1989 Michigan Supreme Court Task Force on Gender Issues in the Courts

Did you know? In 1989, the Michigan Supreme Court Task Force performed a study on gender and racial / ethnic issues in the courts.

The Task Force was formed after the Michigan Supreme Court Citizens’ Commission to Improve Michigan Courts performed a year long examination of the Michigan Courts and found a significant and disturbing perception among Michigan citizens: over one-third believed that the Michigan court system discriminated against individuals on the basis of gender, race or ethnic origin.

As a result, the State Bar of Michigan, the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan and numerous individual members of the Michigan judicial and legal community endorsed the Citizens’ Commission’s call for the Michigan  Supreme Court to support a similar effort.

The Michigan Supreme Court then ordered the creation of a Task Force on Gender Issues in the Courts and the Task Force on Racial / Ethnic Issues in the Courts.  The Supreme Court directed the Task Forces “to examine the courts and to recommend revisions in rules, procedures and administration of the courts to assure equal treatment for men and women, free form race or gender bias.”

The Task Force on Gender Issues in the Courts defined “Gender Bias” as:

The tendency to think about and behave toward others primarily on the basis of their sex. It is in attitudes and behavior toward women and men which are based on stereotypical beliefs about the “true nature”, “proper role” and other “attributes” of the gender.

The examination by the Task Force on Gender Issues in the Courts established that a substantial number of Michigan citizens believe that gender bias affects justice in the Michigan court system. The Task Force further concluded that the perceptions of gender bias are rooted in reality. Gender bias was found to adversely affect the interpretation and application of substantive laws, practices and procedures; the treatment of and relationships among participants in the court system, including parties, victims of violence, children of divorce, witnesses, court employees, judges and lawyers; and related educational institutions and professional associations.  The Task Force investigated the concerns of both men and women and found that gender bias adversely impacts both sexes.

The Task Force issued its final report in December 1989.  Within that report, the Task Force examined the Court’s response to domestic violence, violence against women, women as criminal defendants in victim-precipitated homicides, and women as victims of sexual assault.  The Task Force also examined domestic relations issues such as alimony, property, child support, child custody, and visitation.  The Task Force further examined gender bias within the court environment, including the treatment of women litigants and witnesses, the treatment of women attorneys, the treatment of women judges, the judge’s role in courtroom control, case assignments and appointments of women in criminal matters, mediation and treatment of court personnel.

Finally, the Task Force examined the status of women in the profession, including professional associations, employment issues for women lawyers, and law schools.

After careful examination of each of these issues, the Task Force recommended a variety of reforms to address general bias.  To read the full report and recommendations, click here.