Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category
For years the judges on San Mateo County’s bench all tended to come from similar backgrounds, either that of a prosecutor or of a civil litigator. There were no former public defenders, and only one Asian American judge – Elizabeth Lee.
The San Francisco Examiner reports that a shift in this trend occurred in 2010, when two public defenders, Judge Leland Davis III and Judge Donald Ayoob (photo), were appointed to serve on the San Mateo County Superior Court.
Davis is now the lone African American judge serving in the county, and Ayoob is the sole Arab-American, the article notes. Read more
On Monday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Sheri Polster Chappell to be U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Florida, and Michael McShane (photo) to be U.S. District Judge for Oregon.
Chappell was confirmed on a 90-0 vote, while McShane was confirmed on a voice-vote, according to the Hill’s Floor Action Blog. McShane had been waiting more than a year for a confirmation vote.
“I want to express my concern for the growing partisanship that is dragging down our efforts to fill these judicial vacancies across our nation,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). “Obviously these nominees should be confirmed without needless obstacles. …We are clearly going in the wrong direction in this Senate.”
An Oregonian article reports that McShane is the fifth openly gay federal judge appointed by President Obama. According to the White House, there has only been one other openly gay federal judge in the nation’s history who was confirmed.
President Obama has nominated four women for federal judgeships, and the White House blog said each nominee would make history if confirmed.
Judge Carolyn McHugh would be the first woman from Utah to serve on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Pamela Reeves, in the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Elizabeth Wolford, in the Western District of New York, would be the first women to sit on those benches; and Debra Brown, in the Northern District of Mississippi, would be the first African-American female to serve as an Article III judge in that state.
Chris Kang, senior counsel to the president, said in the blog about these and other groundbreaking judicial nominations by Obama, “These ‘firsts’ are important, not because these judges will consider cases differently, but because a judiciary that better resembles our nation instills even greater confidence in our justice system, and because these judges will serve as role models for generations of lawyers to come.” He said each has the required intellect, integrity and fair-mindedness to sit as a federal judge.
As Jane Kelly prepared to take the oath on Friday as an Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge, an Associated Press profile labeled her career as a public defender rare for a judge.
Most appeals court judges are former prosecutors or trial judges, the AP reported. Kelly also will be only the second woman ever to serve on the Eighth Circuit bench.
“Her story is compelling all the way around,” said Debra Fitzpatrick of the Infinity Project, a Justice at Stake partner group. It advocates for greater gender diversity on the Eighth Circuit. “Her credentials and her background and her career sort of set her up to be the right candidate at the right time.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on Thursday in favor of President Obama’s nomination of Principal Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan to the nation’s second most influential appeals court.
Obama has not previously been able to overcome Republican resistance and successfully place a nominee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which has four vacancies. But the bipartisan support for Srinivasan signaled Obama may be permitted to fill at least one of the openings.
The unanimous vote of the Judiciary Committee “seems a harbinger of easy approval by the full Senate, NBC News reported.
With four judges appointed by Republicans and three by Democrats, the D.C. Circuit has not seen a new appointee to the bench since 2006, according to the Blog of Legal Times. The court is widely considered a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Read more
Since October, the majority of the lawyers who appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court were white males. Just 17 percent were women, four were Hispanic and only one was African American, according to an Associated Press article.
At a time when the Supreme Court justices are more diverse than ever before, women and minority lawyers are making small gains at big law firms, the article says.
Even at the Office of the Solicitor General, all of the top supervisory positions are held by men. Alan Jenkins, a former Justice Department lawyer who is also African American argues that the justices benefit from seeing lawyers who don’t all look the same. Read more
In an Atlantic online commentary, legal scholar Garrett Epps examines one reason why judicial vacancies matter. He focuses on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and he maintains that four vacancies on that highly important court are effectively “swaying policy in America.”
Republican senators have blocked President Obama’s nominees to the 11-member appeals court so far, and it has a majority of judges appointed by Republican presidents. Epps takes issue with three key decisions of the court. They involve National Labor Relations Board appointments made by Prsident Obama; a NLRB rule requiring employers to put up a government poster telling workers of their rights; and Food and Drug Administration regulation of cigarette warning labels.
Utah attorney Renee Jimenez has been appointed to the state’s 3rd District Juvenile Court, becoming the second minority judicial candidate nominated by Gov. Gary Herbert, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.
“Gov. Herbert recognizes that diversity on the bench is important, said Minority Bar President Jesse Nix in a statement. “Minority kids, regardless of their race or ethnicity or economic background, will believe that a judge that looks like them will listen and be interested in helping them become law-abiding and productive citizens.”
Only 9 percent of all Utah judges are minorities, the article says, and just 24 percent are women. Jimenez will fill the vacancy of retiring Judge Frederic Oddone, who served on the court for almost two decades.
In Virginia, the first African American appointed to serve as a federal judge will step down next year to become a senior judge.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch says that U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer is set to semi-retire on March 25, 2014. He will take on a smaller caseload as a senior judge.
Spencer was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 at the age of 37. In an interview at that time, he said that being the first African American federal judge in Virginia did not mean much to him.
“I’ve always… been the first black or the only black. That’s not a victory. I think it is too bad. I long for the day when it will be so insignificant that it will become irrelevant,” he said during the interview.
The Senate confirmed Jane Kelly, an assistant public defender in Iowa, to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday by a 96-0 vote. Occurring 83 days after her nomination, it was the quickest confirmation of an Obama nominee to an appeals bench, the Blog of Legal Times said.
According to the (Eastern Iowa) Gazette, Kelly will become only the second woman to serve on the Eighth Circuit, and the first public defender to do so.
The Iowa Fair Courts Coalition applauded her confirmation and said in a statement, “Kelly’s breadth of experience as a public defender and her perspective as only the second woman to ever serve on the Eighth Circuit Court will bring valuable diversity to the bench that will benefit all people served by this court, including Iowans.”
The average waiting period for a noncontroversial circuit court nominee to travel from nomination to confirmation is 272 days, according to BLT blog. Partisan maneuvering has stalled numerous judicial nominees and blocked several others.
The New Jersey Legislature and state groups have continued to urge Gov. Chris Christie to appoint more diverse candidates to the state Supreme Court, but to no avail, argues Frank Argote-Freyre in a Times of Trenton opinion.
Currently, there are no African American or Latino justices on the bench, and there may not be one for another ten years, Argote-Freyre says.
Historically, state governors have alternated their high court nominees between political parties. Christie’s first Republican nominee, Justice Anne Patterson, was confirmed. There are currently two open seats on the bench, according to Argote-Freyre, and these may be the last ones filled for years to come.
New Jersey will be a “majority-minority state” by 2022. Is it fair to have only one person of color on the high court’s bench when that happens, Argote-Freyre asks?
State senators are right to demand that Christie nominate diverse candidates, and work with the governor to establish a bench that’s representative of the whole state, he says. Argote-Freyre is president of the Latino Action Network.