Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

Blind Justice at MLK Celebration: ‘Celebrate our Differences’

Diversity and fellowship were themes at events across the Detroit Metro area on Monday, as hundreds gathered to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Detroit News reports that Justice Richard Bernstein gave the keynote address to the Macomb County Ministerial Alliance’s Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Fellowship Breakfast.

“Let us celebrate our differences, let us celebrate our difficulties, let us celebrate our purpose,” he said. Bernstein, Michigan’s first blind Supreme Court Justice, spoke of adversity he has experienced, such as competing in the 2008 Ironman Triathlon and recovering from injuries after being hit by a bicyclist in 2012. He remarked that his faith, like that of King, helped him achieve success against the odds.

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Editorial Urges Diversity on U.S. District Court in Minnesota

Judge Davis

Judge Davis

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis of Minnesota has announced he will take senior status this summer. This week a Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial joined those urging that diversity on the bench be considered when a judge is nominated to succeed Judge Davis, the only African-American jurist to have served on the court.

“Public trust in the judiciary is crucial to sustaining the rule of law in a democracy,” the editorial says. “That trust is enhanced when the law is upheld by judges who represent the entire population and who bring a wide range of backgrounds to bear on their analyses. Minnesota’s population has become substantially more racially diverse during Davis’ tenure. This state’s federal bench ought to reflect that change.”

The editorial points out that no women of color have served as a federal judge in Minnesota, and that there is a “chorus of pleas to fill [Davis’s] seat with a person of color — and particularly a woman of color.” Playing an active role, the editorial says, is The Infinity Project, a Justice at Stake partner organization. It advocates for greater diversity in the Eighth Circuit. Read more

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Arkansas High Court Has Majority of Women, for First Time

Justice Wood takes the oath

Justice Wood takes the oath

When three women took the oath to serve on the Arkansas Supreme Court on Tuesday, it marked the first time in history that women comprised a majority on the court, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

One of the three, Justice Rhonda Wood, labeled the milestone “historic” and noted that when the court’s four female justices were born, there were no women serving on the Arkansas high court or on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“As children, dreaming of sitting on this court was not in the realm of what we could believe was attainable,” she said. “That has now shifted.” Read more

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Lack of Diverse Maryland Judicial Nominees Questioned

Concerns are being raised about the lack of diversity among candidates for two openings on the Anne Arundel County, Maryland circuit court.

The Capital Gazette reports that no minority candidates are on the list of 11 that was sent to Gov. Martin O’Malley, and proponents of a diverse bench note that it has been 10 years since an African-American served on that court.

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Though Senate Confirms Many Judges, Some Nominees Left in Limbo

The Senate adjourned this week after having confirmed the most federal judges in a two-year Congress since 1980, the Washington Post reported. At the same time, opposition left some judicial nominees in limbo.

One was Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, according to RH Reality Check. He had encountered outcries from leading Democrats and some groups supporting them over  past positions taken by then-legislator Boggs on volatile issues including the Confederate flag, abortion rights and marriage for same-sex couples (see Gavel Grab).

Another was Jennifer May-Parker, nominated for the Eastern District of North Carolina, according to the Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record. Her nomination became stalled after Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., blocked it through an arcane Senate procedure called the “blue slip” (see Gavel Grab), without publicly explaining his reason. Read more

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Will Senate Wrap Up Work By Confirming 12 More Judges?

CapitolflagIn the final days of its lame-duck session, the Senate could confirm as many as 12 judicial nominees, the Associated Press said. If that happens, President Obama will have won confirmation of 88 judge nominees this year, more than any president since 1994.

“He’s changed the face of the judiciary,” said scholar Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution. “Whether or not that will have a long-term impact, I think, is another question.”

In November 2013 the Democrat-led Senate voted to change its rules to eliminate filibusters of cabinet nominees and federal judges other than Supreme Court justices. The change has meant that these nominees require only a simple majority of 51 votes, rather than an effective supermajority of 60 votes, for confirmation. Since the rules change, the Senate’s confirmation of judges has accelerated. Read more

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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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