CLE Tackles Implicit Bias Issue in the Courtroom

Center for Legal Inclusiveness hosts session on recognizing stereotypes

“If I were you I’d be wondering one thing: what’s this old white guy from Iowa doing talking to you about implicit bias?” Senior U.S. District Court Judge Mark Bennett asked the audience at the Center for Legal Inclusiveness-sponsored CLE on Thursday at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center.

But Bennett was the first judge in the nation to tackle the issue from the bench. He’s considered a national expert on the topic and developed jury instructions and methods in his court-room to address the pervasive problem in the justice system. He discussed the psychology components that play into implicit biases and how we can combat them.

Bennett shared his personal experiences on bias and what led him to this work. Before teaching a legal ethics course on discrimination at Drake University, his colleague suggested he take an implicit-association test (a series of tests created by Project Implicit used in social psychology to measure implicit bias) on racial bias “because of his background.”

After his mother died, Bennett was raised primarily by an African American nanny with whom he was very close. He swore in one of the few black state court judges at the time in Iowa. Bennett said that after those experiences and 17 years in civil rights practice defending primarily black clients, he was surprised by his results: strong anti-black implicit bias. He took the test the next day, and again a week later. The outcome was the same.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the March 26, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online