January 11, 2021 was a historic day for the diversity of the Rhode Island Judiciary. For on that day, Superior Court Associate Justice Melissa A. Long, center, was sworn in as the first person of color as a Justice on the Supreme Court. Joining her after the ceremony on the State House steps were, from left, United States First Circuit Court of Appeals Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, District Court Associate Judges Melissa DuBose and Christopher Smith, and retired Superior Court Associate Justice Edward C. Clifton. All but Judge Thompson are members of the Committee on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts.
The Committee on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts was created to enhance public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the Rhode Island Judiciary and to promote a fair and bias-free justice system by: 1) engaging in self-examination, education, and public outreach; 2) identifying areas of systemic racism, unconscious bias, disparate impact, and socioeconomic and other inequities; and 3) taking affirmative steps to self-monitor and combat inequities, so as to ensure a system that is accessible to all and treats all persons equally.
The committee was formed in 2020 in response to a summer of public unrest sparked by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor along with a renewed national discussion about the corrosive impact of systemic racism that has been exposed by the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Black and ethnic minority communities.
The committee consists of twelve (12) judicial officers appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell who represent each of the six (6) courts in Rhode Island’s unified court system: Supreme Court, Superior Court, Family Court, District Court, Workers’ Compensation Court, and the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal. The committee is committed to the following goals:
l Identifying areas where systemic racism exists in our various courts and develop
a plan to address them;
l Identifying and present training opportunities for judicial officers in areas such as
implicit bias; and
l Engaging the public in forums outside of court to better understand their personal
experiences with the courts and reaffirm our commitment to “equal treatment