Does The Florida Supreme Court Hate Diversity?

Last month, without any prompting from a pending case or matter, the Florida Supreme Court sua sponte ruled that the Florida Bar can no longer issue continuing legal education credits to any entity that requires diversity in selecting speakers.

At a time when our country is at a crossroads on racial issues—enduring the long painful trial of Derek Chauvin for the brutal murder of George Floyd, a summer of unrest due to his and the deaths of Breonna Taylor as well as Ahmaud Arbery, a huge rise in AAPI hate attacks, anti-Semitic attacks increasing by 40% in our state, and Charlottesville not far in our rearview mirror —it is incredibly irresponsible and concerning to take this approach.

If a CLE addressed Asian hate, and the sponsoring entity required at least one Asian speaker, the session would not see credit. Is the Florida Supreme Court saying that only white men can opine on anti-Asian hate? Or racism? Further marginalizing voices who can share lived experiences that can educate others makes our profession weaker. It goes back to days gone by when only white voices mattered or were heard in any discussion.

It’s 2021. Gone were the days that you do not find diverse attorneys—women, various races and ethnicities, LGBT+—locked out of various areas of practice. Seeing experts that are different than you broadens your horizons, and helps attack implicit bias. The Supreme Court, ironically, highlighted the importance of diversity and eradicating implicit bias—yet attacked the very means to be able to accomplish diversity by using a misguided application of the Regents of University of California v. Bakke, 438 U.S. 265, 307 (1978). Their basis—that requiring diverse speakers equates to an unconstitutional quota—blatantly ignores the fact that while people may have good intentions, guidelines are needed to ensure diversity. By saying “at least one speaker should be a member of a group based upon race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and multiculturalism” does not act to the detriment of any other group.

Sadly, several of the Supreme Court justices were appointed by this governor, who has made it clear he is hostile to communities of color. From his comments disrespecting the jury’s verdict in the Chauvin case, to signing an unnecessary and regressive anti-protest bill that attacks free speech, to stripping access to the ballot box, and unevenly distributing the vaccine to the point that 100% of wealthy white people are vaccinated in this state as opposed to only 31% of Black residents, his intentions have been clear as day. Lastly, he recently signed a bill demanding all university professors to fill out regular surveys to determine their political beliefs, and empowers students to secretly record their professors for daring to opine differently than the conservative status quo.

The judiciary is supposed to be independent, not following lock step with the governor’s war against social media and any opinion that is not conservative. The goal of having a diverse panel is to ensure diversity of ideas—conservative, progressive and independent. It is to raise awareness around a particular topic, which makes us better lawyers and people.

This ruling will have wide consequences. Several organizations are discussing no longer hosting events in Florida, which will cause attorneys to have to travel longer and further to get quality content while depriving our economy. Locally, as bar associations grapple with engaging and retaining members, if they are barred from presenting quality programs with diverse speakers, it will only further harm their finances and relevance.

Requiring diversity is the furthest thing from discrimination. This is still in the comment period—if you believe that having a variety of speakers uplifts our profession, please contact the Supreme Court and tell them to rescind this misguided rule. If it does stay intact, I hope that organizations will continue to practice bringing diverse speakers. It is unfortunate that those with oaths and responsibilities continue to make Florida the laughingstock of the country. Those of us who truly care about diversity—with more than words, but with actual deeds—will continue to push forward.

This piece originally ran in the Daily Business Review. You may see the order from the Florida Supreme Court here.

Trayvon Martin Boys Panel at Ponce Middle School, Miami

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Trayvon Martin Boys Panel at Ponce Middle School, Miami

 

The second in a series of panels sponsored by the National Black Prosecutors Association (NBPA) aimed at educating young men of color was held at Ponce Middle School in Miami. Please click the link above for this article, showing professionals and law enforcement working together to help the young men in the community. We have three more panels coming in the next two weeks.

Follow me on Twitter @ResLegalDiva, or email me directly for more information.

Legal Divas of Color: Gwen S. Cherry

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Legal Divas of Color: Gwen S. Cherry

Born in Miami, Florida in 1923, Gwen Sawyer Cherry was a trailblazer like no other.  She earned three degrees between 1946 and 1965, while mothering two children.  Her bachelor’s degree and law degree were from Florida A&M University; she also earned a master’s degree in science from New York University and studied at three other out-of-state universities. She later returned to FAMU to be a law professor.

Upon her graduation from law school, Ms. Cherry became Miami-Dade County’s first African American female attorney.

After careers as a teacher and a lawyer, Ms. Cherry was elected to the Florida House in 1970. Ms. Cherry was the first African-American woman elected to the Florida Legislature.  While in office, she introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, chaired the state’s committee for International Woman’s Year in 1978, and co-authored Portraits in Color: the Lives of Colorful Negro Women with Pauline Willis and Ruby Thomas. Additionally, Ms. Cherry chaired the Minority Affairs Committee for the Democratic National Convention and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1972 while serving as legal counsel for the National Organization for Women (NOW)’s Miami chapter.

Tragically, Ms. Cherry died in a Tallahassee car accident in 1979. In his eulogy, then Florida Governor Graham called Gwen Cherry  ‘a champion for the rights of all people and a voice of reason and concern.’

At FAMU, a lecture hall was dedicated to Ms. Cherry for all of her hard work and dedication. There is a park in Miami that bears her name, as a testament to her work to benefit the youth.

In 2005, what was previously known as the National Bar Association Women Lawyers Division Dade County chapter was renamed Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association in her honor.

I am proud to serve on the Board of Directors for this organization.

Gwen S. Cherry, I thank you for being one of the ORIGINAL Legal Divas!!