New York State Court System Commissions Independent Review of Institutional Racism

By Matthew Krumholtz

Jeh Johnson

The New York State Unified Court System on Tuesday announced an independent review of its policies and practices that address issues of racial bias. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore cited the tragic death of George Floyd as the impetus for this evaluation, and she named Jeh Johnson, currently a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, to lead the review process as Special Adviser for Equal Justice in the Courts. Johnson is a former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and General Counsel for the Department of Defense.

“The death of George Floyd, and the issues it has brought into harsh focus, are a painful reminder of the repeated injustices and institutional racism that have long undermined the values and unity of our nation. The court system’s commitment to these values is especially vital,” said DiFiore.

She added that this independent evaluation “will serve as a valuable tool in furthering diversity and inclusion within the New York State court system and ensuring equal justice under the law.”

The internal review will look at court system policies, operations, and practices that address issues of institutional racism and will make recommendations for changes that advance racial justice. This review comes at a time of mounting nationwide protests and calls for systemic change, in response to Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25. The court system says the recommendations will focus on operational issues that they have the power to change, not on police practices.

“Above all else, we depend upon the courts as the place where equal justice before the law is guaranteed. This is an important assignment and I will answer the call with energy and dedication,” said Johnson, who will be assisted in the evaluation process by Hon. Troy K. Webber, Associate Justice on the Appellate Division, First Department, and Hon. Shirley Troutman, Associate Justice on the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

“The New York State Bar Association commends the state court system for proactively reviewing ways to root out racial inequalities within our legal system that undermine the rule of law,” said NYSBA President Scott M. Karson. “In order to effect the kinds of institutional and cultural changes needed in our society to eradicate racism, we must continue to rethink all aspects of our justice system.”

The findings and recommendations of the review will be released on October 1.

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