Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

Groups Criticize the Lack of Judicial Diversity

During this judicial election season, groups from various parts of the nation are striving to improve the reality of diversity in courts.

A coalition of eight Asian American bars denounced the lack of Asians among Gov. Jerry Brown’s 10 new judicial appointments to the California Superior Court in mid-July “as lagging behind Northern California’s demographics,” reported.

The Coalition of Asian Pacific Islander Bar Associations of Northern California stated that Gov. Brown “lags far behind the record of his Republican predecessor, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who appointed 13 Asian American judges in Northern California during his two terms.” Read more

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Milestone Judicial Achievements for Women in Indiana and Iowa

New Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Rush

New Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Rush

Diversity on the bench is in the spotlight in two Midwest states today after milestone achievements by two women.

Loretta Rush, the only woman on Indiana’s Supreme Court, has been named the state’s first female chief justice in a unanimous vote, according to Indystar. Rush is only the second woman to ever serve on Indiana’s highest court.

“It’s not just about a chief,” she said. “It’s about the five of us setting the rule of law in Indiana, protecting the rule of law in Indiana, and I see that can continue. When I look around the country, I am very, very proud of our court and continuing its traditions. We’re strong. We’re strong collectively together.”

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Judge: U.S. Courthouse in Chicago Was on Brink of Halting Trials

Judge Castillo

Judge Castillo

Recalling the federal government’s shutdown over a budget impasse last year, U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois said he had to draft a doomsday email about suspending all trials at Chicago’s downtown courthouse and find ways to boost sunken staff morale.

“If the shutdown hadn’t ended exactly when it did, we were out of money,” he told The Chicago Tribune in an interview about his first year in office. The draft email did not take effect.

Judge Castillo also discussed new initiatives that helped the district weather the crisis. They included new technology to help accelerate the pace of trials and competing with other districts to attract more attorneys to bring their large civil cases in Illinois. Read more

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CA Court Nomination Makes ‘Statement to the Rest of the Nation’

CASupremeCourtGov. Jerry Brown’s nomination of Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Mexican immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court is sparking attention for the statement it makes about diversity.

The nomination represents “a statement to the rest of the nation as we go through this backlash against immigrants,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article. 

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg described the nomination as “a timely reminder that our Golden State was forged by disparate immigrant communities who pushed frontiers and who, together, recognized a common strength in diversity.” Read more

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Governor Nominates Law Professor Cuéllar for CA High Court



Gov. Jerry Brown has nominated Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Stanford law professor and Mexican-born immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court.

Cuéllar has served under Presidents Obama and Clinton and has an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and advanced degrees from Yale Law School and Stanford, according to the Los Angeles Times. If confirmed, Cuéllar would be the only Latino serving on the state’s highest court, NBC News reported.

In commending Brown’s choice, the  National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) said, “It is vital that the state’s highest court reflect the full diversity of its residents.” Read more

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Essay: Why We Need More Women on the U.S. Bench

It would be great to have a woman president, but perhaps it would be more valuable to put more focus on adding more women to the ranks of federal judges across America, Keli Goff writes in a Daily Beast commentary.

Although women outnumber men in the United States, “women make up only a third of the justices on the thirteen federal courts of appeal. On the third circuit they make up just 17 percent of justices, and on the eighth circuit 18 percent,” Goff writes.

There are initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women in the technology field and nonprofits devoted to help women and girls pursue science careers. “So why don’t we put an increased emphasis,” she asks, “on women joining the judiciary, where they can make a more direct impact on the life of every American woman and girl? Women like Sheryl Sandberg may be great role models, but it’s judges who decide whether Facebook is legally bound to cover birth control.”

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Senate Confirms Judge 17 Years After He First Was Nominated

RONNIE L. WHITEThe politics of judicial nominations was a front-and-center topic when the U.S. Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm former Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronnie White to a federal judgeship. White first was nominated for the post in 1997, and subsequently failed to win confirmation in a GOP-controlled Senate.

Voting largely along party lines, the Senate on Wednesday confirmed White to a district court judgeship by a 53-44 vote, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

It was for political purposes that White’s judicial record was distorted by foes more than a decade ago, said Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri. In fact, at a time he was characterized as soft on law enforcement and the death penalty, he supported upholding the death penalty in almost 70 percent of the cases that came before him as a high court judge, she said.

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Governor Expands Diversity of Minnesota Judiciary

Minnesota Road SignMinnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has made an imprint on the state’s courts with his appointments since 2011, boosting racial diversity of judges by 53 percent and the number of women on the bench by 18 percent, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

The newspaper said its data relied on an analysis by the Dayton administration. The governor’s appointments include seven Hispanic judges; and Justice Wilhelmina Wright, the first African-American woman named to the state Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab).

Justice at Stake believes that diversity on the bench improves the quality of justice and builds faith and confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. You can learn more from the JAS web page on the topic. 

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Lack of Diversity on Federal Bench in North Carolina Spotlighted

“North Carolina has one of the whitest and least diverse groups of federal district court judges in the country,” Sharon McCloskey writes at N.C. Policy Watch, noting that a new district court vacancy was created by an African-American judge’s taking senior status.

District Judge James Beaty Jr., the sole African-American judge who was sitting actively on the federal district court, recently took senior status. Now, the federal district court in North Carolina has nine men and two women — all of them white, McCloskey writes. The state’s population is 70 percent white, 22 percent African-American and eight percent Hispanic. Read more

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For Massachusetts High Court, a Historic Confirmation

Superior Court Justice Geraldine Hines will become the first African-American woman to serve on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Governor’s Council voted 8-0 to approve her nomination, the Associated Press reported.

Justice Hines, a Mississippi native, also has worked as a law professor and as a private attorney specializing in criminal defense and civil rights litigation. She was nominated for the state’s top court by Gov. Deval Patrick.

“Looking back on my humble beginnings as a child of the segregated South and all that Jim Crow represents, a flood of emotions washes over me,” Justice Hines said after she was nominated. A recent State House News Service has more about her background and views on judging.

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