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Op-ed: The benefits of diversity and equal protection loom large on Law Day

Published April 29, 2017 4:33 pm
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Tomorrow is Law Day and we celebrate the 14th Amendment, which guarantees that "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

One hundred and forty-nine years after the amendment was ratified, few people contest the benefits of equal protection, even if there is some disagreement about how to best achieve equality. With equality comes diversity, and with diversity we work better together.

Decades of research by organizational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers show that socially diverse groups (with a diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, etc.) are more innovative than homogeneous groups. Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort.



In a March 30 Harvard Business Review article, researchers found that, "Colleagues gravitate toward the people who think and express themselves in a similar way. As a result, organizations often end up with like-minded teams. When this happens ... we have what psychologists call functional bias — and low cognitive diversity."

Writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff recently wrote that, "Another path to intellectual rigor is to gather a diverse group of people together and have them attack problems, which is arguably exactly what the American experiment is. In mock trials, the Tufts University researcher Samuel Sommers has found racially diverse juries appraise evidence more accurately than all-white juries, which translates to more lenient treatment of minority defendants. That's not because minority jurors are biased in favor of minority defendants, but because whites on mixed juries more carefully consider the evidence [than they do on all-white juries]. The point is that diversity — of one's own makeup, one's experience, of groups of people solving problems, of cities and nations — is linked to economic prosperity, greater scientific prowess and a fairer judicial process."

Regarding the judiciary, diversity is important, both because a diversity of viewpoints will produce a more robust jurisprudence, and because it will enhance the legitimacy of our system of justice in the eyes of an increasingly diverse public.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell noted that, "a member of a previously excluded group can bring insights to the Court that the rest of its members lack." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has commented that a "system of justice is the richer for the diversity of background and experience of its participants."

The Utah Minority Bar Association actively seeks qualified candidates from its membership, encourages those lawyers to apply for bench openings and recommends members of the minority bar to serve on judicial nominating commissions. The Minority Bar has also recently created a Judicial Advocacy Committee to evaluate additional action. These actions help fulfill the Minority Bar's mission to "assist minority attorneys and others in their professional pursuits."

In an early Harvard Business Review article, From Affirmative Action to Affirming Diversity, Roosevelt Thomas said, "So long as racial and gender equality is something we grant to minorities and women, there will be no racial and gender equality. What we must do is create an environment where no one is advantaged or disadvantaged, an environment where 'we' is everyone." When this dream is fulfilled, we will have achieved fairness in both access to equality and how we achieve it. Until then, the work of the Minority Bar and the Utah State Bar will continue.

Diversity has another positive impact: If young women and minorities see judges and lawyers like them, they will be more likely to aspire to such a positions and professions. Increasing diversity within the Utah State Bar will correspondingly create a deeper, more diverse pool of judicial candidates. Each September, Bar members teach hundreds of classes throughout Utah as part of our Constitution Day teach-in. Allowing young people see someone like them as a judge or lawyer opens them to the potential that lies within.

Please see the Law Day Special Edition in the advertising supplements in Sunday's paper, or visit http://lawday.utahbar.org, for more information on the 14th Amendment.

James A. Sorenson is president of the Utah Minority Bar Association and an attorney at Ray Quinney & Nebeker.

 

 

 

 

 

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