Bench + Bar of Minnesota

Holder, Klobuchar talks among highlights at Minneapolis D&I Conference

The 2023 Diversity & Inclusion Conference, held on February 21 in Minneapolis, brought together panelists from throughout the country to speak about current issues in the federal criminal justice system and propose solutions for the future. 

The conference, titled “A Look at the Future of the Federal Criminal Justice System: Enhancing Public Safety and Eliminating Racial Disparities,” was cosponsored by the Federal Bar Association, the Minnesota State Bar Association, the Minnesota Coalition of Bar Associations of Color, and the University of St. Thomas School of Law. 

The gathering included four informative panels, a fireside chat with former United States Attorney General Eric Holder, and remarks from U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. In his talk, Holder characterized diversity, equity, and inclusion as “not a zero-sum game.” He continued, “We can’t simply do things as we have done them in the past.” Holder also reflected on his time at the Department of Justice and next steps for achievable reform. 

Throughout the day, attendees heard from academics, practitioners in the field, county attorneys, prosecutors, criminal defense attorneys, federal judges, heads of U.S. probation and pretrial services departments, and individuals who have experience with the criminal justice system. Panelists agreed that systemic racial bias is a well-identified problem, and one group of panelists discussed how Black defendants in federal courts receive sentences that are approximately 20 percent longer than similarly situated white defendants, even after controlling for criminal history. 

Other panel discussions highlighted efforts from around the country to reduce disparities and improve public safety through the development of alternatives to incarceration, implementation of community-based initiatives—including those funded through U.S. Department of Justice grants—and pre-trial and post-conviction specialty courts such as those currently in place in the Eastern District of New York, the Eastern District of Missouri, the Eastern District of Louisiana, and the District of Minnesota. 

The conference stemmed from the work of the Minnesota State Bar Association Diversity and Inclusion Council, which strives to be a leader in the advocacy and promotion of historically marginalized and underrepresented groups within the MSBA and the legal profession. Led by current co-chairs Jerri Adams and Judge Jeffrey Bryan, the D&I Council’s strategic plan includes planning and executing a biennial conference focused on DEI work. Judge Bryan worked with a team of former federal prosecutors, members of the state affinity bar organizations, officers of the Federal Bar Association, representatives of the Federal Defender’s Office, and the University of St. Thomas to plan the conference. 

The conference and its messages of equity, community, and allyship are part of a much larger mission of the MSBA D&I Committee and the bar association as we look to the future of reducing barriers, creating more access and opportunity, and holistically supporting our members from underrepresented communities who bring a tremendous value to the legal profession.  

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