Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Diversity on the Bench' Category

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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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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