Last week the ACLU of Wyoming staff attended the 26th Annual Conference of the National Consortium on Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts hosted by the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation in Cody. Keynote addresses from Honorable Judge Lance Ito, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, and former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson set the tone for the entire conference. Each of them spoke about their experiences with Heart Mountain, and detailed how these experiences impacted their respective professional careers.
The National Consortium is a group committed to encouraging the highest courts of each state to examine the treatment accorded minorities in their courts; sharing the collective knowledge of task forces and commissions with courts, law enforcement, and the community; and providing technical assistance and expertise to commissions, task forces, and other interested organizations and individuals on the subject of racial and ethnic fairness.
Heart Mountain was an ideal setting to host this conference which focused on the equal treatment of all parties involved our judicial system. The Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center memorializes the history of the confinement of over 14,000 Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain during World War II through photographs, oral histories and interactive exhibits. This site stands as a reminder of when our legal system failed, and relates directly to the purpose of the conference.
Our staff attended panels focused on everything from juvenile justice to jurisdictional issues between state and Tribal Courts. The speakers at each of these panels were outstanding. One of the panels included Eric Balaban, a senior staff attorney with the National Prison Project of the ACLU. Mr. Balaban gave an excellent presentation on debtor’s prison and the ACLU’s 2010 report on this issue. During Sen. Al Simpson’s keynote address, he told conference attendees that the failure of most things, from court rulings to public policy, can be explained by one of four things: emotion, fear, guilt, or racism.