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PRESIDENT: My Dream for Our Profession
As we recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I have been thinking about the message of his words and how they relate to the judicial system and the legal profession. In fact, his words have inspired my own dream for our profession.
It is my dream that we will one day be able to stop talking about the issue of diversity in the profession — and on the bench. Do I say that because the issue of diversity is unimportant? Quite to the contrary: I submit to you that diversity in the profession and on the bench is critical if our profession is to thrive, and if the public is to have full confidence in our legal system.
When I think about the concept of diversity in the context of our legal system, I think about many types of diversity that are necessary in order for the legal system to be all that it can and should be. We need racial and ethnic diversity, gender diversity, diversity of practice type, diversity of practice size, and diversity of practice location (i.e., rural versus big city), to name a few. Why is diversity so important? There are many answers to this important question. For me, two are particularly key.
The first is having a fair and impartial judiciary to preside over the legal matters our profession brings before it. We have all heard that we shouldn't judge until we have “walked a mile in someone else's shoes.” We do not leave our life experiences at the door when we walk into our law offices, nor do judges check their experiences in their chambers before taking the bench. If all of the members of our profession are of the same race, gender and background, can our system possibly give fair consideration to the circumstances and legal issues experienced by those with whom they have little in common?
There is also the issue of the public’s perception of our legal system. I think we can all agree that it is critical for the public to have confidence in our legal system, if it is to function effectively. It is essential that all of our citizens, regardless of race, gender or background, believe that they will be treated fairly by our legal system. Can a citizen of our state have that confidence if none of the members of the profession or judges on the bench look like them nor have similar geographic backgrounds? Have you ever walked into a room where you were the only one there who was of a particular race or gender, or from a certain place, and everyone else shared the trait that you did not possess? How did you feel? You likely felt like an outsider no matter how well you were treated by the group, and no matter how many times they assured you that your lack of the shared trait made no difference.
These issues are some of the most important reasons why the Tennessee Bar Association has long been committed to having a merit selection system for our appellate judges. Our merit selection system allowed us to make great strides in diversity on the bench. We were one of the first states to have a majority female Supreme Court. Our appellate judges are also more racially and ethnically diverse; they come from small towns and from big cities; and they are from a variety of practice settings and types. While we have lost this important system for the moment, your association is hard at work to find a way to ensure that there will continue to be a meaningful merit component to the process for the selection of our appellate judges.
So now, back to my dream. I dream of the day that we no longer need to discuss the issue of diversity in the profession and on the bench, because the profession and bench are so diverse that the issue has become moot. Until that dream is a reality, your association will continue to pursue the goal of achieving a fully diverse profession and bench but we need for our members to commit themselves to this important goal as well. Remember, “Together We Make A Difference!”
TBA President CINDY WYRICK practices law with Ogle, Gass & Richardson PC in Sevierville, and she focuses her practice primarily on the areas of personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, business disputes, domestic relations and general civil litigation.