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U.S. Judges Drop Support of Task Force on Race, Gender Bias

<i> The Washington Post</i>

The Republican-appointed majority on the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia has denounced the work of a task force looking into race and gender bias in the federal courts and voted last Friday to withdraw its support for the project.

Three appeals judges--Stephen F. Williams, Laurence H. Silberman and Douglas H. Ginsburg--led the challenge, assailing a task force committee on gender that is looking into a wide range of issues, including how many women are hired as law clerks by federal judges, according to internal court memos and interviews.

The battle has been fought in a flurry of judges’ memos, shooting back and forth between critics and supporters of the Task Force on Gender, Race and Ethnicity. Williams fired the first salvo in a memo Feb. 7, and later called on the 10-member court to vote that it “no longer has confidence” in the task force.

In an interview Saturday, Chief Judge Abner J. Mikva said the court majority’s denouncement of such the project was “unfortunate,” but would have no effect on the task force’s future.

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“We can’t allow them to have a heckler’s veto and not go ahead,” he said. The project involves both the appeals and trial courts.

It is part of a nationwide effort to determine whether female lawyers, court employees, defendants and women involved in lawsuits face bias in the profession or the court system.

In his Feb. 7 memo, Williams challenged much of the focus of the committee looking at gender issues. For example, he objected to questions about whether gender affects law firm assignments on federal cases because they delve into the actions of the private bar.

Williams also suggested that the task force “proceed warily” with questions about the hiring of law clerks, noting that judges consider those decisions as “tightly tied” to their constitutionally guaranteed independence.

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