Diversity Bill Proposed for R.I. Judicial Nominating Commission

The Providence Journal reports that a bill outlining diversity requirements for the membership of Rhode Island’s Judicial Nominating Commission was submitted last week.

The measure, proposed by Democratic state Rep. Anastasia Williams, would require that the governor and lawmakers ensure that the membership reflects the gender and ethnic makeup of the state. According to the newspaper, “The nine-member panel currently has one member of color, Cheryl S. Haynes, a human resources executive with RBS Citizens Financial Group.” (more…)

Urging Diversity of Legal Experience for Top MN Judges

A commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune commends Gov. Mark Dayton for acknowledging his commitment to cultural diversity after his recent appellate court appointments (see Gavel Grab), while emphasizing a need to promote diversity of legal experience at the same time.   

The opinion by attorney Kevin S. Cloud is titled, “Why we need a different kind of diversity on our courts: That is, would the Mayo Clinic assign a cardiologist to do a hip replacement?” (more…)

Essay Touches on Higher Reversal Rate for Black U.S. Judges

At a self-described daily digital magazine called OZY, Meghan Walsh writes an intriguing short piece about race and our courts that’s headlined, “The Justice Issue Lurking Behind the Bench.”

Drawing on Harvard Professor Maya Sen’s research about federal judges, Walsh writes, “The rulings of black judges are 10 percent more likely to be overturned than those of their white counterparts.”

Walsh seems cautious about jumping to conclusions: “Granted, this may, to some degree, be a statistical thing, and it’s not to say that appellate judges are bigots. It’s been well documented that this bench tends to be more conservative, while judges of color lean liberal, particularly on civil rights and discrimination matters. ‘It’s very hard to disentangle race and politics,’ Sen says. It’s also up to litigants to appeal, so it could be that lawyers are more eager to contest a ruling handed down by a minority justice, which further complicates things.”

White House Asks Judge-Blocking Senator to Yield

The White House is pushing back against Sen. David Perdue of Georgia’s decision to block the nomination of Judge Dax Lopez to the federal bench, but it is not seen as likely to change the outcome.

“After being part of the process for selecting Judge Dax Lopez as a candidate, Sen. Perdue has now decided to block his candidacy,” a White House official told Politico. “Judge Lopez is a highly qualified candidate who enjoys deep support from both sides of the aisle, and we urge Sen. Perdue to drop his opposition and allow Judge Lopez to move forward in the process.”

If confirmed, Lopez would become the first Latino federal judge in Georgia. He belongs to the Federalist Society. But his involvement with the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials has resulted in Perdue targeting him over the group’s stance on immigration and questioning whether Lopez would be impartial (see Gavel Grab). (more…)

For a Moment, History Made on the Nebraska Supreme Court

For a short period on Jan. 6, history was made on the Nebraska Supreme Court, albeit temporarily. When arguments were heard in a case, women made up a majority of the court, The Omaha World-Herald reports.

Although the court has four men and two women members (and a vacancy), there were recusals and then a substitution due to weather, leading to a 3-2 majority of women to hear the case that day.

“It was pretty cool to be part of history,” Court of Appeals Judge Riko Bishop, who filled in for a justice that day. “It’s a reflection of an increasing number of experienced and qualified female attorneys practicing in Nebraska.” Of 145 state judgeships, 37 are now held by women, compared to 21 a decade ago.

Commentary: Courts in PA Suffer ‘Glaring Lack of Diversity’

A recent scandal involving Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin and offensive emails illustrates a “glaring lack of diversity” in both the state and federal courts in Pennsylvania that urgently needs fixing, write the authors of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed.

“Diversify Pennsylvania’s court system,” urges the headline of the commentary by Anisha Singh of the Center for American Progress and Jodi Hirsh of Why Courts Matter Pennsylvania. They provide the following summary about the lack of diversity on the bench:

“Of 27 appellate state court judges, only one is a judge of color. Except for one two-year period, the state Supreme Court has been all-white for two decades. And in a state where people of color make up about 20 percent of the population, only 14 percent of Pennsylvania’s federal judges are people of color, including semi-retired judges. Meanwhile, only 14 of the state’s 66 federal judges and only 25 percent of state judges are women, even though women are more than half of the state’s population.”


Groundbreaking Appointments for Two Women Jurists in PA

Judges Jacqueline F. Allen and Sheila A. Woods–Skipper have been promoted to the highest posts in the southeastern Pennsylvania court system by the Philadelphia Supreme Court, The Philadelphia Tribune reports.

According to the newspaper, it is “the first time in the court’s history that two African–American woman have been appointed to fill the seats, and it comes after state Sen. Anthony Williams (D-8th) and others voiced concern over the lack of diversity in the court’s leadership.”

Allen and Woods-Skipper were appointed after black supporters noticed a lack of minorities in the judicial system and started a campaign. “Published reports also contend that Philadelphia Judge Margaret T. Murphy, the city’s top jurist in Family Court, was appointed chair of the governing board, but that action was undone by the newly configured court that replaced Murphy with Woods–Skipper,” the newspaper said.

Senate Confirms Vazquez for Federal Bench in New Jersey

john-michael-vazquezThe Daily Signal reports that the Senate confirmed another of President Obama’s lifetime federal appointees. John Michael Vazquez was confirmed on a vote of 84-2 for the position of U.S. District Judge in New Jersey.

Acccording to the Latin Post, Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the only Latino Democrat in the Senate, said about the nominee, “In addition to intellect, judgment, temperament, observance to the rule of law and the separation of powers, he diversifies our Judiciary as a Hispanic American — something that I think is also very important to be able to have any American walk into any court in the land and believe that the possibility of someone like them may very well be sitting in judgment of them.”

When He Retires, Judge’s Absence Will be Noticed

Judge George Bridges, the first and only African-American judge on the Lake County Circuit Court, will step down next week. Bridges and two other retiring judges will take a combined 71 years of experience with them when they leave, the Chicago Tribune reports. 

 The newspaper says, “Bridges said he does not define his career in terms of race but acknowledged that his trailblazing path as both the first African-American police chief in Waukegan and judge in Lake County Circuit Court is a legacy, and the community will notice his absence.”

Bridges told The Tribune, “We live in a world where race is still an issue. I know my retirement leaves a void. People feel comfortable seeing someone who speaks their language, someone who looks like them.” (more…)

Appointment to Minnesota Supreme Court Makes History

Gov. Mark Dayton has selected Appeals Court Judge Margaret Chutich to fill a vacancy on the Minnesota Supreme Court. His appointment will make her the first openly gay member of the state’s highest court, according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Associated Press.

Dayton called her a “phenomenal” appointment. Her record includes service as assistant dean at University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, as  a Deputy Attorney General  with the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, and as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota.

“It is important that the court reflect the community it serves, and I also think symbolism is very important,” Chutich said on Friday. “If there are gay attorneys, gay people thinking about going to law school, I think it’s important that they know there aren’t barriers to their dreams.” (more…)