29 July 2019

US courts diversity problem

Minority groups and women underrepresented on US state supreme courts, as report suggests judicial elections lack of diversity threatens legitimacy.

State supreme courts are less diverse than they were a generation ago with just about half comprised of white judges only and few minorities reaching the bench through elections, according to a report by the progressive Brennan Center said.

Threatens legitimacy

The report found that 15 percent of state high court seats are held by minorities compared to nearly 40 percent of the nation’s population, and 36 percent are held by women compared to about half the population. The report argues that with state courts hearing virtually all cases filed in the US and state supreme courts most often the last word, the lack of diversity is magnified and it “threatens the legitimacy of the judiciary in the eyes of the communities” they serve and “limits the perspectives available to inform judicial deliberations.” The key findings, drawing on nearly 60 years of data include, twenty-four states currently having an all-white supreme court bench, since at least 1960 13 states having never seated a person of color as a justice, and, currently 17 states having only one female state supreme court justice.

Judicial elections

The report cites a number of factors contributing to a lack of diversity, but researchers said they broke new ground in analyzing how judicial elections factor into racial minority representation. The report explains, “Judicial elections have rarely been a path for people of colour to reach the supremecCourt bench,” noting that 17 first reached the bench through election from 1960-2018, making up only 4 percent of initially elected judges. “During the same time period, 141 justices of color were appointed to the bench, comprising 12 percent of all appointed justices,” the report said. The numbers are similar for women, the report states. The full report can be found here.