Wisconsin Supreme Court denies State Bar request to start DEI training

By: - July 13, 2023 4:03 pm

Wisconsin Supreme Court chambers. (Baylor Spears | Wisconsin Examiner)

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s conservative majority denied a request by the Wisconsin State Bar for the court to create a new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access (DEIA) credit under the state’s continuing legal education program. 

The proposal would allow lawyers licensed in Wisconsin to fulfill their 30 hours of required continuing legal education by taking a class “addressing diversity and inclusion in the legal system of all persons regardless of age, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disabilities and topics designed to educate attorneys on the recognition and reduction of bias.”

With just weeks remaining as the majority voting bloc on the court, the body’s four conservatives refused to hold a hearing on the Bar’s petition to add the course. In a concurrence to the majority’s decision not to approve the credit, which quoted conservative commentators and organizations such as Ben Shapiro and the Heritage Institute, Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley wrote that DEIA courses “damage human dignity, undermine equality, and violate the law.” 

The decision comes as Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country have grown increasingly vocal about their opposition to diversity initiatives, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision late last month to end affirmative action programs in higher education. In Wisconsin, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly passed measures limiting DEI programs in state government and the state’s education system. 

“DEIA courses damage human dignity, undermine equality, and violate the law,” Bradley wrote. “Collectively, the buzzwords ‘diversity, equity, inclusion, and access’ represent a smoke screen for a divisive political agenda that perniciously reduces people to racial categories and strips them of their unique individuality.” 

In her concurrence, Bradley says a Minnesota State Bar course on avoiding microaggressions is instead a class on “how to be so boring no one can possibly take offense.” She complains of “riots” in which “much of Kenosha was razed” during the summer of 2020 and states that requiring DEIA courses would create a “goose-stepping brigade of attorneys.” She also denies there is any evidence of bias or racism in Wisconsin’s justice system, despite data showing Black residents are more likely to be incarcerated in Wisconsin than in nearly any other state in the country. 

The state Bar’s petition does not request that the DEIA courses be required, yet Bradley’s concurrence includes a section in which she argues that is the ultimate intent of the Bar before ending with a list of dozens of diversity-related courses that are already available through the Bar’s continuing education program. 

Amid her critique of DEIA programs, Bradley includes a number of attacks on the court’s liberal minority, complaining that their dissent to her opinion isn’t as long as her writing warrants and decrying the coming change of ideological lean on the court, which would likely reach a different conclusion to the same question. 

“Proving well that many proponents of DEIA orthodoxy demonize its critics, the dissenting justices ‘choose not to respond’ to this concurrence, instead dismissing it with a headline-grabbing caricature as ‘hostile, divisive, and disrespectful’ ‘political rhetoric.’ This concurrence cites more than a dozen United States Supreme Court decisions, multiple state supreme court decisions, Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Thomas, James Madison, Montesquieu, and at least an additional dozen legal scholars, authors, and professors.”

“Of course, the real reason for the dissenters’ refusal to engage with the substance of an opinion spanning more than 30 pages is the imminent change in court membership,” she continues. “The new majority will reverse this court’s order at its first opportunity.”

In a dissent joined by the other two liberals, Justice Rebecca Dallet simply wrote that the court should have held a hearing on the merits of adding the course. 

“DEIA training ‘is vital for attorneys to gain knowledge of individual and cultural differences and turn this knowledge into usable skills for serving a diverse community, thereby improving the quality of legal services,’” Dallet wrote. “In short, the arguable merit of this rule petition is obvious…”


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.