Advancing diversity in the legal world: NYSBA’s panel explores the path forward with Justice Cheryl Chambers

September 6, 2023 Robert Abruzzese
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In the weeks following the U.S. Supreme Court’s groundbreaking ruling on race-conscious admissions at Harvard and the University of North Carolina, the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) convened a group of legal luminaries to address the question on everyone’s minds: How do we advance diversity in the face of this decision?

NYSBA’s webinar, entitled “U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action & Its Impact on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Law”, sought to shed light on the reverberating implications of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the context of higher education, the business realm, judicial proceedings, and society at large.

From Vincent Chang’s legal expertise to Kapil Longani’s insights on the use of race in student experiences, and from Caren Ulrich Stacy’s concerns about silent progress to Nihla F. Sikkander’s employment legal insights, the panel brought together a spectrum of thought and understanding.

Yet, among this assembly of minds, Associate Justice Cheryl Chambers of the Appellate Division, Second Department, held a singular vantage point. With a storied career in the Appellate Division, Chambers’ insights draw from a rich tapestry of experiences, making her perspective especially vital in these transformative times.

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“Nothing in the decision suggests that advancing the goal of diversity is off the table. That’s a point we must emphasize vehemently,” Chambers stated, addressing the gathering. Her remarks highlighted the nuances in the ruling that continue to allow students to discuss the profound effects of race on their lives, a vital component in the quest for diverse representation in all spheres.

Hon. Cheryl Chambers. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Eagle

When Chambers turned her gaze to the judiciary, her perspective as an Appellate Judge provided a unique understanding of the role of the court in society. “Judges must remain grounded in their oath, where the pillars of equality and justice stand tall,” she remarked. Emphasizing the timeless wisdom of founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Chambers underscored the judiciary’s intrinsic duty to reflect the populace it serves to bolster faith in the legal system.

Quoting Hamilton, Chambers said, “The judiciary, on the contrary, has no influence over either the sword or the purse,” emphasizing the judiciary’s inherent impartiality. Building on Madison’s ideology, she emphasized that a government’s power should emanate from the majority of society rather than a privileged few.

But perhaps most compelling was Chambers’ urgent call for introspection within the judiciary itself. “If we are the decision-makers, we must guarantee our freedom from bias. This mandates rigorous training of judges, employees, and jurors alike,” Chambers proclaimed.

The Federal Judiciary’s strategic plan, which incorporates the objective of fostering a diverse workforce, remains unchanged post the SCOTUS ruling. Chambers fervently believes that the commitment to heightened diversity must originate at the top echelons of power. She urged, “The affirmative action decision was not an unpopular one. Most may disagree with the terminology, but they resonate with the concept of equal opportunity. That’s the narrative we should champion.”

The webinar was more than an analysis of a ruling; it was a reflection on the future of diversity and inclusion in the legal realm. The event was a prelude to the NYS Bar Association’s upcoming release of its Advancing Diversity report on Sept. 20.

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