Excerpted From: Tiffany Williams Brewer, Taking Our Position: Repairing the Breach in the Pipeline to the Legal Profession by Transforming the Impact of Bias Against Black Girls in Student Discipline, 11 Belmont Law Review 306 (Spring, 2024) (166 Footnotes) (Full Document)

TiffanyWilliamsBrewerThe recent appointment and confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, was a paramount event in the history of the legal profession. After 235 years of the Court's existence and 115 justices later, Justice Jackson represented the sixth woman and the first Black woman to be among its ranks. The legal profession has struggled with diversifying its numbers, with some of the most significant struggles surrounding the advancement of Black women attorneys. In response, the legal profession turned to the importance of developing the pipeline to the legal profession, including investing in the successful educational outcomes of girls of color at the primary and secondary level and in higher education. However, contemporary trends reveal that the pipeline to the legal profession is fraught with breaks and tears that impede the transition of Black girls from school to the profession, due to the lack of institutional accountability for bias and discrimination in student discipline decisions. Without intervention, the selection of a future Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson may be stalled, and the legal profession, clients, and society will fail to capture the brilliant contributions of Black girls as future Black women attorneys and judges.

This Article implores the legal profession, given its potential to significantly disrupt the pipeline to the legal profession, to intervene in promoting accountability in remediating implicit bias and discrimination in school discipline decisions that disproportionately hinder Black girls' educational outcomes. The lack of accountability for disparate school discipline policies has resulted in little progress in decreasing the school-to-prison pipeline for Black girls. As a result, failures to eradicate implicit bias and discrimination in educational systems threaten the pipeline of future Black women law students, lawyers, and judges. This Article argues that if the bias in current school discipline policies toward Black girls is left unabated, then inevitably, society will be deprived of their gifts, clients will be deprived of their expertise and perspective, and law school communities will be deprived of their contributions and thought leadership. Most critically, Black girls themselves will be deprived of fulfilling their passions and purposes in life.

In Part I, this Article examines the legal profession's diversity problem, particularly its struggle to retain and advance Black women attorneys within the profession. Part II explains the legal profession's initiatives to develop the pipeline to the legal profession for Black girls. Whereas Part III describes the disruption to the Pipeline due to bias, the “adultification” of Black girls, and the failure to see Black girls as worthy of protection from disproportionate discipline measures. In turn, this leads to a diminished prospects of a pipeline of future Black women law students, lawyers, and judges. This Article concludes in Parts IV and V by proposing recommendations for the legal profession, educational systems, and public policy makers in reversing these trends and fostering accountability in uprooting bias in school discipline on the primary and secondary school level to equip girls for success rather than stifling their potential at the first sign of a possible disciplinary issue.

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In 1949, the iconic poet, Langston Hughes, penned a poem entitled, “I Dream a World,” 5 where he bespoke the promise of a society where bias and discrimination of the era would not result in a separated world, but instead in a mutuality of sharing. Like the hopeful strains from Hughes' pen, the legal profession must remain hopeful, intentional, and vigilant in reimagining the profession to include the contributions of Black women lawyers, legal academics, and judges. Summoning this reimagining must include addressing the root causes of the underrepresentation of Black women in the profession in the first instance. When the pipeline to the profession gives way and breaks along the journey, the profession has a responsibility to repair the breach. Without rendering aid in repair, the profession will continue to be deprived of the contributions of Black women and the inner Black girls that propelled them to the profession.

Imagine the legal profession without the presence and contributions of Black women lawyers and judges, such as Constance Baker Motley, Eunice Carter, Pauli Murray, Paulette Brown, Ann Claire Williams, Stacey Abrams, Ketanji Brown Jackson, Charlotte Ray, Jane Bolin, and Barbara Jordan. Now imagine the profession with thousands more brilliant Black women trailblazers following their example, filled with possibility and creativity to solve contemporary global dilemmas. Black girls are the future of the legal profession, and the profession should take action to affirm the essence of their existence and eradicate the negative evils that bias in school discipline decisions cause to root out their gifts to society. Our efforts as a profession can spark a transformative movement to capture the essence of Black girls and subscribe their gifts into the cause of justice. Eradicating current bias in school discipline will affirm that the legal profession embraces Black girls' value, as characterized in an anthem of the civil rights era, as “young, gifted and Black.” 6

Hon. Tiffany Williams Brewer is an Assistant Professor of Law at Howard University School of Law and Chair of the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation. She is a former New Jersey Administrative Law Judge and served in numerous executive leadership roles in the public service