Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

Gov. Mark Dayton: ‘I’m conscious of the diversity factor’

Ethnic and gender diversity are factors Gov. Mark Dayton will take into consideration to fill two upcoming vacant seats on the Minnesota Supreme Court, reported the Associated Press.

“I’m conscious of the diversity factor,” Dayton told reporters at a national gathering of American Indian tribal leaders. “I’m also conscious that when Justice Wright departs there will be only one woman, the chief justice at that point. That’s also a consideration.”

AP also reported that the two departing justices, Alan Page and Wilhelmina Wright, are the court’s sole African Americans.  According to the same source, the application period closed yesterday for Justice Page’s seat.

Justice at Stake believes that diversity on the bench improves the quality of justice and builds faith and confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. You can learn more from the JAS web page on the topic.

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Will Greene County, Mo. Get First Woman Circuit Judge?

MO_20331Is a historic judicial appointment near in Greene County, Mo.? According to the Springfield News-Leader, of eight applicants for a circuit judgeship there, six are women. Never before has a woman sat on the circuit bench in Greene County.

Under a merit selection system that took effect in 2008, the 31st Judicial Circuit Commission is interviewing candidates for the position in open proceedings, and will recommend three finalists to the governor, who will in turn appoint one of them. Before 2008, judges were chosen by election.

“I would hope that the commissioners there have an awareness that justice is most credible when it is more reflective of the community at large who will appear in front of a judge seeking fairness and judicial wisdom,” said Vivian Eveloff, founder and director of the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. 


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Justice Sotomayor: High Court Lacks Professional Diversity

Unknown-3Diversity of professional experience is an element the Supreme Court is “sorely missing,” Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor recently told the ABA Section of International Law 2015 Spring Meeting, according to Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.  She highlighted the lack of professional diversity on the court by saying “it makes people feel that we are not truly representing the views of the entire profession or the views of the country. And I think that is to a detriment.”

Sotomayor pointed out that Supreme Court justices do not have much experience with small or medium-sized firms or with their practice areas. She also mentioned there are a lot of former prosecutors on Court, but just one former solicitor general. These are factors that, when put together, “hurt the perception of the court.”

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Diversity on Bench is Boosted in Connecticut

Since Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy took office in 2011, he has nominated 47 judges to the state Superior Court and 30 percent of them have been minority appointees.

According to a CT Mirror article, the increased diversity of appointees to the bench not only reflects a commitment by the governor to diversity but also “nearly two decades of effort by the judiciary and legal profession to demystify the process and broaden the pool of potential judicial candidates.”

Connecticut has a merit selection system for choosing judges. Justice at Stake believes that diversity on the bench improves the quality of justice and builds faith and confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. You can learn more from the JAS web page on the topic.

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Focus Turns to November Elections for PA Supreme Court

Looking ahead to Pennsylvania Supreme Court elections in November, media analysts are finding numerous ways to evaluate the upcoming contest and its impact.

“The results of the Nov. 3 general election could reaffirm or widen the court’s Republican majority, matching solid GOP control of the state Senate and House of Representatives, or, for the first time in six years, transfer control to Democratic allies of Gov. Tom Wolf, who could be in office through 2022,” WTAE reported on the heels of last week’s primary election. Six nominees were selected for three open seats.

The Legal Intelligencer had an article headlined, “After Primary, No Chance of Racial Diversity on High Court,” available through Google searching. Although two minority judges ran in the primary, they did not win, and all of the nominees are white. Read more

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Two African-American Candidates Among 12 Running for PA Court

PennsylvaniaSupremeCourtA different dimension in the race for three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — that of racial diversity — is addressed by a New Pittsburgh Courier article. It profiles two African-American candidates, Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen and Common Pleas Judge Dwayne Woodruff.

Pennsylvanians have elected only one African-American justice to the court, and he retired in 1996. If elected, Judge Allen, a Republican, would be the court’s first black woman justice. Neither she nor Judge Woodruff, a Democrat, received their political party’s endorsements; six candidates from each party are running for the openings.

Among details about the candidates provided by the article, it says Judge Allen’s website declares, “The greatest impediment to justice in our courts is politics.”

The article quotes Judge Woodruff as saying, “Along the campaign trail over the entire state, I have not had to bring up the issue of the court lacking diversity; the citizens have actually mentioned it and are well aware of it.”

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In Phoenix, a Debate Over Diversity on the Municipal Court Bench

Distant from the hot spots of Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, Md., where police shootings of black men have stirred rancor, there is debate in Phoenix, Az. over City Council selection of the next Municipal Court chief judge and the three white candidates recommended by a vetting commission.

A City Council member is stalling the selection process in hopes the vetting commission might be persuaded to return to work and recommend a more inclusive candidate pool, but others say the merit-selection process should not take race or gender into account, the Arizona Republic reported. It also mentioned a letter from leaders in the African-American community, upset that no people of color were included among the commission’s finalists:

The letter alludes to recent unrest in the wake of police shootings of Black men in Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., and other American cities, saying the city must ‘act in intentional ways’ that allow people of color to have trust in the justice system. One of the letter-writers, the Rev. Jarrett Maupin, said the group believes that protests in those cities were, in part, fueled by a perception in minority communities that a lack of representation in key positions has helped stack the justice system against them.”

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Ohio Touted as a Leader in Gender Diversity on Bench

Ohio_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002In profiling Florence Allen of Ohio, a trailblazer who became first female state supreme court justice in 1922, a local judge writes that Ohio is in the forefront of gender diversity on the bench today.

David Hejmanowski,  judge of the Probate/Juvenile Division of Delaware County Common Pleas Court, writes in a Morrow County Sentinel op-ed:

“Thirty percent of Ohio’s active judges are female, an increase of 5 percent in only one year, and we are one of only nine states in which the highest appellate court has a female majority (California, Washington, Texas, Arkansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Maryland and New York are the others). Five of Ohio’s 12 appellate court districts have female majorities and 31 of 68 appellate court judges in Ohio are women. The 9th District Court in Akron is presided over by an entirely female bench.

“Indeed, the last major gender divide in the Ohio judiciary exists in municipal and county courts, where only 61 of 239 judges are female.”

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Profile Describes Justice Quince’s Journey to Florida’s High Court

Justice Peggy Quince

Justice Peggy Quince

In a profile of Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, the Tallahassee Democrat details her journey to become the first female African American Supreme Court Justice in Florida.

Motivated by the activism of the 1960s, Quince decided to pursue the law instead of medicine after she graduated from Howard University with a Bachelors degree in zoology. As she laid the foundation for what would become a decorated career, she faced racist professors, and early in her career a judge “asked her if she was the defendant as she approached the bench,” the article relates.

Having cleared all the hurdles placed before her, Quince worked as a hearing officer in D.C. and in private practice before entering public service. She worked for almost 14 years with the Florida Attorney General’s Office before Florida Governor Lawton Chiles appointed her to the 2nd District Court of Appeals, starting her judicial career.

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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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