Bar Associations

State bar is running an unlawful 'quota system' for leadership positions, judge says

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A New Jersey judge has concluded that the state bar association is violating anti-discrimination law by reserving 13 leadership positions for members of certain underrepresented groups.

Judge Joseph L. Rea of the New Jersey Superior Court said the New Jersey State Bar Association was operating a “quota system” that violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, Law360 reports.

Rea granted summary judgment on liability to lawyer Rajeh A. Saadeh and said a damages trial would take place. Saadeh is Palestinian Muslim American attorney who was excluded from eligibility for the 13 positions as a result of the set-asides.

The bar association lost on all its arguments: that the bar wasn’t subject to the New Jersey anti-bias law because it isn’t a place of public accommodation, that its program did not amount to unlawful discrimination, that its program was a bona fide affirmative action program exempt from the law, and that its program was protected by the federal constitutional right to freedom of association.

On the constitutional question, Rea said the 2000 U.S. Supreme Court decision Boy Scouts of America v. Dale did not apply to the state bar’s case.

In Dale, the Boy Scouts of America had ousted an openly gay assistant scoutmaster. The Supreme Court said the Boy Scouts of America had a First Amendment right of freedom of expressive association that protected its decision.

“The Dale decision is inapposite to this case,” Rea said, “for the simple reason that Dale was about forced inclusion, and this case is about forced exclusion.”

The state bar program had created minority seats for eight members of the 49-member board of trustees, as well as for five members of two committees for nominations and appointments, Law360 explains.

The bar determined that five of the eight board-of-trustee seats should be filled, respectively, by a member who is a woman, a Hispanic person, an African American person, an Asian Pacific American person and a member of the LGBTQ community.

The other three trustee seats, as well as the five committee seats, were to be filled by members who are from any of the five groups or by a lawyer who is older than age 70, who has disabilities or who is a member of certain diversity bar associations.

Jeralyn L. Lawrence, president of the NJSBA, told Law360 in a statement that the association will appeal. As a result of the set-asides program, “we have demonstrated meaningful and significant progress in increasing leadership opportunities for underrepresented segments of the profession,” Lawrence said.

“Indeed, this decision does nothing to deter our steadfast conviction that our governing structures must reflect the rich diversity of the legal profession in the state. Ours is a better organization when there is diversity and a broad representation of the New Jersey legal community at the highest levels of the NJSBA,” Lawrence said.

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