PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION RESOLUTION REQUESTING REMOVAL OF ALL REFERENCES TO THE WORDS “MASTER” OR “SPECIAL MASTER” FROM ALL STATUTES, RULES OF PROCEDURE AND RELATED STATE AND LOCAL RULES OF COURT
WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s mission includes fostering an understanding of, involvement in and access to the justice system; and
WHEREAS, it is necessary at this moment in history, reflected by divisiveness and civil unrest, that the Philadelphia Bar Association must make all efforts to remove barriers to access to the justice system and actively promote diversity and inclusion; and
WHEREAS, the word “master” and phrasing that encompasses the word “master”, including but not limited to “special master”, is antiquated and divisive, and creates a sense of separation, anxiety, and confusion; and
WHEREAS, while the word “master” historically indicates a mastery over a skill or area of knowledge, it also very commonly has been and still is used to mean control or authority over a human, and is fundamentally linked with slavery, an institution that has been constitutionally abolished in the United States since 1865; and
WHEREAS, “master” highlights that there is either a class distinction or an importance that should be associated with the person to whom the word is applied and not the person who does not have the benefit of the word applied to their person; and
WHEREAS, the continued use of the word “master” in various settings, including the legal profession and universities, persists in polishing a stain on American history that promotes separation and divisiveness between people and subjectivity of some persons; and
WHEREAS, many legal professionals, litigants and other participants in the justice system are uncomfortable and offended by the use of the word “master” and, upon hearing the word, having to use the word, or being required to refer to another person as “master”, they are reminded of the unjust and tragic institution of slavery; and
WHEREAS, universities have reevaluated their practices and use of the word “master” as they have recognized that it has a direct link to slavery, for example, Rice University has eliminated the word “master” to describe the heads of residential colleges, and Harvard University has eliminated the word “master” from academic titles such as House masters; and
WHEREAS, the word “master” is used throughout statutes and procedural rules of court in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including without limitation, the Domestic Relations Code, 23 Pa.C.S. § 101 et seq., the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 6301 et seq., and in the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, Pa.R.C.P. 1900, et seq.; and
WHEREAS, local practice and procedure in Philadelphia and other counties throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania employ the term “master” or “special master” in reference to hearing officers in custody, divorce and support matters as well as in civil matters, such as partition proceedings and discovery; and
WHEREAS, there has been a signaling of the need to change past practices of injustices and disparity as recognized by replacing the word “master” with "Juvenile Court Hearing Officer" in the Pennsylvania Rules of Juvenile Court Procedure (See: 237 Pa. Code §187 and 237 Pa. Code §1187) as it relates to dependency and delinquent matters, and updating Pa.R.C.P. 1915.4-2 to reflect that conferences shall be conducted by a “conference officer” and hearings shall be conducted by a “hearing officer”.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association reflecting its commitment to justice and fairness, calls on the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the Governor, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and local courts, to eliminate the word “master” and/or “special master” from all statutes, including without limitation, the Domestic Relations Code, Title 23 Pa.C.S. § 101 et seq., the Juvenile Act, Title 42 Pa.C.S. § 6301 et seq., the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, and any and all Local Rules of Civil Procedure; and in addition, remove any and all references from all courts, internal or external communication whether in print or digital that references the word “master” and/or “special master” and replace all references with “conference officer”, “hearing officer” and/or “conciliator”;
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Philadelphia Bar Association shall work with the Courts and other relevant stakeholders to educate bar members, the court, judges, and judicial staff on the negative impacts of using the words “master” and/or “special master” even after successful removal of the words “master” and/or “special master” from any and all statutes in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and specifically in the Domestic Relations Code, Title 23 Pa.C.S. § 101 et seq., the Juvenile Act, Title 42 Pa.C.S. § 6301 et seq., the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure, and all Local Rules of Civil Procedure.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Philadelphia Bar Association authorizes the Chancellor and/or the Chancellor’s designee(s) to communicate the contents of this resolution to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, local courts, the General Assembly, the Governor, other government officials, bar associations, the legal profession, the media, and the public and take any and all additional action is necessary to effectuate this resolution.
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION BOARD OF GOVERNORS Adopted: November 19, 2020