ABA Annual Meeting

ABA House adopts measures intended to fight bias in schools and on juries

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The ABA continued its series of measures on diversity and inclusion—a theme for outgoing ABA President Paulette Brown—on Tuesday by passing two resolutions on the subject.

Passing without strong opposition was Resolution 115, which calls on local governments to adopt laws and policies aimed at ending the “school-to-prison pipeline.” That’s a term for how young people of color and other marginalized groups are disproportionately pushed out of school and into the criminal justice system.

Resolution 115 was moved in the House by Leigh-Ann Buchanan, executive director of Venture Café Miami; chair of the ABA Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice; and former co-chair of the National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws. She said the resolution is the culmination of two years of work by her coalition, including listening tours that consulted with students, school administrators, tribal leaders and more.

“It comes down to this,” she said. “A 4-year-old should not be handcuffed, intimidated and carted down to a police station because he threw a temper tantrum.”

The measure passed easily.

Encountering slightly more opposition was Resolution 116, which adds marital status, gender identity and gender expression to the ABA’s list of reasons jurors should not be denied eligibility for jury service. That provision was not contested, but a second provision called for judges to instruct juries on implicit bias—biases that may not be entirely conscious—and encourage them not to make decisions based on personal likes or dislikes of protected classes. Both halves of the resolution amend the ABA Principles for Juries and Jury Trials (PDF).

Rising in opposition to the second half was Phil Isenbarger, a delegate from the Indianapolis Bar Association and a partner at Bingham Greenbaum Doll in that city. He said he does not doubt that implicit bias is real. But he would rather such jury instructions be optional for judges.

Among those speaking in support was Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ramona See, who noted that California has required such an instruction for the last 19 years. In that time, she said, she’s heard from a few jurors who admitted to biases or raised concerns about biased statements from other jurors.

“I’m not sure I would have gotten that honesty [without the instruction],” See said. “In my mind, it has shown that it does work, and the State of California is very proud that the commission utilized our instruction in drafting the resolution.”

The nos were audible when the House voted on Resolution 116, but the resolution was ultimately passed.

Follow along with our full coverage of the 2016 ABA Annual Meeting.

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