For those of you who still can’t get enough of watching panels of white men droning on about developments in the law, here is reason to celebrate: The Florida Supreme Court has doubled down on a rule it adopted earlier this year that prohibits the use of quotas in selecting participants for CLE courses.
But for anyone else who hoped to see the occasional woman or person of color or LGBTQ panelist, welcome to the 1950s.
White male CLE panels are so ubiquitous in the legal profession that they have their own name: the “manel.” But ubiquity does not equal representation. Women, for example, make up 37% of the legal profession, according to the American Bar Association. So then why shouldn’t they appear on CLE panels at least proportionately, if not greater?
It’s a good question for the Florida Supreme Court. Yesterday, the court issued an opinion doubling down on a rule it adopted earlier this year that precludes CLE credit for and course “that uses quotas based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation in the selection of course faculty or participants.”
The court first adopted the rule earlier this year after a section of the Florida Bar adopted a diversity and inclusion policy for CLE panels, modeled on a similar policy of the ABA. When the court adopted the ban, it did it so quickly that it decided to put the rule out for public comment.
Having now considered the more than 40 comments it received — almost all of which opposed the rule — the court is digging in its heels. It did make a concession to lawyers who had already planned their CLE courses for 2021, postponing the effective date of the rule until Jan. 1, 2022.
But then it tightened the rule even further, stating that “CLE credit will be unavailable for courses with any sponsor that uses quotas covered by the rule, whether course approval is sought by the sponsor or by an individual bar member.”
What, you may wonder, was the court’s rationale? It said that quotas for CLE panels “are antithetical to basic American principles of nondiscrimination.”
“The policy treats people differently (i.e., discriminates) based on their membership in groups defined by ‘race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and multiculturalism.’ Our laws consider it presumptively wrong to discriminate on these grounds—especially when government does the discriminating, but also in many contexts involving discrimination by private entities.”
One justice, Jorge Labarga, dissented. He explained:
“Today, on its own motion, a majority of this Court has embarked on a course that will undoubtedly culminate in the erosion of the judicial branch’s needed and well-established policy of promoting and advancing diversity and inclusiveness throughout the branch. Because I cannot agree with this course of action, I respectfully dissent.”
You can read the full opinion here.