Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category
In 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.”
Former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor delivered some compelling statistics about the lack of diversity on the bench, nationally and locally, according to a blog submission in AZ Attorney.
“Diverse experiences can be used in appropriate circumstances to better understand the case at hand. “The presence of diverse voices,” Justice McGregor said, “broadens discussion and analysis,” McGregor told the audience at the kickoff event co-sponsored by Justice at Stake.
Justice at Stake (JAS) and Arizona Advocacy Network, along with numerous other partners, and former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, launched the Judicial Diversity Project in Arizona this week.
Two events were held in Tucson and Phoenix to kick off of a yearlong collaboration to promote diversity on the bench. The project aims to create diversity on the bench so that the courts reflect Arizona’s communities, and to ensure access to fair and impartial justice.
A soon-to-be published study by an academician finds that American Bar Association ratings of candidates for the federal bench appear, on average, to give lower ratings to women and minorities than to whites and males. The question is of more than academic interest because an individual’s rating can help shape whether he or she becomes a judge.
NPR reported on the findings of University of Rochester political scientist Maya Sen and also interviewed James Silkenat, ABA president. “If there was bias here, that would trouble me. I’m confident, though, there is not,” Silkenat said. The rating process is carefully designed to avoid bias, he added.
Florida Bar President Eugene Pettis has 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.
“I am hopeful that this group will additionally focus on some solutions to these concerning trends, so that the Bar and the Governor’s office may use them to facilitate and accomplish our common goal of making sure our judiciary is reflective of our community,” Pettis said, according to a TampaBay.com article.
According to a Florida Bar press release, “Among 319 county court judges, 32 are African-American and 26 are Hispanic. Out of 594 circuit court judges, only 26 are African-American and 58 are Hispanic. Florida’s five Read more
Eugene Pettis, the first African-American president of the Florida Bar, has extended from Feb. 11 until March 21 a deadline for applications from lawyers interested in serving on judicial nominating commissions.
A Tampa Bay Business Journal article said Pettis “is focused on making sure there is a culture that invites minorities to the judicial selection process.” Pettis has zeroed in on the process of recruiting applicants for the vetting commissions, and on bar members getting minorities interested in serving on the bench, where diversity has declined.
“There may be the impression that there is no need to apply because they are not getting the appointments,” he told the Business Journal. “We’re not getting diverse pools for JNCs. We need to make sure we have an environment conducive for diverse pools to have in play for bench applicants.”
The 13-member U.S. District Court of Massachusetts is getting something of a makeover, with three individuals nominated for judgeships, a fourth nomination expected, and two judges having been appointed in the past three years. As the makeover proceeds, the court is getting attention for heightened diversity.
“They are professionally diverse, as well as gender diverse,” former District Judge Nancy Gertner said about the nominees, “people coming from different parts of the profession and not from the same quarters.” They include, according to the Boston Globe, a labor lawyer, a prosecutor, and a federal magistrate who spent much of his prior career as a criminal defense lawyer.
For the court to seat six new judges of diverse backgrounds in a few years reflects a trend nationally, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. “I just think you broaden out the expertise, you broaden out the perspective . . . you don’t want people who say the same things, have the same experiences — and all that will make for better judges,” Tobias said.
As Gov. Jerry Brown weighs an appointment to fill a state Supreme Court vacancy, a Los Angeles Daily News editorial has urged that he consider increasing diversity on the bench and specifically, naming a Latino justice.
There are no Latinos or African Americans on the high court now, the editorial notes, and “With issues involving Hispanic immigrants, both documented and undocumented, so prominent in California politics and law, the state Supreme Court should have a Latino face.”
The governor must consider candidates’ intellect and judicial philosophy first, but after that he should take diversity into account, the editorial adds. It elaborates that the point is not to establish a “pro-Latino” vote on the bench but rather “to take a step toward having a court that represents a variety of California experiences and viewpoints.”
A San Jose Mercury News article, meanwhile, says Brown has made a strong imprint on the state’s courts by “scouring the legal ranks for candidates with some intellectual firepower who might add diversity to the nation’s largest judiciary.” Since taking office to launch his most recent term in 2011 he has “appointed a larger share of women, Latinos and African-Americans to the state bench than any governor in history, including his own first stint decades ago,” the newspaper says.
Professional diversity on the bench is less well understood than racial or gender diversity, but is a crucial factor in maintaining fair and impartial courts, Justice at Stake Director of Federal Affairs and Diversity Initiatives Praveen Fernandes said today. Click in the player window to watch his comments on professional diversity and why it matters.
Fernandes’s comments coincide with increased scrutiny of professional diversity on the federal bench, following remarks by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the release of an Alliance for Justice report earlier this week. At a Capitol Hill event on Thursday, hosted by Alliance for Justice and co-sponsored by Justice at Stake, Warren said the federal bench “is currently dominated by judges who previously worked for large firms representing corporate interests,” according to reports in Salon and the Huffington Post. A New York Times editorial concurred, taking note of “The Homogeneous Federal Bench.”
After White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett met this week with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss concerns about diversity in nominations to the federal bench (see Gavel Grab), there were differing reactions from lawmakers.
“The CBC continues to applaud the Administration’s record in appointing more African American judges to the bench than any president in U.S. history,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia said. “The meeting afforded us an opportunity for a candid exchange on judicial nominees, including detailing our specific concerns and offering suggestions for working more closely with the CBC to ensure both the nomination and the confirmation of more African American judges.”
Rep. David Scott, a Georgia Democrat who has voiced sharp concerns about the records of two nominees to the federal bench in his state, spoke of disappointment. “This is a terrible mistake, history will record it as such,” he said, according to The Hill. “And it breaks my heart that it’s a black president” who made the nominations. Scott has asked for a chance to testify against several of Obama’s judicial nominees (see Gavel Grab). Read more