Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category
News media coverage from two Southern states, North Carolina and Mississippi, gave contrasting reports about diversity on the federal bench — or the lack of it.
In North Carolina, the (Winston-Salem) Chronicle editorialized about the need for diversity on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, a bench that current is all white “even though blacks and other minorities make up more than 25 percent of the District’s population.”
A judgeship on the Eastern District bench has been vacant since 2006, but an “apparent stalemate” has precluded filling it, the editorial said, and it “may be indicative of why so little gets done in Washington.”
In Mississippi, a (Jackson) Clarion Ledger article said Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James Graves will be presented the Mississippi Trailblazer of the Decade Award. Judge Graves became in 2011 the first African-American judge from Mississippi to serve on the Fifth Circuit.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nomination of Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam, of the First Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, to the state Court of Appeals would make her the first African-American woman in history to sit on New York’s highest court, if she were confirmed.
“Rising from working-class roots to serve for decades on the bench of the New York State Supreme Court, Justice Abdus-Salaam has a deep understanding of the everyday issues facing New Yorkers, as well as the complex legal issues that come before the state’s highest court,” Cuomo said, according to a New York Times article.
JAS states on its website, “Justice at Stake believes that diversity in the legal system improves the quality of justice, while building confidence in all communities that American courts are fair and impartial.”
On Wednesday, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Court of Appeals Judge Michelle M. Keller to the state Supreme Court. Her appointment marks the first time that three female justices have sat on the seven-member bench at the same time, according to the Associated Press.
Keller will take the place of Justice Wil Schroder, who stepped down in January after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“I have the deepest respect and fondness for Justice Wil Schroder. Therefore, this is a bittersweet moment for me,” Keller said in a statement. “I will work hard to provide justice to my fellow Kentuckians and continue the fine legacy of Justice Schroder.”
A judicial nominating commission will send names to Beshaer to name a replacement for Keller o the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
The White House has launched a new offensive to win Senate confirmation of Justice Department lawyer Sri Srinivasan to the second most influential U.S. appeals court, and President Barack Obama has become personally engaged in the effort.
Washington Post and Bloomberg published articles about the offensive, while noting that four of seven seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit currently are vacant, and the Washington, D.C.-based court has the jurisdiction over challenges to executive branch actions that can aid or hinder an administration’s effectiveness.
Srinivasan (photo) is principal deputy U.S. solicitor general. His nomination is getting increased attention because it will be the subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week, because the current court has a majority of Republican-appointed judges and because Obama has not succeeded in his more than four years in the White House at confirming a judge to this appeals court.
When Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981, only 7.3 percent of all federal appellate and district court judges were women. Today, that total is 30.4 percent.
“I do think it is important that there be women on the bench,” says Claudia Wilken (photo), chief judge of the Northern District of California, according to the United States Courts: The Third Branch News. “At least half of the bright, dedicated and talented people in the country are women, so it would be counterproductive not to have them serving as judges.”
The Oakland, California courthouse where Wilken presides is the only federal courthouse “ever to have an all-female bench,” the article says.
In 1870, Esther Morris served as the earliest known female judge while on a Wyoming bench. Genevieve R. Cline became the first female federal trial judge in 1928 after being appointed by President Calvin Coolidge, the article notes. Constance Baker Motley become the first African American female federal court judge in 1966. Read more
As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo prepares to make his second appointment to the New York Court of Appeals, a former judge asks in a Times Union opinion whether Cuomo should consider diversity when making his selection, .
Sol Wachtler, former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, says that while the criteria in New York’s constitution for choosing judges don’t include language on diversity, there is no question that the judicial selection committee considers diversity in naming candidates.
While diversity is not the only factor the governor or the commission should consider, Wachtler notes, a court without judges of various backgrounds ”is severely handicapped and unworthy of New York.”
Promoting diversity should not be used to put “unqualified people” on the bench, he argues, but it is still an important factor for Cuomo to consider.
Judges of diverse backgrounds can only better the courts, Wachtler says, and a diverse judiciary furthers “the perception of equality under the law.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has announced the formation of a committee to advise her on candidates for federal judicial vacancies in the state.
Distinguished members of the Massachusetts legal community will sit on the committee, according to an Associated Press article. They will review applications for open judgeships, and she ultimately will make recommendations to the White House, Warren said in a press release.
As a way to cool partisan tempers in Washington, the American Bar Association has recommended that senators form bipartisan commissions in each state to review and suggest slates of the most professionally qualified judicial candidates. You can learn more from Justice at Stake’s website
Meanwhile Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mt., has recommended the names of Montana Supreme Court Justice Brian Morris and Yellowstone County District Judge Susan Watters to the White House for two open federal district judgeships in the state, the Montana Standard reported.
While diversity on our federal bench has increased over the years, too few women hold federal judgeships, Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana said at the Sixth Annual Women’s Conference this week.
Brown was appointed to the bench in 2011, becoming the first Africa-American woman federal judge in Louisiana, according to The Advocate.
During the conference, she said that only 30 percent of all federal district court judges are women. There are still some district courts where a woman has never served as a judge, she added.
Brown spoke about her desire to see our federal judiciary be more representative of the public. More women are becoming partners in law firms, and female students account for almost 50 percent of law school enrollment, she said.
She called her path to the federal bench “unconventional,” and said it took being flexible as well as creative to make it a reality. Brown said she stayed open-minded to new career opportunities which eventually led her to a federal judgeship in Louisiana.
“Only in this country could an African-American girl born to parents with no education … no where else could someone like me be provided an opportunity for so much success and accomplishment,” Brown said.
A successful Republican filibuster of the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the nation’s second most influential court (see Gavel Grab) amounted to “abuse of the filibuster” and was “bad for the country,” a Washington Post editorial said.
“On balance, Ms. Halligan’s record doesn’t come close to justifying what should be an extraordinary resort, filibustering a judicial nominee,” the editorial said. “When lawmakers hold nominees hostage to politics and ideology, trampling the legitimate prerogative of the president to staff the government and the judiciary, it degrades the effectiveness of government and the courts, deters qualified people from pursuing public service and poisons the politics in Washington.”
It was the second time in less than two years that Republicans blocked an up-or-down vote on her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The eleven-member court has four vacancies. Halligan is one of two of President Obama’s nominees for the court.
Leading critics accused Halligan of holding an activist view of the judiciary, while Democrats contended that Republicans were fighting to stall Obama’s nominees for the court, according to a New York Times article. Read more
The Senate has easily confirmed two prosecutors to the federal district court bench in New York. Both are women, and one of them was especially hailed for bringing enhanced diversity to the courts.
Katherine Polk Failla was confirmed 91 to 0 for the Southern District of New York, according to a Reuters article, and Pamela Ki Mai Chen was confirmed on a voice vote for the Eastern District of New York.
The Blog of Legal Times said Chen becomes only the second female Chinese-American to sit on the federal bench, and one of the first openly lesbian judges.
The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) and Asian American Justice Center issued a joint statement applauding Chen’s confirmation and saying she would become the first openly gay Asian Pacific American to sit on the federal bench. Read more