Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

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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Retiring Florida Judge Cites Need for Judicial Diversity

1404759515000-118409161Chief Judge Belvin Perry of Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit has announced his intention to retire. Judge Perry, who is African American, said he has a major concern that Florida’s judiciary become more diverse and more reflective of the public it serves.

“My only concern is a concern that has been voiced by a number of people — that we have more diversity in the bench that reflects this community,” Judge Perry said, according to “And, that’s my major concern. That’s an issue that was worked on by the Florida Bar. And, we’ve had some recommendations. I was very encouraged by the governor’s last appointment of Judge Tanya Wilson to the bench. But, there’s still much to be done.” Read more

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First Cuban-American Chief Justice Takes Oath in Florida

-court090712gb15.jpg20120907“This is the way our judicial system should look,” Jorge Labarga said after taking the oath of office Monday to become Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

He is the first Cuban-American to become Chief Justice in Florida, and from the court’s dais, he extended his arms toward his six fellow justices, according to the Miami Herald. They include a white woman, an African-American man, an African-American woman, and three white men.

Justice Labarga was appointed to the circuit court by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1996, and to the Supreme Court by then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in 2009. He was selected Chief Justice by his colleagues.

“Chief Justice Labarga is the first Cuban-American to ascend to chief justice, but he is also the first justice of Hispanic descent to ascend to chief justice,” former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero said, according to The Sun-Sentinel. “This is a very proud moment for all Hispanics.”

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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Three Nominated for Federal Trial Bench in Texas

For the federal trial court in Texas, where judicial vacancies have been described at a “crisis point,” President Obama has nominated three individuals.  The Dallas Morning News said the White House had reached an apparent deal with the state’s Republican U.S. senators.

The  nominees are U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman of San Antonio, Texarkana lawyer Robert Schroeder III, and Sherman Magistrate Judge Amos Mazzant III. Pitman, if confirmed, would become the first openly gay federal judge in Texas.

“Any nominations are critically important, as Texas desperately needs to have as many of its nine district and two circuit vacancies filled,” Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, told the newspaper. “The judges are overwhelmed by crushing case loads and too few judicial resources.” Read more

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Media Spotlight on Lack of Judicial Diversity in Florida



Florida’s news media is continuing to hammer away in opinion and news reports about a lack of judicial diversity in the state. In the latest instance, the Ocala Star-Banner reports, “Bar president dismayed by lack of judicial diversity.”

The Star-Banner article zeroes in on the retirement of a judge from the 5th Judicial Circuit. More than 30 judges have jurisdiction there, but since the retirement of Judge Sandra Edwards-Stephens last year, not one of them is a minority.

“We can’t have a state that is becoming more diverse in its population that has a judiciary going in the opposite (direction),” said Eugene Pettis, outgoing president of the Florida Bar. The article says he has brought his concerns to Gov. Rick Scott’s attention, and a task force of the Bar has recently issued a report on ways to enhance Florida’s judicial diversity. Read more

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