Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

Law Scholar Concerned by ‘Clones’ on High Court

Writing about “Clones on the Court,” Yale constitutional law professor Akhil Reed Amar says it’s a mistake that the Supreme Court today has justices with nearly identical resumes.

That’s a change from the days before the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2005, Amar writes in The Atlantic, when “America had always had at least one justice who brought to the Court high-level elective or ultra-high-level appointive political experience. By contrast, none of the current justices has ever served in the Cabinet or been elected to any prominent legislative or executive position—city, state, or federal.”

Amar says diversity of experience helps because “The Court works best when its justices can bring different perspectives to bear on difficult legal issues.”

Last year, Justice at Stake was among more than 30 organizations writing a letter that urged U.S. senators to consider professional diversity when considering judicial candidates (see Gavel Grab).

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Justice Scalia: Diversity ‘has nothing to do with our jobs’

Justice-Antonin-ScaliaLast week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave an interview at the Fort Smith Convention Center, where he spoke candidly about diversity and Originalism, the belief that the Constitution should be read as the Framers intended.

The City Wire reports that during the question-and-answer portion, junior high school student Selena Ellison asked Justice Scalia his thoughts about diversity on the bench. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Scalia responded, noting that the Framers did not intend the Court to be a representative body. He later revised his answer, saying “I shouldn’t have said that (it’s not a good idea), but it (diversity) has nothing to do with our jobs.”

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Make Judicial Diversity ‘A Goal Going In,’ Justice at Stake Urges

KansasAs Kansas legislators prepare to debate changes to the way state Supreme Court justices are selected, a Lawrence Journal-World article examined a lack of diversity in the state judiciary and quoted Justice at Stake.

Whether a state uses an electoral system or a merit-based selection system to choose judges, diversity “needs to be an intention of the system. It needs to be a goal going in,” said Debra Erenberg, JAS director of state affairs. “People who are part of the system need to consciously bring a desire to recruit a diverse bench.”

The Kansas Bar Association opposes changing the existing merit selection system for choosing Supreme Court justices, said Jordan Yochim, executive director of the KBA. Merit selection is better suited to increasing diversity, he said, especially when contrasted with direct judicial elections.  Read more

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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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