The Boston Bar Association (BBA) firmly believes that justice is best advanced when the legal community—especially the judiciary—reflects the diversity of the community it serves. We see the proposed expansion of the Probate & Family Court, as well as the appointment by Governor Maura Healey of a highly diverse Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), as opportunities to build upon and accelerate past efforts toward diversifying the judiciary.
These opportunities are not to be missed, because diversity on the bench:
- enhances perspectives and critical thinking among judges;
- provides varied expertise derived from different backgrounds and lived experiences;
- encourages lawyers (and others) from historically-marginalized communities to believe that they can, and should, become judges;
- reflects fundamental democratic principles and ideals; and
- perhaps most importantly, improves public trust in the judiciary’s impartiality.
While recent Governors have expressed—and, through the JNC, acted upon—a commitment to this goal, data reveal that there is still much progress to be made: According to the Trial Court’s Fiscal Year 2022 Diversity Report, only 13% of the 359 judges throughout the Trial Court identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC). That figure is even lower in some courts, including Probate & Family (4%). This in a state that 2020 US Census data show is 32% non-white.
At the same time, we must not ignore the troubling findings of the SJC Standing Committee on Lawyer Well-Being, which met with members of seven affinity bar associations, with the support of the BBA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Section, then compiled its research into a 2021 Report Summarizing Affinity Bar Town Hall Meetings. That report states, “The general sentiment [expressed] was that being a member of the Massachusetts bar from a historically excluded population results in significant to extreme challenges on top of those faced by all attorneys and law students.” Among the various concerns expressed, some judges “simply do not understand cultural differences that are material to a case when based on the circumstances of attorneys and clients from non-White populations” or assume that BIPOC attorneys are in court “because they are either criminal defendants or translators.”
To our collective detriment, these experiences—which pointedly underscore the need for more judges from these communities—may serve to discourage the attorneys involved from seeking to join the bench, regardless of their qualifications. Still, we are confident that the newly-reconstituted JNC, chaired by Abim Thomas, is well-positioned to tap this existing diverse pool of qualified attorneys and achieve our shared goal through its recommendations to Governor Healey, not only to fill the eight new seats on the Probate & Family Court bench, as proposed by the Trial Court—and supported by the BBA—but throughout the judiciary.
The BBA is committed to playing a role in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, on the Trial Court bench as well, both through the Joint Bar Committee which vets potential judicial appointees and through programs and other outreach efforts designed to encourage applicants for judicial vacancies.
More on the BBA’s work towards fostering a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive profession can be found here: https://bostonbar.org/diversity-equity-inclusion/timeline/