Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

Justice Hudson Takes Oath to Serve on Minnesota High Court

JusticeNatalieHudsonNatalie E. Hudson has taken the oath of office to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court, where the former prosecutor and law dean becomes the second African American woman justice in the court’s history.

“How we treat those on the margins of society, those with no lobbying group, says volumes about our character and values as a judicial system,” Hudson said, according to the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.

Hudson most recently served on the state’s appellate court. She was named to the high court by Gov. Mark Dayton.

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Woodbury Bulletin Details Diversity in Minnesota’s Courts

Minnesota SealA recent article in the Woodbury Bulletin detailing Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s efforts to foster diversity and inclusion on the bench reports that he held a second Judiciary Recruitment Summit.

At the summit, Dayton said, “I encourage all qualified Minnesotans, who are interested in serving our state, to apply for open judgeships in Minnesota’s courts. Our courts should reflect the rich diversity of the Minnesotans they serve.”

Chronicling the governor’s commitment to diversity, the author writes that “in his time in office, Dayton has appointed 96 new judges to fill vacancies in Minnesota’s 10 judicial districts, the Court of Appeals, and the Minnesota Supreme Court. Those appointments have increased the racial diversity of Minnesota’s judges from 6 percent to more than 10 percent. In addition, the number of women serving as judges in Minnesota has grown significantly in recent years. In 2010, 31 percent of the state’s judges were women. Today, that figure has grown to 40 percent.”

According to Lee Sheehy, chair of the Commission on Judicial Selection, “the face of the Minnesota Judiciary has changed because of the collaboration with Governor Dayton, the Bench, Bar, and organizations representing the rich diversity of Minnesotans seeking appointment to serve justice for all.”

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Greater Diversity on Oregon Court Urged by Professor

When Oregon Gov. Kate Brown names the state’s next Supreme Court justice, she ought to consider the need for diversity on the bench and appoint the first Latina to the court, a Willamette University College of Law professor writes at Oregon Live.

Gilbert Paul Carrasco strongly recommends diversifying the court to keep up with the state’s rapidly expanding Hispanic population, and he suggests the best nominee would be Court of Appeals Judge Darleen Ortega. Read more

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N.Y. Times Editorial: Politics Over Confirming Judges Victimizes Us

CapitolflagAmericans are the victims when political gamesmanship in Washington blocks the confirmation of well qualified judicial nominees and vacancies abound, a New York Times editorial declares. 

The editorial scolds Senate Republicans over what it calls their confirmation roadblock tactics, making a prime example of the nomination of Judge L. Felipe Restrepo of Philadelphia. Nominated to sit on the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, his selection was announced in November 2014 by President Obama, with a home-state Republican senator’s backing. There were extensive delays before he received a confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee and was approved by that panel in July, and he still awaits a vote on the Senate floor. The editorial says partisan politics are in play:

“The larger problem here, of course, is that Republicans are blocking votes on highly qualified and noncontroversial nominees to vent their anger with the president, who infuriated them with his now-stalled immigration action, among other things.”

Read more

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Election Spending Linked to Diversity on the Bench, Report Finds


A report issued by the Center for American Progress has found that elections impede the diversity of state judiciaries according to a recent Daily Kos article.

The study (see Gavel Grab) found a lack of diversity throughout the state judicial system, highlighting cases such as Alabama where every one of the 19 appellate court judges is white although only two-thirds of the population are white. Evidence also revealed that minority judges also had a harder time keeping their jobs and have lower re-election rates. “Since 2000, the overall reelection rate for incumbent Supreme Court justices in contested races is 88 percent. For white justices, that number is 90 percent. But black justices have been reelected 80 percent and Hispanic justices 67 percent of the time.”

The article points to the state of campaign finance as a potential explanation of the Center for American Progress’ findings: “The amount of money in judicial races has grown exponentially, especially since the Citizens United ruling opened the door to unlimited outside spending. Just last week, Pennsylvania’s election broke the spending record for Supreme Court races nationwide. Research shows that courts are more diverse when elections are publicly financed. The exorbitant spending in judicial races hurts voters and candidates alike.”

It concludes: “Diversity on the bench matters, especially in a system where minorities are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. The evidence suggests that race and gender have a significant impact on how judges rule.”

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Diversity Crisis on Tennessee Courts

Tennessee’s appellate courts suffer from an extraordinary lack of racial and gender diversity , according to a report in The Tennessean.  What’s more, allTennessee Supreme Court nine of the current applicants for a single opening on the state Supreme Court are white men, the paper reports.

“More than three quarters of Tennessee’s appeals court judges — those who review rulings of judges statewide and define state law — are white men,” the report noted. “That dearth of diversity is concerning to some who say the court should better represent Tennessee’s population.”

The Tennessean interviewed the only two African-Americans ever to serve on the state’s highest court, and both urged greater diversity on the bench. “We live in a culturally and racially diverse country and community and state, and therefore our courts ought to reflect that diversity,” former state Supreme Court Justice George Brown said.

The report noted that the shortage of minority and women applicants has been a problem for several years, according to state data. Justice at Stake has long advocated for efforts to enhance diversity on the bench, and has created pilot projects in several states to help build pipelines to the bench for aspiring judges from underrepresented communities.

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Study Examines Election Impact on Diversity on Bench

A study by the Center for American Progress is spotlighting the importance of diversity on the bench and lower re-election rates for minority judges than for those who are white (see Gavel Grab), Aljazeera America reported.

In reporting on these trends, the article also linked to a report several years ago by Justice at Stake and its partner organizations, showing soaring spending on judicial elections. The article quoted Judge Kevin Burke of Minnesota about diversity.

“I think that having a judiciary that reflects what our population looks like is really pretty important,” said  Burke,  a past president of the American Judges Association. “Having people whose life experience is entirely different than yours can make other judges better at what they do.”

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Study: Elections Diminish Diversity of the Judiciary

A new report issued by the Center for American Progress concludes that state supreme court justices who are white are re-elected around the nation at higher rates than minority justices, according to a Mother Jones article.

The report is titled, “More Money, More Problems: Fleeting Victories for Diversity on the Bench.” In examining the period since 2000, it says white justices win re-election at a 90 percent rate, compared to 80 percent for black justices and 67 percent for Hispanic justices.

“In many states with elections, advocates for diversity have succeeded in pressing for diverse appointments, but these victories are often fleeting,” the report says. “In many states where diverse judges were appointed, they were voted off the bench in the next election. According to new research for this report, appointed black and Latino justices running in their first election only had a 68 percent re-election rate.” Read more

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New York Governor Urged to Enhance Diversity on Court

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses the media while announcing a new bill with tougher penalties for texting while driving at a press conference at the Javits convention center on May 31, 2013 in New York City. The governor proposed additional penalties for young and new drivers ahead of the summer school break. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo readies to nominate three judges to New York state’s highest court in upcoming months, he is being urged to consider diversity, including of the ideological and professional kinds.

Cuomo, a Democrat, has named only Democrats to the court so far, notes the Wall Street Journal in an article about the nominations process. Those urging him to name a Republican include Vincent Bonventre, a professor at Albany Law School and self-identified liberal Democrat. “You need people who come from different places—ideologically, too. That’s what makes a good court,” he said.

Among the upcoming appointments will be one to serve as chief judge. The Wall Street Journal article is available through a Google search. It is headlined, “New York Court Has Cuomo’s Stamp/Governor is on track to select all seven judges on state’s highest court; so far, only Democrats.”

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California’s Diversity Addressed in its Courts

The Napa Valley Register reports that California State Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuèllar spoke at the Legal Aid of Napa Valley’s fifth annual Pro Bono Recognition Event, presenting an ambitious project to tackle language barriers in the California’s courts.

The Justice spoke of his own experience as an immigrant from Mexico as he addressed the difficulties faced by non-English speakers whose languages are unrepresented by the state’s courts. Cuéllar recognized the overdue need to adapt to the people’s diversity in the courts. His goal is make the California court system “accessible to people who speak English as a second language or not at all,” the Register explains. Read more

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