Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

Decision Offers Sotomayor’s First Court Opinion on Race

0715_sonia_460x276In her dissent this week to a U.S. Supreme Court opinion on affirmative action, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic justice on the court, for the first time wrote an opinion addressing race in America, Reuters reported.

When a six-member majority upheld a voter-approved Michigan ban on affirmative action in university admissions (see Gavel Grab), Justice Sotomayor parted ways and, according to Reuters, “In strong terms that referred to the slights minorities face because of skin color, … declared the court’s majority was ignoring a U.S. history of discrimination and the needs of those on the margins of society.”

The court ruling drew widespread media coverage, with a number of analysts focusing on Justice Sotomayor’s strong dissent, from which she read aloud at the bench, and its apparent targeting of U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. According to The Atlantic, Justice Sotomayor wrote:

“The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society.”

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Top Illinois Judge Touts Importance of Judicial Diversity

honritagarmanIllinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman discussed the importance of diversity in the judiciary when she addressed a local audience in Bloomington, Il. this week.

“We need judges who are from all parts of society,” Justice Garman told the McLean County League of Women Voters, according to The (Bloomington) Pantagraph. It is important for people who enter the courtroom to see judges of diverse backgrounds, she said. ”The justice system must not only be fair but be perceived to be fair,” Justice Garman said.

To learn about Justice at Stake’s work to increase diversity on the bench, see the JAS web page about this issue.

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JAS, Other Groups Urge Professional Diversity on Bench

Justice at Stake was among more than 30 organizations writing a letter that urges U.S. senators to consider professional diversity when considering judicial candidates.

JAS-LogoThe letter contending that a greater diversity of professional backgrounds is needed on the federal courts was signed by labor, civil rights and good government groups, Federal Times reported. The letter stated in part:

“A truly diverse judiciary … not only reflects the gender, ethnic, sexual orientation, disability, and racial diversity of the nation, but also includes judges who come from all corners of the legal profession — and particularly those who have worked in the public interest, representing those whose voices are otherwise rarely heard. This sort of professional diversity both enhances judicial decisionmaking and is essential to the public’s trust in our justice system. Read more

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Historic Judicial Nominee Gets Rubio’s Consent for Hearing

Sen. Rubio

Sen. Rubio

Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has given a green light for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a confirmation hearing on President Obama’s nomination of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Darrin P. Gayles for a federal district court seat in Florida.

If confirmed, Judge Gayles would become the first openly gay African-American man to serve on the federal courts. According to a Huffington Post article, by signaling his consent, Rubio “has removed the biggest obstacle to Gayles’ confirmation.” Last year, Rubio effectively blocked advancement of Obama’s nomination of another judge who, if confirmed, would have held the same groundbreaking status. Read more

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Obama On Track to Shatter Records for Diverse Judicial Picks

With some analysts saying it will be difficult for Democrats to retain control of the Senate in November, examination of President Obama’s impact on the federal courts already has begun.

A NPR report suggests the president has shied from pushing overtly ideological nominees for federal judgeships, while building a strong record for diversity on the bench.

“If present trends continue, he will have appointed more African-Americans than any other president, more Hispanics than any other president, more women than any other president and many more Asian-Americans,” said Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution. Read more

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Editorial: Florida Governor Must Make Judicial Diversity a Priority

When the terms of dozens of judicial nominating commission members expire this summer, Florida Gov. Rick Scott will have a chance to fill the seats and prove that he cares about making Florida’s courts better reflect the state’s population diversity, an Orlando Sentinel editorial says.

The editorial elaborates on why this is an important issue:

“Public trust in the judicial system, and the quality of the justice it delivers, are at risk when the courts don’t come close to reflecting their communities.” Read more

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Column Urges Senator to ‘Stop Stonewalling’ Judge’s Nomination

CapitolflagU.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, “needs to stop stonewalling” and allow the nomination of a federal district court nominee in his state to proceed in the Senate, a Greenville Daily Reflector op-ed says.

Federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker, if confirmed, would be the first African-American judge to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. She would fill a judgeship that has not had an occupant since 2005 and now claims the longest-running vacancy in the nation. Burr has declined to say why he has refused to consent to the Senate Judiciary Committee proceeding to hold a hearing on the nomination of May-Parker, whom he once endorsed (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Historic Judicial Pick Made; No Let-up in Georgia Controversy

Leslie Abrams, a federal prosecutor, would become the first African-American female to serve on a federal court in Georgia if the Senate confirms a nomination announced this week by President Obama.

While the nomination drew praise from Democratic U.S. Rep. David Scott, he did not back down on his high-profile criticism of another Obama nominee for the federal court in Georgia, Michael Boggs, and neither did the NARAL Pro-Choice America group, the Huffington Post reported. To learn more about controversy over the Boggs nomination, see Gavel Grab.

Meanwhile, Staci Michelle Yandle, nominated for the U.S. District Court in Illinois, “sailed through her confirmation hearing” before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, according to the Washington Blade.  Yandle would become the first African-American lesbian federal judge in two decades if confirmed.

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Editorials: Lawyers Needed to Help Enhance FL Judicial Diversity

Greater diversity is needed on the state courts in Florida, a Tallahassee Democrat editorial says, and to achieve that, “more lawyers must step forward” to apply to serve.

Florida Bar President Eugene Pettis recently established a task force to help increase diversity on the state bench and on commissions that screen qualified judicial candidates for possible appointment by the governor. The task force also will examine why diverse candidates are not applying for these posts (see Gavel Grab).

Lawyer Lisa Bond Edwards, a member of the task force and a screening panel member, offered one explanation for the shortage of applications from diverse candidates. Some potential candidates with whom she talked said that after seeing list of applicants rejected by the governor, they asked, “Why should I waste my time?” For background about the governor’s appointments, see Gavel Grab.

Meanwhile a WFSU report was entitled, “Florida Bar Task Force Examines ‘Concerning’ Minority Judge Numbers.”

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Law Dean Focuses on California Judicial Diversity

kevin_johnson_picture_1In an interview with KQED Public Radio in California, the dean of the U.C. Davis Law School suggested there is improvement in diversity on the state’s courts overall, but a large gap remains between the state’s population of Hispanics and its judges who are Latino.

“We’re talking a situation today where basically 60 percent of K-12 students are Latino, and less than 10 percent of the trial court judges are Latino. When justice appears to be meted out by unrepresentative judges, I think that there’s a concern about the legitimacy of the results and the possible racial injustice of it all,” said Kevin R. Johnson (photo). He is the first Latino head of a University of California law school.

Johnson also noted the absence of a Latino or an African-American justice on the state Supreme Court, and a margin of 2-1 males to females on the Court of Appeals and the trial courts. Johnson said a diverse appeals court can help lead to better judicial decision-making by “bringing together a variety of perspectives, a variety of thoughts, a variety of ways of looking at the world.”

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