Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

Justices Raise Concerns of Diversity on the Supreme Court


“I do think we should be concerned that virtually all of us are from two law schools,” says U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, according to  an Associated Press article.

All nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court attended either Yale or Harvard University, leading to Thomas’s concern over “such a strong Northeastern orientation.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor broadened the concern to include the lack of diverse legal experience, saying that most of the justices come from big law firms and few from middle courts.

“We need diversity of not just life experience, but legal experience,” Sotomayor said. Their remarks came at an event at Yale honoring alums on the Supreme Court. For information about the benefits of diversity see Justice at Stake.

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Opinion: Consider Diversity in Filling Appeals Court Vacancy

11th Circuit

A vacant seat on the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals constitutes a “judicial emergency,” and when a nominee is selected, top consideration should be given to promoting racial diversity, states an op-ed by Leslie M. Proll, director of the Washington, D.C. office of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

Alabama is allotted three seats on the 12-seat bench of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, but the court has been short one judge from Alabama for over a year. Proll writes that for the past 123 years, there have only been white males representing Alabama on the federal appellate court. The Eleventh Circuit “has the highest percentage of African-American residents (25%) of any circuit in the country, yet only one of its twelve judges is African-American.” This correlates with a Pew Research Center poll that found 68 percent of African-Americans viewed the court system as unfair, but only 27 percent of white Americans held the same opinion.

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New York Report: 'Judicial Diversity: A Work in Progress'


A report was issued by The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), titled “Judicial Diversity: A Work In Progress,” with a press release by readMedia. Within the report are detailed numbers about how well the New York judiciary reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the state.

“Diversity matters,” the report begins. “But nowhere is it more important than in the judiciary, the branch of government charged with safeguarding our country’s constitutional democracy and dispensing justice to its citizenry.” The report provides a detailed breakdown of the data per judicial district as well as analysis for the possible reasons behind the lack of diversity in certain areas.

“Diversity long has been a goal of the State Bar Association,” said NYSBA President Glenn Lau-Kee, “This report highlights that achieving judiciary diversity indeed is a work in progress.”

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Commentary: Arizona Judicial Selection Seems Exclusionary

Arizona On September 14, Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice wrote an op-ed on why he believes Arizona has some the best judges (see Gavel Grab). Its merit selection system “results in a judiciary that is highly qualified and of diverse backgrounds,” he noted.

However, former president of the Hispanic National Bar Association Mike Martinez disagrees in a commentary published in

The Arizona system “detects and excludes an identifiable group of attorneys from the judiciary,” says the commentary, contending “the exclusion of Hispanic attorneys is not happenstance, but the result of predictable political orchestration.” Read more

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Number of African-American Judges Declining in Florida

The proportion of black judges in Florida has declined for the first time in over 25 years, reports a South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial. Only 6.5 percent of 974 judges are African-American, down from a high of 7 percent. Much of the blame has been pointed at Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

Out of 159 judicial appointments,  Scott has appointed nine black judges. Of those nine however, six have been to “lower court benches that handle traffic and misdemeanor cases or compensation claims for job-related injuries.”

Scott’s immediate predecessor and present Democratic opponent Charlie Crist appointed 14 black jurists out of 180 appointments in the same time frame, and eight of those were for high court benches.

The “gold standard” was set by former Gov. Jeb Bush who appointed 22 black judges, again in the same time frame, according to the editorial.

“Florida remains a growing state with an increasingly diverse population. If the state courts want to maintain their legitimacy,” the editorial says, “especially among minorities and women, their makeup must keep pace with the people they serve.”


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News Report: Florida Governor Appoints Few Black Judges

Gov. Scott

Gov. Scott

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is back in the media spotlight over his handling of diversity on the bench. A lengthy Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times article says Scott has appointed fewer African-American judges than did either of his two predecessors during a corresponding time period.

“What I’m focused on is making sure that the people I appoint understand that there are three branches of government and that they don’t get to legislate,” said Scott, a Republican. “They don’t get to pass laws, just like I don’t get to pass laws.”

“He has no interest in diversity,” said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat and Legislative black caucus member. “He wants to stack the courts with people who think like him. It’s that corporate mentality that he brought to the governor’s office.” Read more

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Sotomayor: Room for Greater Diversity on Supreme Court

There is still room for greater diversity on the U.S. Supreme Court, after considering gender, race and ethnicity, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in Oklahoma City last week.

“We don’t have one criminal defense lawyer on our court,” she said, according to a Wall Street Journal Law Blog post. In addition, there are no justices on the bench from solo practices or having big law experience, she said.

“The president should be paying attention to that broader diversity question,” Justice Sotomayor remarked. Read more

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Three Nominees for U.S. Bench in Texas Win Senators' Praise

United_States_Capitol_dome_daylightThree of President Obama’s nominees for the federal district courts in Texas were praised at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing by the state’s two Republican senators, the Dallas Morning News reported.

The three include U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman of San Antonio, who would become the state’s first openly gay federal judge if confirmed. The three individuals were selected by the White House in a deal earlier this year with the Texas senators.

Judicial vacancies in Texas have been described as at a “crisis point” (see Gavel Grab.) The nominees still must win approval by the committee and, if that occurs, from the full Senate. Read more

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Senate Unanimously Confirms Appeals Court Judge

pryorThe U.S. Senate voted 97-0 on Monday to confirm attorney Jill Pryor of Georgia for a seat on the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to The Hill. President Obama first nominated Pryor in February 2012.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Pryor’s two-and-a-half-year wait before confirmation was “longer than any other currently pending judicial nominee,” and he blamed partisan politics.

Nonetheless, Leahy said, “This year the Senate has confirmed 61 nominees to the circuit and district courts and in doing so, it has hit an historic milestone for diversity on the Federal appeals courts.  More women and people of color are serving on the federal appellate bench than ever before.”


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Commission Advances Court Nomination of Stanford Law Professor



Gov. Jerry Brown’s nomination of Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Mexican immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court was confirmed unanimously on Thursday by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments. The nomination next will appear before voters on the ballot in November.

Cuéllar received a rating of exceptionally well qualified from a state bar evaluating commission, according to a Los Angeles Times article. When the nomination first was announced, it sparked attention for the statement it made about diversity on the bench (see Gavel Grab).

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