Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

Brown’s Nominee Would Increase Diversity on California High Court

KrugerGov. Jerry Brown has announced he will nominate Leondra Kruger, a U.S. Justice Department official who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, to sit on the California Supreme Court.

Kruger is 38 and would be the youngest appointee to the court in its history, a law professor told the Los Angeles Times. She is African American and would be the sole African American on the state’s highest court.

If confirmed, Kruger would join Brown’s two other appointees, who are 44 and 42, in bringing down the court’s age considerably. In addition they figure into Brown’s “emphasis on diversifying the state’s bench,” the San Jose Mercury News reported. Kruger would be the second African American woman to serve on the court. Read more

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Florida Judge Apologizes Over Election Night Statement

6a00d83451b26169e201bb079e549f970d-800wiMiami-Dade Judge Jacqueline Schwartz made remarks through her spokesman on election night about having defeated a “nondescript Hispanic.” Now she is retracting, apologizing, and saying she will ask for the courts to “participate” in judicial diversity training, according to a Miami Herald blog.

The Cuban American Bar Association said earlier in a letter to the judge that it found her remarks “troubling” and “incompatible with your duties as a judge and with the dignity of judicial office.” After Judge Schwartz defeated lawyer Frank Bocanegra for reelection, she said through her campaign manager that voters had “gone past the days when any nondescript Hispanic could go on the ballot and defeat any Anglo sitting judge.” Read more

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Lithwick: High Court’s ‘Thoroughbreds’ Lack Diversity of Experience

Supreme_Court_US_2010What’s the recipe for choosing members for a Supreme Court that will deliver the soundest kind of justice? In an intriguing New Republic essay, Dahlia Lithwick suggests that a key ingredient is diversity of experience, and that it sorely lacking on the current court.

The current justices are brainy, Ivy League-trained, cloistered and removed from many realities facing the American public, she writes. Over the years, a selection process for its members has developed that “discourages political or advocacy experience and reduces the path to the Supreme Court to a funnel: elite schools beget elite judicial clerkships beget elite federal judgeships. Rinse, repeat.”

The result? Lithwick says it is “nine perfect judicial thoroughbreds who have spent their entire adulthoods on the same lofty, narrow trajectory” and a number of “confounding” opinions. Lithwick concludes: Read more

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Commentary: Senate Should Confirm Judges in Lame-Duck Session

Capitol_domeAfter Republicans campaigned on the notion of ending gridlock in Washington, it would be wise for Senate Republicans to help confirm judicial nominees — and expand diversity on the bench — in the lame-duck session, an advocate contends.

“The Senate should move quickly to diversify North Carolina’s all-white district court bench and confirm the first black women to Georgia’s federal bench. African-American nominees to district courts in California, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Texas should be confirmed by the end of the session,” Leslie Proll urged in a commentary at The Root.

Proll is director of the Washington, D.C., office of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Meanwhile the Associated Press reported, “Democrats’ hopes to confirm Obama nominees limited.”

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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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