MADISON – Liberals on the state Supreme Court, joined by more than half of Wisconsin’s appeals judges, called Friday for making the bench more diverse and broadly acknowledging how implicit bias affects the legal system.
“If we are going to live in a country that is truly the land of the free, then we must have a judicial system where everyone is treated equally, fairly and respectfully,” the justices and judges wrote to all of their colleagues in a letter.
The 28 judges and justices — some on the bench and some retired — issued their letter amid a nationwide reckoning with racism and police brutality after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died when a white police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Among those signing the letter were the high court’s liberals, Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet and incoming Justice Jill Karofsky. (Karofsky will be seated in August after winning her April election.)
They offered few concrete steps for what to do next, but wrote that people should start by educating themselves about racism and oppression. They also called for expanding mentorship and recruitment programs to make the bench and legal profession more diverse and acknowledging how implicit biases can affect what happens in courtrooms.
“We need to confront these biases with careful reflection in order to limit their influence on our interactions and decision-making,” they wrote.
They wrote that judges need to consider treatment as a way to address trauma, mental illness and addiction to help address mass incarceration, writing that “too many people of color are behind bars in Wisconsin.”
The judges also showed support for providing more legal services for free to people of color to help ensure equal access to justice.
Nine of the state’s 16 appeals judges signed the letter — Lisa Neubauer, Lisa Stark, Brian Blanchard, Joseph Donald, Rachel Graham, JoAnne Kloppenburg, Jennifer Nashold, Paul Reilly and Maxine White.
Also signing the letter were former Justices Louis Butler and Janine Geske and 14 retired appeals judges.
Rick Esenberg, president of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, said in a statement that “legal ‘conservatives’ and ‘libertarians’ would share the aspiration for a justice system where everyone is treated fairly, equally and with respect.”
“They would also agree that racial discrimination has no place in our justice system,” he said in his statement. “I suspect that the judges signing the letter have a variety of views, but there may be differences among lawyers and judges as to whether certain ideological presumptions ought to govern the pursuit of these common aspirations.”
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.
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