justice system, and how new efforts can either exacerbate those barriers or work to eliminate those disparities.
We learned a great deal from the Task Force 2.0 presentation to the Supreme Court in July 2022 detailing specific recommendations in 14 areas to address this racial disparity. The Task Force was launched by the deans of Washington’s three law schools following the death of George Floyd, nationwide protests for racial justice, and a June 4, 2020, Open Letter written by justices of our state Supreme Court challenging members of the judiciary and legal community to recognize racial injustice and take steps to eliminate it."
Another illuminating presentation came June 1, 2022, from the Washington Supreme Court Minority and Justice Commission, exploring how reparations for Black Americans can begin to counteract the ongoing harmful legacy of slavery and the decades of anti-Black discrimination that have followed.
We also continue to learn from the expansive, deeply detailed study by the Gender and Justice Commission released in late 2021 about the impacts of gender and race combined on justice. For instance, the study revealed the stunning fact that women of color in Washington, particularly Black and Indigenous women, are convicted and sentenced to incarceration at rates two to eight times higher than are white women.
This demonstrates why it is so important for our branch to continually look at the data, and to keep searching for causes and solutions. One finding of the study highlighted the lack of minority women on juries.
This leads me to our legislative proposals this coming year to fund programs aimed at increasing jury diversity and improving data that can guide our efforts to build a more just and equitable court system.
Studies have shown that racially diverse juries spend more time deliberating, make fewer errors, and result in fairer trials than non-diverse juries. Our proposal would continue a 2021 Jury Demographic Survey, would establish pilot projects to explore if free childcare or increased juror pay would improve diverse response rates, and would allow courts to email jury summons in addition to sending them to physical addresses.
Our Data for Justice Initiative would expand research capabilities at the Washington State Center for Court Research within the Administrative Office of the Courts, which would support courts in collecting and analyzing data, reporting performance measures, and provide training in using data for implementing equitable change.”
As judges, we must recognize the role we have played in devaluing black lives. This very court once held that a cemetery could lawfully deny grieving black parents the right to bury their infant. We cannot undo this wrong⸺but we can recognize our ability to do better in the future. We can develop a greater awareness of our own conscious and unconscious biases in order to make just decisions in individual cases, and we can administer justice and support court rules in a way that brings greater racial justice to our system as a whole.