To the Editor:
The Aug. 4 Connecticut Law Tribune included a guest commentary from Chris Powell entitled, “Social Justice Doesn’t Flow From The Courts.” Although several weeks have passed, I have not seen any responses to the article, which I thought would be quick and furious. Maybe we have become too conditioned or cynical to respond to such commentary, but discourse about these issues is important for many reasons, including the need to avoid the impression that there is general agreement with the views expressed.
Mr. Powell states: “There long has been evidence that minority and women candidates for judgeships are required to have less experience than white males, and the implication of the recent fuss is that candidates from under-represented groups can practically go straight to the bench from law school, or even high school.” My first reaction was that this comment exemplified exaggeration for emphatic effect, but over the ensuing weeks I have come to believe that the sentence ought to be addressed as expressed.
I am unaware of any evidence that “minority and women candidates for judgeships are required to have less experience than white males.” Have I done a detailed analysis on the issue? No. And I seriously doubt that Mr. Powell has done any research either. But as a minority jurist, I am confident that the following is more accurate than the statement in the commentary.
I graduated from Harvard College, magna cum laude, and acquired my law degree from New York University School of Law. I started my career at Robinson & Cole, spent eight years engaged in civil litigation as an assistant U.S. attorney, and practiced 16 years in state and federal courts becoming a candidate for the bench. My legal experience is not atypical from that of my minority and female colleagues and it fairly compares to those of my white male colleagues. I am sure that any such comparisons would indicate an impressive variety of experiences and qualifications, but none would support the view that as a group minority and female judges have less experience or qualifications.
I particularly note that Mr. Powell does not simply suggest that female and minority candidates for the bench are less experienced, but he states that they are “required” to have less experience. This language is unfortunate and inartful, although other people that I have talked to have used other adjectives to describe it. Such loose language plays into the hands of those who are insensitive or even hostile to issues concerning the progress of minorities and women. They hold a view that women and minorities as a group are unqualified and inferior, and therefore, efforts (whether called affirmative action or something else) to advance them to leadership positions result in the advancement of unqualified individuals. Responding to such views is beyond the context of this letter, but the task embraces the heart of diversity and diversity training, as well as a need for public discourse about such issues to be sensitive about the nuances and difficulties these issues present.
Which prompts me to turn to the specific topic of Mr. Powell’s commentary, which concerned efforts to increase diversity on the bench. No, the communication with minority lawyers is not to imply that “under-represented groups can practically go to the bench from law school, or even high school.” The effort is to encourage more minority attorneys to consider the possibility of judgeship and the training and preparation necessary for the position. Additionally, this effort is not premised on some campaign that “a more diverse judiciary would not imprison as many minority offenders.” As I just alluded to, the issue is more involved and nuanced than addressed in the commentary. The effort to increase diversity on the bench is just one of many ways to address unfortunate issues that have been documented and researched: that not only is there a public perception that race, sex and ethnicity continue to be correlative factors in the judicial system and process, but that the perniciousness of these factors has not been fully eradicated.
Honorable Barry Stevens
Superior Court Judge
(The views expressed represent those of the author and not the Judicial Branch.)