Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

JAS Launches Judicial Diversity Project in Arizona

McGregorJustice 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.

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ABA Judicial Screening Results are Questioned in Study

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.

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Florida Bar Announces Judicial Diversity Task Force

pettisFlorida 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 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

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Florida Bar Head Extends Deadline for JNC Applicants

eugene_pettisEugene 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.”

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More Professional Diversity Comes to U.S. Bench in Massachusetts

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.


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Weigh Diversity in Naming New Justice, California Governor Urged

jerry-brownAs 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.

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Professional Diversity in the Spotlight

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.”

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Black Caucus Members Detail Judicial Diversity Concerns

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

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White House: Most Diverse Pool of Candidates for Bench

The White House touted its longterm efforts to increase gender and racial diversity when President Obama nominated  five people on Wednesday for trial and appellate court judgeships.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Darrin P. Gayles (photo) would become the first openly gay African American man to serve on the federal courts, if he were confirmed by the Senate, according to a Legal Times article.

Also nominated were Circuit Judge Carlos Eduardo Mendoza and Paul G. Byron for the Middle District of Florida; Circuit Judge Beth Bloom for the Southern District of Florida; and Cheryl Ann Krause, a former federal prosecutor, for the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to a CNN blog, the White House published a new graphic display online about the diversity of Obama’s nominees for judgeships, saying, “This is the first time our judicial pool has been this diverse.”


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White House Responds to CBC Judicial Diversity Concerns

White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett was set to meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus today to address concerns about diversity in nominations to the federal bench, according to The Hill.  The CBC has spoken out in recent weeks about a lack of ethnic diversity in President Obama’s nominations in several southern states (see Gavel Grab).  In addition, black lawmakers maintain that the nomination of an African-American judicial candidate in North Carolina is being unduly delayed, and that two nominees in Georgia have spotty records on civil rights issues.

The lawmakers claim that President Obama has ceded too much ground to southern Republican senators in an attempt to choose nominees with a greater chance of being confirmed, and plan to air their concerns in the meeting with Jarrett.  “Win or lose, we’d feel better if there’s a fight,” said U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri.

The White House outreach comes one day after House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, came out in support of the CBC’s position on nominees.  “I certainly share the CBC’s concerns,” Hoyer said, according to Politico and The Hill.   The influential Democrat suggested the Senate should reject some of the nominations on grounds cited by the CBC.

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