Speaking on the judicial panel at Relativity’s Relativity Fest, held at Chicago’s Hilton Hotel between 30 September–3 October, Justice Kennedy offered some insight into the current state of diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, suggesting that there’s still some way to go before achieving an equal playing field between both men and women, and those of minority groups.
In making her point, Justice Kennedy, who also serves as president of the National Association of Women Judges, referenced an order made by a Federal Court Judge in Mississippi – Judge Carlton Reeves – which sought a more diverse judiciary in a matter, SEC v Adams, which concerned a man who operated a Ponzi scheme.
The order by Judge Reeves sought receivership, with the receiver to “work on adding more women and people of colour to the Federal Court system” in the state of Mississippi.
“After we learnt of this case, I was invited to a conference where this case was also discussed,” Justice Kennedy told the crowd.
“Judge Reeves speaks true to power when we discuss the lack of diversity in the legal profession… And very often, it is because as Judge Reeves points out, systemic discrimination and systemic exclusion to be invited to the table.
“As I said last night to my colleagues during dinner: ‘All of us have a responsibility to increase the pipeline’. As I sit here today, I am a product of the pipeline. Why do I say that? I say that because someone saw something in me, saw my potential, and certainly gave me the opportunity to prove that I was qualified, and up to the task.”
To further her point, Justice Kennedy noted that despite women now outnumbering men in US law schools, the statistic isn’t reflected in the judiciary – something that is also evident at the bar in Australia.
“When we’re talking about ability, and also showing initiative, many times women are evaluated. They are evaluated on their experience, whereas men, it’s more about ‘What is their potential?’” Justice Kennedy said.
“We need to shift the paradigm. We need to change the way of thinking… We need men and women, white persons, persons of colour, to come together.”
Further, Justice Kennedy said, courts need to take proper steps to increase their diversity.
“Justice is a search for truth. Let me repeat that because I whole-heartedly believe it. Justice is a search for truth. That search will fail if a court does not incorporate a wide array of experiences, facts, and perspectives into its decision-making processes,” she said.
“The case for diversity is especially compelling for the judiciary. How can the public have confidence and trust in such an institution if it is segregated? If the communities it is supposed to protect are excluded from its ranks?
“To deliver justice and ensure its legitimacy, then the judiciary must diversify itself. Not take a broader viewpoint of diversity. It’s not just about women. It’s not just about persons of colour. It’s about sexual identity, sexual orientation, economic backgrounds, culture, region, and experiences.
“Once we have this that is where we can really have true justice.”
Relativity Fest, hosted by the team at Relativity, heard from 300-plus speakers, including American social psychologist and TED speaker Amy Cuddy on how lawyers can be more present and yield better results, Steptoe & Johnson’s Anna Frye and Ryan Flinspach on ‘The plight of the lawyer technologist’, and founder of Motley Legal Services Kimberley Motley, who spoke about her experience as Afghanistan's first foreign litigator.