U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Bough has made diversity and inclusion a guiding principle of his life and legal practice, starting in 1999, when he researched employment discrimination and diversity issues as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Scott O. Wright.
Those priorities have remained constant through his career as a judge pro tem and attorney practicing in Kansas City, as an instructor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and as a federal judge since 2014. He’s intentional about hiring diverse law clerks and interns, saying he continues to strive to make his chambers reflect the community in which they live and work.
Described as “a rabid supporter of his alma mater UMKC Law,” Bough is a longtime mentor for diverse law students and attorneys. He hosts an annual lunch for members of diverse student organizations to encourage their applications to the federal court internship program, and he connects diverse alumni with diversity and mentorship initiatives.
He also is a member of numerous diverse bar associations, and he frequently hosts events at home for causes that reflect and embrace the diversity of the Kansas City community. His nominator wrote: “Judge Bough’s mentorship has helped cultivate a new generation of diverse legal practitioners and incorporate them meaningfully into the Missouri legal community. His commitment to diversity and inclusion transcends the courtroom.”
What makes you most proud of the legal profession?
I love the legal profession. We are far from perfect, but we continue to fight to improve. We are still experiencing firsts — the first diverse executive director of The Missouri Bar, the first diverse magistrate judge in the Western District of Missouri, the first gay wedding in the federal courthouse — and that’s just in the past five years!
Who has most inspired you in your work for Diversity & Inclusion, and why?
I grew up in all-white Republic, Missouri, and I knew nothing of diversity. I met my first Black friend in the U.S. Army boot camp, where we both got bad haircuts. We discovered that we were both good at playing cards and table-talking. In representing diverse members of society, my eyes were opened to the incredible privileges extended to me, even a as poor white man. Understanding my own privilege and witnessing the roadblocks others face inspired me to be an active member in numerous diverse bar organizations. Working to make sure all of my neighbors have an equal opportunity is the essence of a more perfect union.
What must Missouri’s legal community do to promote meaningful and long-term diversity within its legal/justice system?
We must accept that we all have implicit bias. The legal system is based on our Constitution, which [includes] discrimination in counting slaves as 3/5 of a person right there in Article I. We can recognize that history and still continue to work for justice.