Working to Wipe Out Bias
Improving the administration of justice throughout America is at the center of the mission of the American Bar Association. While nearly all ABA entities work to advance this objective in various ways, it is particularly reflected in the programs of the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice.
The goal of the council, chaired this year by Charles Morgan of Atlanta, is to eliminate racial and ethnic bias in the American justice system. With such a sweeping mission, any hope of effecting constructive change requires the council to pursue a creative strategy of leveraging its work as widely as possible. Thus, the council develops partnerships with community groups, civil rights organizations, businesses, religious organizations and bar associations to serve as a catalyst for eradication of systemic bias.
The council, which is part of the ABA Center on Diversity, approaches its task in a variety of ways. At the broad end of the spectrum, it uses national news events that bring attention to its core issues, such as the Tulia, Texas, bias case and the University of Michigan Law School affirmative action case, to highlight the effects of lack of access to the justice system and the need for diversity at all levels. This broad-brush approach incorporates such activities as the council’s national conferences, annual meeting showcase programs and publications to shine a spotlight on the issues, using provocative, real-time examples to engage the profession and the public.
Fostering Change From Within
At a more detailed and applied end of the spectrum, the council works with leaders in other ABA entities; state, local, and ethnic bars; corporations; city officials and others to motivate change at the grassroots level. The council helps develop educational programs, provides public forums for dialogue between legal and nonlegal groups, and offers technical assistance on programs and partnerships designed to eliminate racial and ethnic bias.
A key strategy of its work is to ensure that it is intergenerational, so that the message reaches young people where it can change attitudes and motivate students to choose law as a profession and work for change from within. The council is developing a Friends of the Council Program to mentor ethnic-minority students and encourage them to choose career paths in the justice system.
The council’s current programs include conducting Diversity Roundtables at colleges and universities, promoting national data collection on racial profiling, and working with other ABA entities that overlap the council’s jurisdiction on such issues as ethnic profiling and changes in the national drug policy, which disproportionately affect people of color. The council also maintains a clearinghouse of information on racial and ethnic justice challenges throughout the United States.
The council’s latest achievement was a highly successful conference, Diversity in the Legal Profession: Opening the Pipeline, in October 2003–the first of the three major ABA presidential initiatives of President Dennis W. Archer. The conference, spearheaded by the council, brought together invited leaders of the legal profession to identify and develop strategies for creating a larger pipeline through which people of color could enter and excel in the legal profession.
The diversity conference offered outstanding substantive programs, as well as opportunities for discussion by the 250 invited participants. They included ABA leaders, general counsel, chief executive officers, managing partners of law firms, law school deans, college presidents and professors, as well as leaders of state, local and specialty bars. A report on the conference will be available on the council’s Web site soon.
Recently the council undertook an important new initiative working with ABA experts and outside organizations, it will promote a comprehensive program to improve the indigent defense system in this country, using a model created by the Commission on Indigent Defense in Georgia. This program will seek to advance specific changes in key states over the next three years. In most states, a majority of those who are impacted by the indigent defense system are people of color.
The council maintains an excellent Web site at www. abanet.org/randejustice/home.html. The site provides access to the council’s numerous publications, programs and videotapes from its national conferences, reports of its joint work with the National Bar Association, and its annual meeting showcase programs.
For more information on the work of the Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice, contact its outstanding director, Rachel Patrick, at 312-988-5408