by Steven M. K. Clark, 2015 J.D. Candidate and a member of the ACS Student Chapter at the University of Washington School of Law
On Wednesday, October 30, the University of Washington (UW) chapter of the American Constitution Society was proud to welcome Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steve Gonzalez, Ron Ward of the Washington Leadership Institute (WLI) and UW Professor Maureen Howard for an exciting panel discussion on diversity in the judiciary. Joined by a large, diverse group of law students, the panel spoke about the wide-ranging benefits of enhanced diversity among judges in the judicial system.
Justice Gonzalez and Mr. Ward spoke extensively from their own experience about the impact diversity can have in attaining justice. Justice Gonzalez told students about a policy he’d helped initiate while at King County where immigration warrants would not be executed at the King County Courthouse as a way to encourage those at risk of deportation to come to court without fear of retribution. He also told students about his time in the King County Prosecutor’s office, where he teamed up with other minority prosecutors to prevent immigration issues being raised during domestic violence investigations, under the theory that raising those issues would deter both reports of crimes and cooperation with investigations. It was no surprise, he offered, that the few Latino members of the Superior court and prosecutors office started both programs, as each were specifically attune to such a problem given their personal backgrounds.
Gonzalez offered that this was the true advantage of diversity in the judicial system: offering solutions to problems others might not even perceive as problems. Mr. Ward then spoke about his own experiences at the WLI, where he found that often the most qualified candidates admitted into the institute were mired in low-level legal jobs that concealed their true legal skills. Professor Howard agreed, telling a story from her own past about being recruited to be the only woman at a very successful firm, and how that firm’s lack of diversity impacted her decision to work elsewhere. All of our panelists agreed that only by recognizing that the lack of diversity in the legal profession, especially on the bench, and addressing it as a serious issue, as ACS. was doing with this panel discussion, could we hope to bring about true change in the system.